May 23, 2021: Pentecost
As many of you know, two days ago DeSales University celebrated the graduation of the Class of 2021. What joy our community experienced on Thursday late afternoon when we gathered for the Baccalaureate Mass on the University mall beneath the gaze of Jesus the Teacher as the sun was moving to set. Friday morning took us to downtown Allentown’s PPL Center where we honored our newest alumni with their diplomas and great acclaim.
One especially touching moment at commencement was when the parents of Sean Hanczaryk walked across to the stage to accept their son’s diploma posthumously. You may recall that Sean died in a fiery crash on March 6, just a few weeks prior. His classmates rose to their feet with thunderous applause, Fr. Greenfield embraced Carolyn and Paul, and we remembered the beauty, power, and gift of community, of faith, of family, and of life itself. I suspect for a number of us, since Sean’s death, we have changed to grow our sense of community, family, and life, whether here or eternal.
What’s more, during his homily at the Baccalaureate Mass, Fr. Jim mentioned how on Sean’s birthday, just a few days ago, his parents wanted to honor their late son’s memory whose well-known motto was, and I paraphrase: “Make someone smile today.” They didn’t stay home and weep, though I suspect they have done their fair share of weeping; instead, for his birthday, they fed the poor, serving food at a local soup kitchen. The change that occurred in the Hanczaryk’s life is painful beyond measure. Yet, they have chosen to breathe life into this pain, and their lives are transformed. Transformed, quite like the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
Yes, a rich, beautiful graduation moment. But it was also a Pentecost moment for many.
But what exactly are Pentecost moments?
The Holy Spirit is the great change agent of our lives. Any time we change—when we really accept and embrace and celebrate change that transforms—we have had a Pentecost moment. When we become less racist, become a more welcoming Church, have taken bread and wine and let them become body and blood, have reconciled, have welcomed a stranger, have grown closer to someone distant to us.
This great feast of Pentecost is hard, I suppose. We don’t have a manger. We don’t have an empty tomb or an advent wreath or ashes or palm. But, we have something more powerful. We have each other. We just have to watch closely and see God’s Holy Spirit breathing and blowing in our lives, changing us to experience the transformation of those countless Pentecost moments.
That event we hear about in the first reading really does resemble a graduation, especially for those earliest apostles and disciples. Prior to the celebration of the Jewish feast of Pentecost, a public party—a community-wide celebration that would look like our Fourth of July commemorations throughout the city here and beyond—those first church people were keeping their Christ to themselves. They had yet to go public, to enter the real world, if you will, with their new identity as Christians, followers of this crucified and risen Christ. Yet, they went out into the world. But, I don’t think that they would have had the joy of our graduates. Although they may have had their courage, they were sent out into the real world by the power of the Holy Spirit. Quite like our DeSales grads went out into the so-called “real world.”
And, Church, sometimes we, too, are scared to death as we deal with the ravages of the real world and the challenges of our lives. Do we feel the power of the Holy Spirit coming upon us? Do we even believe that the Holy Spirit is able to come to us? Perhaps we need to change our thinking about the Holy Spirit.
It is through the Holy Spirit that we know that God is always with us. Isn’t this Pentecost faith? Knowing that God is with us, always? Whether it is a strong wind or a tongue of fire or listening to a tongue and mouth speak a searing truth or a memory or a stern conviction within us, we know and we believe, and we have confidence that our God is always with us. This conviction was so strong that it launched those first disciples out of their locked room and into the world, those far-reaching, different places of the world.
Church, we live in the real world, and we know it is a big world. Today, we mark the event in our lives, our daily lives, that says we are responsible for it and the people who live in it!
Let’s listen again to the assertion of the early Church: “We are Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene, as well as travelers from Rome, both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs.”
This type of Pentecost faith tells us that although our passports tell of our great U.S. citizenship, you and I are also Mexicans and Canadians and Iranians and Sudanese and Haitian and Israeli and Palestinians and every other sort of extract, for we are one in the Spirit. Let us remember the words we pray every Sunday in the Eucharistic Prayer: “Make us one body, on spirit in Christ!”
By the power of the Holy Spirit, we believe the cup of Jesus’ blood makes all of us have the same blood type, as all 7.9 billion of our brothers and sisters: It is human blood, the same as the human being named Jesus.
Yes, Pentecost is about the one thing we all agree about. The one thing we all share. The gift of being human. Like Jesus, let us be fully human and enter the real world charged, impelled, fueled, and just plain pumped up by the power of the Holy Spirit. That first Pentecost was a grand festival in thanksgiving for the harvest, and those first Christians believed that the fruits of the harvest belonged, not to any one nation, but to all human beings. Do we still believe that and work to ensure that all nations are fed from the fruit of one common land?
Today is no graduation. No, it is Pentecost, and its power is ours every day of our lives. And, the real world—the whole world—needs us to make our impact now, one person at a time! Imagine how strong the wind would be if we recognized everyone as one of us: at home or work or school or Church or prison or on the streets or in Iraq or the Sudan. Maybe we could be that one body, one Spirit in Christ. And maybe, just maybe, we would enjoy the rich experience of the great Pentecost moment in today’s gospel: PEACE!