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Sunday, May 15, 2016

Gifts of the Spirit bestowed

Here is the text of the homily I shared with those who were present to celebrate the Solemnity of Pentecost.  At one of the gatherings, we also had the great pleasure of celebrating the Sacrament of Confirmation with some of the young people of our parish who were unable to be present at last weekend's Confirmation liturgy.

Gifts that are given

Today, the Church celebrates the special feast that we call Pentecost.  The word Pentecost means the fiftieth day and so here we are, fifty days after the celebration of Easter Sunday.  The significance of this day is explained in three different moments that are all recounted in the scripture readings we have just heard.

The first moment places us with the disciples in the Upper Room in the evening hours on the day Jesus rose from the dead (Jn 20:19).  Even though the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked … Jesus came and stood among them, and greeted them with the words: Peace be with you.  These words, and the gift that they offered are the key to understanding this first moment.  Across the centuries that have come and gone, Jesus has always been present among his disciples whenever we gather to pray.  Whenever we sit together around the table of the Eucharist, he is here among us, offering us the precious gift of his peace.  At times, peace might seem like an insignificant offering (it's invisible, we can't touch it or wrap it up) but it is the most precious thing that we can receive.  This remedy for every conflict that arises is seldom the result of any human effort, but it is God’s precious gift, offered for all his beloved children.

When Jesus ascended into heaven, and left his disciples to continue the work of proclaiming his peace, he promised that he and his Father – who is also our Father – would send a special gift (the Advocate) to help us: to reassure us if we should ever doubt his presence, to strengthen our faith if we should ever falter and to give us the courage to share the good news of our faith with others.

In the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, we hear an account of the second moment that helps us to understand the significance of Pentecost.  Fifty days after Jesus’ resurrection, the disciples were all together in one place (Acts 2:1).  We don’t know whether they had gathered there to share the meal that Jesus had asked them to eat together – the one that we also share around his table – but we do know that suddenly … there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind (Acts 2:2), and then divided tongues, something like flames, appeared among them and rested on each of them (Acts 2:3).

Last weekend, students from the various parishes in North Bay celebrated the Sacrament of Confirmation.  This weekend, there were four other students, members of our parish who were unable to be present for last week’s gathering.  They asked permission to celebrate Confirmation this weekend, and the Bishop granted permission for me to confirm these candidates.  They were present at the 11:00am Mass this weekend, so we were able to witness this special moment in their lives.  We dd not hear any wind, and no one saw any tongues of fire (except on the candles around the altar), but we heard them affirm their faith, we saw each one of them anointed with the Oil of Chrism, and we witnessed each one of them as they were offered the same greeting that Jesus offered to his disciples in the upper room: Peace be with you.

Other things that we did not see with our eyes were the deeper realities that took place in the hearts of the confirmandi.  At the moment of our Confirmation, we are sealed with Holy Spirit’s special gifts: wisdom, understanding, right judgment, courage, knowledge, reverence and wonder and awe in God’s presence.  All of us who have been entrusted with these gifts carry them in our hearts for the rest of our lives.  At first, it may seem that nothing much has changed, but if we are attentive, we notice that in situations when we need the wisdom of faith, it is there; when we need to understand and accept God’s will, we are granted the ability to do so; when we need to make the right decisions, we are given the gift of judgment … and so on.  Each gift appears when it is needed.

Saint Paul explained these gifts in the third moment that helps us to understand the meaning of Pentecost.  He told the early Christians in Corinth that there are varieties of gifts … and services (1 Cor 12:4), but they are all given by the same Lord, and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone (1 Cor 12:6).  Some of us are good at sports, others are good at cooking; some are wonderful parents, and some are amazing aunts and uncles.  Each of us has gifts to offer, and just as the body is one and has many different parts, each of which has its own function, so all the members of Christ’s body, though we are many, are one body (1 Cor 12:12).

It’s up to each one of us to use the special gifts that the Lord has given us so that we can help one another to grow in faith.  If we do, the Lord will bestow his special gift of peace upon us; and he will help us always to treasure the gift of our faith, to be aware of his joy and to bear witness to his love in our lives.
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