“Come Holy Spirit”

June 20, 2024 | By His Excellency, The Most Reverend Edward K. Braxton, Ph.D.

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ:

In recent weeks, many people in different parts of the world have been captivated by the spectacular aurora borealis, the amazing light display popularly known as the Northern Lights, which transforms the night sky with beautiful dancing ribbons of light that have mesmerized the human race for thousands of years.

The northern lights are created when energized particles from the sun slam into Earth’s upper atmosphere at speeds of 45 million miles per hour. Fortunately, planet Earth’s magnetic field protects us from this onslaught. The lights we see in the night sky are caused by activity on the surface of the sun, 93 million miles away!

Solar storms on our star’s surface give out huge clouds of electrically charged particles. These particles can travel millions of miles and are captured in the Earth’s magnetic field, accelerating down towards the north and south poles into the atmosphere, producing the lights.

In 1619, Catholic astronomer Galileo Galilei named this awesome lightshow “aurora borealis,” using the Latin name of, “Aurora,” the goddess of the dawn, and the Greek name of the north wind, “Boreas.” Some Catholics in Galileo’s time wrongly thought this incredible, heavenly spectacle was a sign of the coming of the Holy Spirit. Scripture speaks of the Holy Spirit with many different images: “a driving wind,” “tongues as of fire,” “a dove,” “the breath of Jesus,” and even a shadow, Mary, who is not married, learns that she will have a Son “by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit.” But none of these images of the Holy Spirit is as powerful as the flashing blues, lavenders, reds, and yellows of the aurora borealis. Do you think we would be more aware of the presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church if the Spirit appeared amid the flashing lights of a solar storm?

Today is Pentecost Sunday, the feast of the Holy Spirit, the day when the Church was born in the quiet of a driving wind and what seemed like tongues of fire. Of course, when we say, “the Church,” we do not mean the Catholic Church as we know it today. On the first Pentecost, there was no pope as we see Francis 1st today. Though, there was a leader, Peter, a fisherman, who would be crucified in Rome and who speaks to us with confidence in the reading from Acts of the Apostles about the mighty works of God. When the Church was born, there were no deacons, priests, bishops, or religious sisters. There was no canon law, no parish churches, cathedrals, or Catholic schools. Yet, it was the Church.

The organizational structure and growth of the Church happened gradually, through the workings of the Holy Spirit. But many Catholics today tend to think of the Church primarily as complex structures and doctrines rather than thinking of the Church primarily as themselves, the People of God. Remember, the tongues as of fire did not fall upon the buildings, structures, universities, laws, and devotions of the Church. The Spirit fell on the people themselves, who constitute the Church. The Spirit fell on unwashed fishermen, peasant carpenters, ordinary wives and mothers, tax collectors, and average, everyday people, like you and like me.

The Spirit bound those ordinary people together as the Church by three important gifts we still have today: 1) the gift of Baptism in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, 2) the gift of the eucharistic breaking of the bread and the blessing of the cup, and, 3) the gift of people from all over committed to Love God and all people as they shared their belief that a Jewish itinerant rabbi, Jesus of Nazareth, had changed the world by His teachings, His powerful signs, and His death and resurrection. This was the reality of the young Church that did not yet call itself CHURCH. Each person upon whom the Spirit fell received gifts for the spread of the gospel.

In Acts, St. Luke tells us the Holy Spirit came to the apostles fifty days after the resurrection with driving winds and tongues of fire. But the gospel of John tells us the Holy Spirit came to the apostles the very evening of the resurrection. Jesus says, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” He breathes on His disciples and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” So, according to John, the first gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church is the forgiveness of our sins, our Sacrament of Confession, which sadly most American Catholics have abandoned. While scholars debate the reason for two different stories of the coming of the Spirit, most Christians simply focus on openness to the Spirit and living by the Spirit’s power of love. It is this Holy Spirit who gives grace and life to all of the sacraments, including Baptism, Confirmation, the Eucharist, Holy Orders, and Christian Marriage.

How will you and I bring Pentecost to life here in southern Illinois? St. Luke Parish? The Holy Spirit may not empower us to bring an end to the terrible, deadly wars raging in Ukraine and Israel. The Holy Spirit may not empower us to heal the growing social, economic, and political divisions in our country. The Holy Spirit may not empower the American people to find perfect candidates to serve as our 47th president. The Holy Spirit may not empower us to think of ways to free hostages, the unjustly imprisoned, and save the innocent victims of war. The Holy Spirit may not empower us to forge an American consensus concerning the dignity and value of every human life from conception to natural death.

But the Holy Spirit may empower and motivate us to gain a deeper knowledge of the complex causes of violent world conflicts so we can speak about them with knowledge and wisdom. The Holy Spirit may empower and motivate us to examine more carefully our views of candidates for public office and the views of those of those whose positions are the opposite of ours so that we can better understand – literally stand under the views of those with whom we vehemently disagree rather than dismissing them. The Holy Spirit may empower and motivate us to volunteer at food pantries, shelters for the homeless, and in programs that assist women in difficult situations who are unwilling to end the developing human life within them. The Holy Spirit may empower and motivate us to recognize that we know very little about the history of Israel, the Palestinians, Islam, Judaism, and other forms of Christianity, and move us to put aside our favorite summer novel or Netflix movie and do some serious summer reading that will make us articulate and knowledgeable participants in conversations about distressing daily headlines.

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ:

The Holy Spirit may empower us and motivate us to pray every day; truly pray, not just say prayers, but pray: (“Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me. Melt me, mold me, fill me, and use me. Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me!”), to go to confession, to receive the Blood and the Body of Jesus Christ worthily and prompt us to learn our faith, love our faith, and live our faith, inspiring those around us to do the same. When did we last tell someone about the importance of Jesus Christ in our lives?

The spectacular, dazzling colors and lights of the aurora borealis are truly a sight to behold. But they pale when compared to the sight of a Christian community on fire with the power of the Holy Spirit. As Joel the Prophet wrote: “And afterwards, I will pour out my spirit upon all mankind, and your sons and your daughters shall be prophets, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men and young women shall see visions.”

“Come O Holy Spirit. Fill the hearts of your faithful. Enkindle in us the fire of your divine love. Send forth your spirit and we shall be recreated, and you shall renew the face of the earth!”

Praised be Jesus Christ. Both now and forever. Amen.

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