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May 23, 2021
[St. John Vianny Church, Kailua (Confirmation & First Communion), Newman Center/Holy Spirit Parish, Manoa (Confirmation & First Communion)]
Merry Christmas, everyone! Merry Christmas!
No, I am not drunk, as people thought the disciples of Jesus were when they first received the Holy Spirit. I think this feast of Pentecost has a good deal to do with what we celebrate at Christmas.
At Christmas we celebrate the fact that God loved the world so much that he sent his only begotten Son to become one of us. God breathed his Holy Spirit into the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and nine months later, Jesus was born in Bethlehem, a name that means “house of bread.” He was laid in a manger, which is a feeding trough for animals. Angels sang; shepherds and kings worshipped. The whole world rejoiced as we do even today at Christmastime.
Today, on this feast of Pentecost, we celebrate the fact that God the Holy Spirit took flesh in the followers of Jesus. He set them on fire with God’s love, so that they became the flesh-and-blood expression of that invisible love of God. At Christmas we celebrate God taking human flesh, and today we celebrate God the Holy Spirit taking human flesh to make of us bold and joyful in our witness to Jesus. Like the angels who first announced the Good News of God-made-man, we are given the Holy Spirit so that we can be ev”angel”ists to all we meet. When we celebrate the sacrament of Confirmation for our friends today, though it may not be as dramatic as the coming of the Holy Spirit we heard about in our first reading, with strong driving winds and tongues of fire, the exact same thing that happened then is going to happen to you who are anointed with the Sacred Chrism, that fragrant oil that will make you forever, “Christed,” that is, anointed with the power of God himself.
And just as Jesus was born in the House of Bread, Bethlehem, and laid in a manger, when the priest or bishop calls down the Holy Spirit on simple bread and wine, Jesus makes himself bread for us so that we, the sheep of his flock, can feed on the wonderful food that is the Body and Blood of Jesus himself. You who are going to receive your First Communion will have the joy of going to the manger so that you can “mangia” (as they say in Italian) or eat the Body and Blood of Christ.
We also have the tradition of exchanging gifts at Christmas, and the Holy Spirit gives us gifts as well. But these gifts are not meant to remain unopened or to be displayed in a glass case, but to be used to make the risen Lord Jesus present in the world today. Jesus is encountered in a special way here in the church in the Eucharist when we receive his Body and Blood. This is why it is so important that we come here every Sunday to encounter him physically in a way that we can do nowhere else. But he does not want to just stay here in church. Jesus wants to go to our homes, to our schools, to the places where we work or play, to the whole world. He wants us to proclaim his good news in the language of the young and the old, the language of different nations, and the language of the committed and the uncommitted. He wants to continue the work he began here on earth by means of his Body, which is the Church. And so, he gives you these gifts of the Holy Spirit so that you can have all you need to live his life and take him out to the whole world.
Jesus healed the sick, and he wants us to heal the sick by our prayers, by sharing our love, and by reaching out to them. Jesus brought good news to the poor, and he wants us to continue that work by sharing our resources with those in need and by working for their greater dignity. Jesus forgave sins, and he wants to continue doing so whenever we forgive those who have offended us and witness to the power of forgiveness over vengeance. He cast out demons, and he empowers us with his Holy Spirit to cast out the demons of addictions, of depression, and hatred by living fully in his love. We could not possibly do any of these things by our own power. But with the power of the Holy Spirit and with the nourishment of the Body and Blood of Christ himself, we can do miracles in Jesus’ name.
God took human flesh long ago, and we rightly celebrate that great gift; but he takes flesh this very day so that we can be in such intimate communion with him that we can change the world with his love.