26 May 2023

Homily - The Solemnity of Pentecost - 28 May 2023

The Solemnity of Pentecost

Dear brothers and sisters,

Today’s celebration of the Solemnity of Pentecost is one with very ancient roots. Saint Bede the Venerable summarizes these roots for us:

On the fiftieth day after the Passover, the Lord descended upon the mountain in fire, accompanied by the sound of a trumpet and thunder and lightning, and with a clear voice he laid out for them the ten commandments of the law. As a memorial of the law he had given, he established a sacrifice to himself from the first-fruits of that year, to be celebrated annually on that day... The law was given on the fiftieth day after the slaying of the lamb, when the Lord descended upon the mountain in fire; likewise on the fiftieth day after the resurrection of our Redeemer, which is today, the grace of the Holy Spirit was given to the disciples as they were assembled in the upper room.[1]

In this we see one of the primary ways God relates with his people, first a foreshadowing and then the completion of the foreshadowing.

Duccio, Pentecost

The number fifty is also significant for another reason. We can again turn to Saint Bede for an explanation of the importance of this number:

In the law, the fiftieth year was ordered to be called the year of jubilee, that is, ‘forgiving’ or ‘changed’. During it the people were to remain at rest from all work, the debts of all were to be cancelled, slaves were to go free, and the year itself was to be more notable than other years because of its greater solemnities and divine praises. Therefore, by this number is rightly indicated that tranquility of greatest peace when, as the Apostle says, at the sound of the last trumpet the dead will rise and we shall be changed into glory. Then, when the labours and hardships of this age come to an end, and our debts, that is all our faults, have been forgiven, the entire people of the elect will rejoice eternally in the sole contemplation of the divine vision, and that most longed-for command of our Lord and Saviour will be fulfilled: Be still and see that I am God.[2]

Today’s solemnity of Pentecost then has – at least - a twofold meaning for us: first, the descent of God the Holy Spirit upon his people who will never leave us and, second, the promise of tranquility and greatest peace as we eternally behold the Face of God.

The Lord Jesus established the Church as the means by which we attain salvation. He entrusted the Sacraments to his Church by which he is continually present to his people. It is through the Holy Spirit that the self-offering of Christ to the Father on our behalf is continually made present to us in the Eucharist. What is more, it is the coming of the Holy Spirit, “which never ceases” that “causes the world to enter into the ‘last days,’ the time of the Church, the Kingdom already inherited though not yet consummated.”[3]

The reality of this struggle between what is already and what is not yet regularly plays out in the history of the Church in the holiness and sinfulness of her members. This is why Saint Paul said, “We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that, but we ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:22-23).

We know all too well that among the sinners in the Church were and are some of her ministers, as the recent report of the Attorney General of the State of Illinois all too painfully reminded us. While the report really told us nothing we did not already know, reading it was gut-wrenching and the pain of those abused by some ministers of the Church was all too palpable. The Church is to be the spotless Bride of Christ, but some of her ministers have sullied her and brought shame upon her (cf. Revelation 19:8). Their actions are a constant reminder that “the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for [someone] to devour” (I Peter 5:8).

Today’s Solemnity of Pentecost is a clear reminder to each of us that we must cooperate with the grace the Holy Spirit pours out upon us to grow in holiness of life. Each of us must resolve anew each day not to sully the Bride of the Lamb. Each of us must cling more closely to Christ until his peace rests securely in our hearts and are we fully purified by the fire of the Holy Spirit (cf. John 20:19; Acts 2:3).

Christ the Lord said, “I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already kindled” (Luke 12:49)! The Holy Spirit came down upon the Apostles as “tongues of fire” because

he caused them to be burning with God’s will and preaching about God's kingdom. Fiery tongues they had when with love they preached the greatness of God, that the hearts of heathen men, which were cold through faithlessness and bodily desires, might be kindled to the heavenly commands.[4]

Each of us – and especially the ministers of the Church – need to be burning with this same fire of love; each of us must have the coldness of our hearts driven out from us by the fire of the Holy Spirit.

Let us, then, call upon the Lord for a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the members of the Church, both priests and laity alike, that we might all resist the enticements of the devil and remain “steadfast in faith” until the Church is brought to her perfection before the Face of her Bridegroom and receive that tranquility of greatest peace (I Peter 5:9). Let us cry out with all our hearts, “Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth” (cf. Psalm 104:30). Amen.

[1] Saint Bede the Venerable, Sermon for Pentecost. In Eleanor Parker, “Thefiftieth day and ‘the tranquility of greatest peace’: Bede on Pentecost,” A Clerk of Oxford, 14 May 2015.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 732.

[4] Blessed Aelfric of Eynsham, Homily for Pentecost. In Eleanor Parker, “We wurðiað þæs Halgan Gastes tocyme': An Anglo-Saxon Sermon for Pentecost,” A Clerk of Oxford, 24 May 2015.


21 May 2023

Homily at the Virginia High School Baccalaureate Service

Homily for the Baccalaureate Service for the Graduates of

Virginia High School

Proverbs 4:1 | I Corinthians 1:4-9 | John 14:1-14

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

This evening we gather to celebrate the graduation of the 2023 senior class of Virginia High School. I am grateful to the members of the Virginia Ministerial Alliance for their invitation to speak to you this evening and, on their behalf, I thank all you for coming on such a beautiful spring evening.

While we have gathered to mark a departure from high school, more importantly, we gather to render thanks to Almighty God for the continuing work of his grace in these graduates. Indeed, dear graduates, with the Apostle Saint Paul, we give thanks to God that in Christ Jesus “you were enriched in every way, with all discourse and all knowledge, as the testimony to Christ was confirmed among you” (I Corinthians 1:4-6).

To be sure, my young friends, you know perfectly well that after receiving your high school diploma you do not feel as if you possess all knowledge; you are all too aware that there is much you do not yet know. This is why the Lord Jesus says to you this evening, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me” (John 14:1).

Duccio, Jesus Giving His Farewell Discourse

If I may be honest and frank with you, your hearts have many reasons to be troubled. For years now, some of your parents have expected far more of you than parents of previous generations expected of their children. Some of your parents have even gone so far as to expect you to achieve things beyond your natural abilities and have put exceeding pressure upon you to attain the heights of greatness without equipping you for such a climb.

With the advent of the various forms of social media, your lives have been on public display in a manner hitherto unimaginable, adding to the pressure you already likely felt. These same social media platforms have encouraged you to compare yourselves to others in unreasonable ways and to project a false image of yourself to the world, further compounding the troubles of your hearts. As if these were not already enough stressors for you, the various forms of the news media have made you feel responsibility for historical actions in which you played no part and for events happening in distant lands over which you have no control.

There is also the daily stress of contemporary familial life that has been thrust upon many of you as one parent vies against another or as families run frantically to and fro in the vain attempt to always be busy and never at rest.

I do not mention any of this to depress you or to add to the worries of your hearts; rather, strange as it may seem to say so, I mention this to encourage you. You have survived your high school years and now a wide world is open to you, if you will permit me to use such a cliché. With your graduation from high school, you now likely feel a newfound freedom and greater responsibility for your life. This need not be a daunting prospect. Let me repeat Jesus’ words to you: “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” Why?

Your hearts need not be troubled because you know him who is the way through this life. Your hearts need not be troubled because you know him who is the truth of existence. Your hearts need not be troubled because you know him who is life unending (cf. John 14:6). And in order that you may keep on the way, hold fast to the truth, and receive the fullness of life, the Lord Jesus Christ “will keep you firm to the end,” if only you entrust your heart to him whose heart was pierced for us (I Corinthians 1:8; cf. John 19:34). Your hearts will not be troubled so long as you remember “God is faithful” (I Corinthians 1:9).

You may be thinking I have been talking long enough. I ask you to indulge me for a few minutes more. I promise not to keep you much longer.

My favorite author is J.R.R. Tolkien, who wrote The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, and a host of other things. He is my favorite author partly because his books have profoundly moved my heart, but also because he exposes his own heart to his readers not only in his books, but especially in his letters.

In 1969, the daughter of Tolkien’s publisher wrote him as part of a school project to ask the question, “What is the purpose of life?” Perhaps this is a question also in your hearts this evening.

Tolkien answered Camilla Unwin’s letter on May 20, 1969, with apologies for his tardiness (he was a university professor and was otherwise occupied near the end of the academic year). Among other things, Tolkien notes that “if you do not believe in a personal God the question: ‘What is the purpose life?’ is unaskable and unanswerable.”[1] Such a question is unaskable for one who does not believe in a God who cares for us individually because there is no one from who an answer can be sought.  If there is no personal God who created all things, then there is no purpose, no meaning, to human life. Without a personal God, life is just a progression of succeeding days until we die. But if there is a personal God who created me, if there is a God who loves me passionately, then life has a purpose, a meaning, that can be discovered.

Tolkien goes on to answer Camilla’s question as a sincerely devout Catholic. The chief purpose of life, he says,

…for any one of us, is to increase according to our capacity our knowledge of God by all the means we have, and to be moved by it to praise and thanks. To do as we say in the Gloria in Excelsis: Laudamus te, benedicamus te, adoramus te, glorificamus te, gratias tibi propter magnam gloriam tuam. We praise you, we call you holy, we worship you, we proclaim your glory, we thank you for the greatness of your splendour.[2]

This answer, he goes on to say, “is much too long, and also much too short, on such a question.”[3]

The Gloria in Excelsis is one of the oldest hymns of the Church. Its roots go back to the Gospel of Saint Luke who says, concerning the Birth of the Savior, “And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying: ‘Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests’” (Luke 2:13-14). Someone – we do not know who – in the first decades of the Church poetically expounded on this verse in praise of God. This poem was then put to music by which it entered into the liturgical worship of the first Christians. Saint Hillary of Poitiers translated it into Latin from the original Greek text about the year a.d. 360. The full hymn goes something like this:

Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace to people of good will.


We praise you,
we bless you,
we adore you,
we glorify you,
we give you thanks for your great glory,
Lord God, heavenly King,
O God almighty Father.

Lord Jesus Christ, Only Begotten Son,
Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father,
you take away the sins of the world,
have mercy on us;
you take away the sins of the world,
receive our prayer;
you are seated at the right hand of the Father
have mercy on us.

For you alone are the Holy One,
you alone are the Lord,
you alone are the Most High,
Jesus Christ,
with the Holy Spirit,
in the glory of God the Father.

The roots of this hymn are ancient and the Church has not ceased to sing it in any number of musical settings since it was first composed.

Now I know you may be wondering why I’m talking about Christmas this evening. The reason is simple.

The Church, in the Gloria, has extended this song of praise, which the angels sang in response to the event of the holy night, into a hymn of joy at God’s glory – “we praise you for your glory”. We praise you for the beauty, for the greatness, for your goodness, which becomes visible to us this night. The appearing of beauty, of the beautiful, makes us happy without our having to ask what use it can serve. God’s glory, from which all beauty derives, causes us to break out in astonishment and joy. Anyone who catches a glimpse of God experiences joy…[4]

The Birth of Christ Jesus is not simply an event relegated to the past; it is one the resonates throughout time, just as every event in the life of the Savior is present in every time and place, even in your life and mine. The continual recollection of this leads to an deepening knowledge of God. As we grow in the knowledge of God and of his ways, we are led to fulfill the chief purpose of life: to praise and thank God who bestows his love upon us in heretofore unimaginable ways.  The recollection of the depths of God’s love revealed to us in the Lord Jesus is proof for us that God is always faithful. If you allow your hearts to rest in this certain knowledge, they will not be troubled but will be kept firm until the day the Lord comes.

As you look to the future, dear graduates, do not forget this; do not neglect the memory of what the Lord has done for us. In the moments of the struggles and the joys of life, lift your hearts and sing with all that is in you, “We praise you, we bless you, we adore you, we glorify you, we give you thanks for your great glory!” Such a prayer made with sincerity will always bring peace to your heart and will lead you to the eternal praise of God in the Father’s house (cf. John 14:2). Amen.

[1] J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 310 To Camilla Unwin, 20 May 1969. In The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien. Humphrey Carpenter, ed. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000), 400.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Pope Benedict XVI, Homily, 25 December 2010.