In the unity of the Holy Spirit

When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together.

We return this weekend to public celebration of the sacraments.  It is great for us to be reunited once again in prayer and fellowship so that we can give thanks and praise to our God. And for that today is a day of great joy. As we know for many weeks now we have had live-streamed Masses.  So why is it a big deal for us to return to this building? Is it really that different from being at home? This church building is important because it the sign of the Holy Spirit’s work; that the Holy Spirit is the one who unites us. This is the place of our togetherness. This place, this church building, is the symbol that says, those things that divide us are no more.  Look no further than the opening prayer at every Mass, these beautiful words are said: We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ your Son who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen. We are united as one family, in the unity of the holy spirit, we are brothers and sisters in Christ’s as God’s mystical body.

Today we celebrate the beginning of the Church and the Holy Spirit.  The two are intimately linked.  We believe wholeheartedly as Catholics that the Holy Spirit guides our Church today.  The Holy Spirit also empowers us, as the Church, to carry out our mission.  And that mission is to bring all peoples together, regardless of race or culture, as members of Christ’s family and His Church. Jesus Christ himself said, I came to draw all of humanity to myself (John 12:32).  Simply put, God’s church is meant to be universal – for all peoples. And so this weekend we pray for the gift to be co-workers with the Holy Spirit – that is, to be agents of unity in our world.  

What does it mean for us to be united?  For us as church I think it simply means this, we are united in our baptismal identity and mission.  Our baptismal identity is that we are all God’s sons and daughters and therefore are endowed with dignity. And our mission is to profess and witness to our faith in the world.  Notice however, that unity does not mean sameness.  It can mean togetherness, shared values, and share mission, but not sameness.

Those groups of people that are truly united embrace differences between others because it makes us better.  Sameness, forces others to conform and change, and can even cause division.  This is exactly what Saint Paul is saying in the 2nd reading, there are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit… To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit. And that benefit is for the Christian community. 

Here’s a simple example.  Can you have a good football team if you have all offensive linemen?  Can you have a good baseball team if you have all pitchers?  No, of course not.  But on those teams, if you use the different gifts and skills of your players at their strengths, then you will likely have a great team. This is why the Golden State Warriors were so good a few years ago. Draymond the great defensive presence. Steph Curry the best 3-point shooter ever.  Klay Thompson one of the greatest two-way players ever surrounded by a collection of talented basketball players who all had different roles; but they did it extremely well.  The same is true of us as Church.  Many people, different gifts, united in the Holy Spirit.  And together we can make amazing things happen.

But if we are honest with ourselves, there is also great sadness at how much division still exists in our world. I think of this pandemic, has anyone else been frustrated that we managed to politicize a health crisis?  The coronavirus shines a light on the division in our country.  When we assume the other is an enemy, it only causes division.  I think most of you would agree with me, we don’t want Republicans and Democrats to be the same.  Because both support good things, and we want them to work together in their differences for the good of the country.  The strengths of these parties, there differences, can cover the other’s weaknesses. We need unity in politics, and that doesn’t mean a bunch of people who think the same way.  It means people who respect and appreciate the differences in their peers who are willing to collaborate for the good of our country.  

And I think the most obvious example that divisions still exist in our world is between race, ethnicity and culture.  My heart is broken over the death of George Floyd. This man should never had died. Period. No one should ever die at the hands of those who are called to protect our cities.  The visceral reaction on all sides manifests just how divided we are.  Some Americans deny racism exists, and yet, on the other side we have others looting, rioting, and putting other people in harm in protest.  Both reactions are a result of a divided nation. I think we can all agree that George Floyd should never have died.  I think we can all agree we need to find a way to end this type of violence that seems all to common for minorities.  But I think we can also agree that looting, destroying property, all in angry protest is not only harmful to our communities, but are not actions that will solve the problem or bring unity.  What we need is the unity of the Holy Spirit. 

These signs of disunity should cause in us great sadness.  During this time, where we continue to experience divisions caused by racism, politics, or even religion, we are called to be agents of unity.

How do we become agents of unity? 

  1. Friends Not Enemies – We do so first and foremost by seeing each other as members of the same family and not as enemies.  That way when we hear of a man like George Floyd dying in the horrible way that he did, we can and should be sad too, because George was a member of our family.
  2. As agents of unity we seek understanding – We can do this by asking our friends who identify as a different political party, or simply other viewpoints, questions about their beliefs. We might discover that we want the same things but have taken different avenues. 
  3. Offer Christ’s Peace: And finally we become agents of unity by offering to bring Christ’s peace into our world just as Christ did for the Apostles in our Gospel.  Today’s celebration of “[Pentecost] is about the Holy Spirit showing up and transforming ordinary, imperfect, frightened people into the Body of Christ… It’s about the Spirit carrying us out of suspicion, tribalism, and fear, into a radical new way of engaging God and our neighbor” (journey with Jesus, Thomas).  Today’s celebration is about living in radical unity as Christian brothers and sisters.

May we be empowered by the Holy Spirit to be agents of unity in our world that badly needs it.

In Christ’s love and friendship,

Fr. Stephen

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