Saturday, June 3, 2017

Pentecost Sunday Cycle A

Welcome to read homilies for the Sundays of the year. These are sample homilies which you can read with devotion. You may use them in your own homilies without asking my permission. You may also change or edit these to fit them to your audience. A unique quality of these homilies is that they are Christ-filled. From beginning to end they present to us some aspect of Jesus so that beholding his glory we “are being transformed from glory to glory into his very image” (2 Corinthians 3:18 NAB).

The Forgotten Breath

I was about to entitle this homily as "The Forgotten Spirit" when I realized that there was already a novel by this title. That novel was written by Evie Rhodes, published in 2007. Its subtitle is A Christmas Tale. What is surprising for me about that novel is that in the Dedication Page it says that this novel is dedicated to Jesus. And as the story unfolds it is very clear that this story is more about Jesus than about Jamie Lynne Brooks who appears to be the central character of the novel.

And it is better that my planned title was changed to “The Forgotten Breath” because this explains the primary reason why many knowledgeable Christians complain that the Holy Spirit is the forgotten person of the Blessed Trinity.

In our Gospel reading for today the Holy Spirit is plainly described as the breath of Jesus. Here is the passage where He is described as the breath of Jesus. "Jesus said to them (the disciples) again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained."

Jesus did that many centuries ago, on the day of his resurrection, he breathed the Holy Spirit into his disciples. But after those many centuries many Christians still complain that the Holy Spirit is a forgotten member of the Blessed Trinity.

We start with our own Church.

Fr. Daniel A. Lord, S.J., was a prolific writer in the 1900s. In 1941 he wrote a pamphlet entitled "The Holy Spirit and Youth". In it he asks these questions, "Whose is the fault? Is it the fault of us who are priests? Is it the carelessness of parents? Is it the strange blindness of the young people themselves? Or are priests, parents, and young people united in a singular conspiracy of silence and almost contempt which makes it sadly true that, for the overwhelming number of boys and girls, young men and women, the Holy Spirit is simply the Forgotten and Neglected God?"

It would seem that after the Second Vatican Council in 1965 which was obviously the work of the Holy Spirit and with the charismatic renewal in the Catholic Church this has changed. But little has really changed.

Tim Staples, in the October 13, 2011 webpage of, wrote, "The third person of the Blessed Trinity, the Holy Spirit, is sometimes referred to as "the forgotten" member of the Godhead. He is, no doubt, the least spoken of among the three persons of God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit."

And only last year, October 30, 2016, Fr. C. John McCloskey III wrote an article entitled "That Forgotten Person, the Holy Spirit" which appeared in The Catholic Thing. Towards the end of his article he calls the Holy Spirit the "often-forgotten and misunderstood member of the Trinity".

Our brothers and sisters in the non-Catholic churches have the same problem. The famous preacher and author Francis Chan wrote a book entitled "Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit", published in 2009. In a commentary about this book we read this, "Too many churches have locked their doors to a vibrant understanding of the Holy Spirit's role in their midst. . . . For the most part, we have shut the Holy Spirit out of our lives and out of the church."   

It is very clear now that the Holy Spirit is indeed the neglected person of the Blessed Trinity. So, how do we cure this neglect? How do we make sure that we do not only always remember him but also revere him, adore him, follow him in all that we think, say or do, and give him due place in our Christian life?

The answer is in our Gospel reading today. Again we read the portion where Jesus gives this Holy Spirit to his disciples. "Jesus said to them (the disciples) again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained."

The real problem is that we forget that the Holy Spirit is the breath of Jesus. And that is why I call him the forgotten breath. Our Gospel reading makes this clear. Jesus breathed into his disciples and as he did, he said, Receive the Holy Spirit. Spirit in Greek is pneuma and the primary meaning of pneuma is wind, breath. What Jesus breathed into his disciples was his breath, the Holy Spirit.

Most commentators draw a parallel between this passage and the one in Genesis 2:7. Here is the passage in Genesis 2:7, "the Lord God formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being." Here is the Douay-Rheims version of that verse which is very similar to the Authorized Version, "And the Lord God formed man of the slime of the earth: and breathed into his face the breath of life, and man became a living soul." The last six words are exactly the same in our Douay-Rheims version and in the Authorized Version, “and man became a living soul”.

When God first blew his breath on man, he became a living being, a living soul. When Jesus blew his breath into his disciples, they became new living beings, they became living spirits. They became new creatures, patterned after the first new creation who is the resurrected Jesus.

We who are disciples of Jesus have become living spirits by the breath of Jesus. We are spirits. We are no longer just body and soul as when God first blew his breath on our first parent. We are now spirits, patterned after the Holy Spirit.

The reason why we can so easily relate with God the Father is because we see many fathers around us. One of these Sundays in June, June 18, is Father's Day. Many of us are fathers. So we can easily relate with God the Father.

The reason also why we can so easily relate with God the Son is because we see so many sons around us. We are sons and daughters of parents who are also sons and daughters of our grandparents.

The reason why we cannot so easily relate with God the Holy Spirit is because we do not see spirits all around us, because spirits are invisible. But if we take to heart the Gospel reading for today we learn and know that by the breathing of Jesus into his disciples who centuries later include us, we have become new creatures, new living beings, new spirits.

The problem then is that we are not aware that we also are spirits. If we know and affirm that we are also spirits, whose pattern is that of the Holy Spirit, then we can easily relate with the Holy Spirit.

In philosophy this is talked about, that we are spirits. But how many of us have studied formal philosophy? And even those philosophers who claim that we are spirits do so from reasoning, not from the revelation of God. But we have our basis from the revelation of God.

As the Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said, "We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience." We are embodied spirits.

Of all the authors I have cited Francis Chan seems to be one most passionate in bringing us to a living, working, fruitful experience with the Holy Spirit. And yet his solution to the problem of the neglect of the Holy Spirit is to learn more about the Holy Spirit and to obey him. He does not touch on the reality that we are indeed spirits. And until this truth sinks into us, we will always have this problem of neglect of the Holy Spirit.

You and I are spirits if we have received the Spirit of Jesus in baptism and confirmation. If we are spirits, then let us live as spirits. And this can only be done by moment to moment dependence on the Holy Spirit in all that we think, say and do.

The first reading tells us that the disciples were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim. The word "filled" means that they were all controlled by the Holy Spirit. They were all controlled, they were now filled with the Holy Spirit because they have become spirits by the breath of Jesus.

The second reading tells us that we were all given to drink of one Spirit, that is, the Spirit of Jesus. The Spirit is like wind, he is breath. He is also like water, as Jesus referred to him when he said that he who believes in him from within him shall flow rivers of living water (John 7:38). The next verse plainly tells us Jesus was referring to the Holy Spirit. He is water which satisfies our thirst for spiritual things. Before we become spirits we do not have this thirst. Once we are made spirits by the breath of Jesus we experience this thirst for the things of the spirit. This is the proof that we have become spirits because now we long to eat spiritual food and thirst for spiritual water.

For our prayer let us recite that prayer which my American professor in Philippine sociology always recited before class. Let us bow our heads.  

Direct, O Holy Spirit, we beseech you, all our actions by your holy inspiration and carry them on by your gracious assistance so that every thought, word, and work of ours may always begin from you and by you be happily ended. Amen.

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Note for the readers:

The Mass readings are from the New American Bible Revised Edition (NABRE). This is where our Lectionary gets the readings.

NAB stands for New American Bible (before it was revised). This is the translation I use. Unless otherwise stated the text I use is from this translation.

AV stands for Authorized Version of the Bible. It is more commonly referred to as the King James Bible. It is the version most used in English literature, therefore it is the one known more by the English speaking world.

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