Homily: Pentecost – Cycle C
As you all remember, this past week Fr. Neterer and I were at our biennial priest convocation down in Brown County State Park. It was a lovely couple of days to be away with our brother priests. At the convocation, there is always a speaker that speaks on some theme of priestly life and ministry. This year, our speaker was Dr. Ralph Martin, an author and professor of theology at Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit.
I have to say that Dr. Martin was quite refreshing. He shared with us his story of how he ended up as an author and seminary professor and I was edified that his path began in relatively normal circumstances. For example, the Holy Spirit first touched his heart when he participated in a Cursillo weekend. All of you who are Cursillistas, or who have been through Christ Renews His Parish or even an Antioch retreat, have had very similar experiences to the one that opened Dr. Martin’s heart to the grace of a spiritual awakening. He spoke very plainly and humbly, and he was a great witness to us. And, after sharing his witness, he spoke to us about the New Evangelization.
The “New Evangelization”, if you’ve never heard of it before (or, if you have, but don’t understand what it is), is something for which our Popes have been calling for the last 40 years or so. If you think that it has something to do with going out and finding people who have never heard of Jesus to tell them about Jesus and the saving news of the Gospel, then you will have thought well, but you will have thought wrong. The New Evangelization is not about evangelizing those who have never heard of Jesus Christ (though that work is still necessary), but rather about evangelizing those who are already in the Church. Sounds strange, perhaps, but here’s what it means:
Since the Second Vatican Council, it seems, there has been a disconnect between the initiation of men and women to the faith and their evangelization. In other words, we’ve sacramentalized millions of people (meaning, we’ve given them the sacraments), but we’ve done a poor job of introducing them to the person of Jesus (that is, the person for whom and through whom they have been sacramentalized). In the past, this didn’t seem to be so big of a problem, since the surrounding culture supported and encouraged men and women to continue the practice of the faith, even if they didn’t always have an understanding of the relationship with God that their practice maintained. Today, the cultural support for religious practice has disappeared (in fact, it has become hostile to it); and so, those who have been sacramentalized but not evangelized fall away from the faith since they see no underlying reasons to continue to practice it. The New Evangelization calls us to take up the task of evangelizing the baptized so that the sacramental grace that they have received may become active in their lives and draw them back into the practice of the faith.
Perhaps some of you are thinking to yourselves, “surely it is not I, Father, who hasn’t been evangelized?” Well, chances are that a number of you sitting here this morning do fall into this category. If so, don’t worry. It is not a sin to be sacramentalized and not evangelized, if it happened due to no fault of your own. And most of the people who fall into this category have already left the practice of the faith, anyway, so they wouldn’t be here (and certainly not at 7:30 in the morning!). Regardless of whether you’d count yourselves among the evangelized or the merely sacramentalized, there is a message for us here today. That message is the connection between Pentecost and the New Evangelization.
Dr. Martin, echoing the Popes all the way back to John XXIII, said that the New Evangelization demands a new Pentecost. Just as the first evangelization began when the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples in the Upper Room, so too will the New Evangelization take flight when the Church, on a large scale, calls for the Holy Spirit to descend upon her again. This has already begun in a smaller scale as Ecclesial Movements like the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, Cursillo (and all its permutations), and the Neo-Catechumenal Way have found a footing in the Church and are evangelizing the baptized: that is, helping men and women—long since baptized—to find and establish a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. We have these movements here in the Midwest—some right here in Lafayette—and so if something is stirring in you right now as you hear about these evangelizing groups, let me know and I’ll be more than happy to connect you to them. All of these groups rely heavily on calling on the Holy Spirit to enlighten them, to guide them, and to strengthen them in their efforts to evangelize.
Nonetheless, you do not have to be a part of an ecclesial movement to participate in the New Evangelization; our scriptures today show us that. In our second reading, Paul, writing to the Church in Corinth, says “to each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit”. Did you hear that? He said, “to each individual...” That means that each and every one of you here—if you have been baptized—has been given a manifestation of the Holy Spirit. And so, there’s no one here (again, if you’ve been baptized) who can say, “Oh, that Holy Spirit stuff is for other folks, not me.” Each of us has been given a manifestation of the Spirit, “for some benefit”. If we don’t know what those spiritual gift or gifts might be, then our task is to call on the Holy Spirit to enlighten us to those gifts so that we can begin to manifest them for the benefit of the kingdom of God, which has, at its root, the evangelization of peoples. If we remember the Gospel parable of the talents, we remember that the master did not look kindly on the one who hid his talent instead of trading with it so as to multiply it. So, too, it will be with us who have been given a manifestation of the Spirit for some benefit, but then failed to discern that gift and to apply it for the building of the kingdom.
And so, how do we come to know those spiritual gifts? Well, the simple way is to call on the Holy Spirit regularly! “Come, Holy Spirit” is a great prayer to the Holy Spirit that anyone can pray. In our Gospel, today, however, Jesus shows us another way to open ourselves to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. He says: If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always... The Advocate, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.” In other words, if we love Jesus and keep his commandments, then Jesus himself will take care of sending the Spirit to us. I like this method, because it keeps us focused on fostering our own relationship with Christ, which will be essential in any evangelizing work that we are given. It also reminds us, however, that we cannot expect to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit if we refuse to turn away from our sins: that is, if we fail to keep the commandments of the Lord. Thus, it is a constant urging to turn away from sin and be cleansed of it (especially in Confession) so as to remove all barriers to the Spirit’s manifestation in us. Thus prayer, in which we communicate with Jesus daily, and frequent reception of the sacraments, are keys to unlocking the outpouring of the Spirit in us.
Friends, on this holy day—and at the end of this holy season—let us be bold in asking for a New Pentecost so that the work of the New Evangelization might be accomplished through us: the work of bringing our brothers and sisters to (or back to) the practice of the faith through a personal relationship with Jesus. For it is this work that will make us saints; and it is this work that will usher in the day when Christ will return, in all his glory, to take us home to himself. Come, Holy Spirit, Come!
Given at Saint Mary’s Cathedral: Lafayette, IN – June 9th, 2019