10 June 2019

Homily - 9 June 2019 - The Solemnity of Pentecost

The Solemnity of Pentecost (C)

Dear brothers and sisters,

It is not insignificant that, “when the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together” (Acts 2:1). The place in which they were gathered was the Upper Room, the very place where the Lord Jesus washed the feet of the Twelve and instituted the cause of our gathering together today: the Holy Eucharist (cf. John 13:15; Matthew 26:26-29). We, too, are in one place together, though not all of us are here.

On any given Sunday, a great number of our parishioners – somewhere around 65% - are not present with us around this altar. The reasons for their absence are many: laziness, work schedules, sporting events, vacation, or even brunch and lunch plans. Sometimes these reasons are legitimate, but, I fear, more often than not, their absence fundamentally comes down to an under appreciation of the importance of the Lord’s Day and of the parish community. Rather than planning their Sunday activities around the celebration of the Holy Mass in their parish, many Americans – because of our general mindset toward personal convenience – plan their Mass attendance around their other activities, wherever it might “fit in.”

Pope Saint John Paul II frequently stressed “the fundamental importance of Sunday,” a day which, he said, “is at the very heart of the Christian life.”[1] Because the Christian life is lived out not simply in the world in general but especially within the parish, he reminded us that,

among the many activities of a parish, “none is as vital or as community-forming as the Sunday celebration of the Lord’s Day and his Eucharist.” Mindful of this, the Second Vatican Council recalled that efforts must be made to ensure that there is “within the parish, a lively sense of community, in the first place through the community celebration of Sunday Mass.”[2]

This is why he also tells us that “time given to Christ is never time lost, but is rather time gained, so that our relationships and indeed our whole life may become more profoundly human.”[3] This is why the Church reminds us that “great importance should … be given to a Mass celebrated with any community, but especially with the parish community, inasmuch as it represents the Universal Church at a given time and place, and chiefly in the common Sunday celebration.”[4]

The community which is formed by the celebration of the Holy Eucharist should be different from the community formed around the card table or the sports field. These are good bonds to form and are necessary for a good human life, but there is a greater, a more necessary, community formed in and by the Eucharist, if one enters into a true spirit of prayer and participates in the sacrifice of the Holy Mass interiorly and exteriorly. Indeed, the Christian community “is not just a vague sentiment, nor is it a sign of indifference to the truth. It is grounded in the supernatural reality of the one Baptism which makes us members of the one Body of Christ.”[5]

It is within the celebration of the Holy Mass, through the invocation of the Holy Spirit and the words of Institution spoken by the Lord that we receive the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus. Whenever a Christian receives the Eucharist, we can rightly address to him or her the words of Saint Paul: “Christ is in you” (Romans 8:10)! This is why we can say that “wherever the Eucharist is celebrated, wherever the Tabernacle stands, there is Christ; hence, there is the center…”[6] What do we keep at the center of our lives? Is the celebration of the Sunday Mass at the center, or is there something else?

We know that we are obliged to participate in the Holy Mass every Sunday and holy day of obligation out of gratitude for what the Lord has done for us and to give him the worship that is his due. And while the Church does not require us to join with our parish community each Sunday, that is certainly the preference so as to build one another up in Christ and to be built up in Christ by others.

As you know, the Sunday Mass schedule here at St. Augustine’s will change on the first weekend of July from 9:00 a.m. to 10:15 a.m. It is a change some will welcome, and others will not. Whatever your reaction to this change, I urge you in the Lord Jesus to make the parish’s Sunday celebration of the Holy Mass the center of your Sunday and, indeed, of your entire week, around which everything else is arranged. I know this will not always be possible – and I know I am speaking, as it were, to the choir – but I ask you to make participation here a priority.

The irony of this request today is not lost on me, as this afternoon I will leave for six weeks for my summer classes at The Liturgical Institute north of Chicago; I plan to return the weekend of July 6th and 7th. As these summer studies are part of my diocesan assignment as Director of the Office for Divine Worship and the Catechumenate, obedience calls and I must follow.

By the time the change in our Mass schedule here takes effect, we will again be within Ordinary Time. We call it this not because it is normal and boring, but because – unlike the Advent and Christmas or Lent and Easter seasons in which we focus on a particular event in the life of Christ, - Ordinary Time is ordered around the whole life of Christ. As we enter into this new chapter in the life of the parish, we have the opportunity to more intentionally order our lives around the mystery of Christ. As frustrating as change can be, such an opportunity can be welcomed and, if it is, can become an outpouring of grace from on high.

Let us, then, implore the Holy Spirit to descend upon us and  take up residence in our hearts. Saint Augustine reminds us that

God is not too grand to come, he is not too fussy or shy, he is not too proud – on the contrary, he is pleased to come if you do not displease him. Listen to the promise he makes. Listen to him indeed promising with pleasure, not threatening in displeasure, “We shall come to him,” he says, “I and the Father” (cf. John 14:23). To the one he had earlier called his friend, the one who obeys his precepts, the keeper of his commandment, the love of God, the lover of his neighbor, he says, “We shall come to him and make our abode with him” (John 14:23).[7]

Let us, then, not grumble too loudly, but let us ask the Holy Spirit to open our hearts and minds to the graces present to us now.

It may well be that this change in the Mass schedule may help bring back some of our parishioners who have not joined us here in some time; this is my hope. I ask you to reach out to them; it means more if you invite them than if I do. Invite them to join you for the Sunday Mass. Invite them to come and receive Jesus into their hearts and minds so we might all grow together in holiness until we are all “distinguished from the world by that love that moves those who are of one mind to dwell together in a house. In this house the Father and Son make their home and impart that very love” that is the Holy Spirit.[8] May the Holy Spirit bring us to together in the one Body of Christ, so that we might all be in one place together now, and in the life to come. Amen.

[1] Pope Saint John Paul II, Dies Domini, 3 and 7.
[2] Ibid., 35. Cf. ibid., Speech to the Third Group of Bishops of the United States of America, 17 March 1998; Sacrosanctum Concilium, 42.
[3] Ibid., 7.
[4] General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 113.
[5] Pope Benedict XVI, Address at an Ecumenical Meeting, 19 August 2005.
[6] Ibid., Prayer Vigil with Young People, 1 September 2007.
[7] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Sermon 23.6.
[8] Ibid., Tractates on the Gospel of John, 76.2.

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