Surprised By Grace: Moments of Pentecost
by Paulist Fr. Rich Andre
June 4, 2017

Paulist Fr. Rich Andre preached this homily on Pentecost Sunday, May 24, 2015, at St. John XXIII Parish in Knoxville, TN. The homily is based on the day’s readings: Acts 2:1-11; Psalm 104; 1 Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13; and John 20:19-23

At Ascension, Jesus instructed the disciples to “Stay in the city” (Luke 24:9). “You will receive power when the holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

Luke tells that there were roughly 120 disciples (Acts 1:15) who had come from Galilee with Jesus for the Passover six weeks previously, and that they “were continually in the temple praising God” (Luke 24:53). They were staying in the upper room, “devoting themselves with one accord to prayer, together with some women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers” (Acts 1:14).

These must have been days of confusion and joy. No one knew exactly what would happen, or when it would happen, but it was probably the first time that they shared their individual experiences of Jesus. Peter, James and John probably first told the story of seeing Jesus transfigured, conversing with Moses and Elijah. Perhaps Mary related for the first time the miraculous circumstances of Jesus’ conception. Surely they sang the psalms. Did they start to make connections between Jesus the Good Shepherd and Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd”? Did they see their experience of the Ascension reflect in Psalm 47, “God mounts his throne to shouts of joy”? As they awaited the Holy Spirit, did they pray with Psalm 104, “Lord, send out your spirit and renew the face of the earth”?

Lord, send out your spirit. Shower us with your mercy!

Today is the third most important day of the Church year. But somehow, Pentecost has failed to excite most Christians as much as Easter and Christmas do. And that’s a shame. The Holy Spirit is the glue that holds our faith together. It makes us the Body of Christ. The Holy Spirit dwells within each of us; it guides us as individuals and as a church community. 

When we prepare people for confirmation, we usually speak about the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel, knowledge, fortitude, piety, and fear of the Lord. But that over-simplifies the power and the gifts of the Spirit. We have each been gifted – or graced – by the Spirit in multiple, unique ways. As a Paulist priest, I understand my mission as helping people to see how the Spirit is already working in their lives!

But the only way I can witness to the Spirit working in any of you is to have a one-on-one conversation with you. So today, in the interest of time, I’ll witness to you about three graces that I have received from the Holy Spirit. 

The first one occurred at a low point in my life when I was working at a stressful, unfulfilling job. Then, one Sunday, I learned that my parish would be holding a special service of the anointing of the sick that afternoon. On the spur of the moment, I decided to go. It was one of the most powerful experiences of my life. As Fr. Gerry anointed my hands, parishioners I did not know surrounded me and touched my arms and shoulders. And in that moment, I felt the embrace of God in a new way. And the gift I received? Trust that God would always be with me.  Since then, that grace, that gift, has never left me.

The next experience was a few years later. I was singing with the Diocesan Choir at St. Paul’s Cathedral in Pittsburgh for an ordination – the first one I had ever attended. I don’t know exactly why, but I had a “lightning bolt” experience – I suddenly sensed that God was inviting me to consider becoming a priest. Well, it took roughly 11 years to “trace the call” and become a priest, but I am convinced that on that day I received the gift of vocation – a sense of what God has called me to do with my life. As anyone who’s known me a while can tell you, I’ve never been happier or healthier.

But in the process of applying for acceptance to the seminary, I discovered another grace that I had received. I was one of the many, many people who had had a pretty miserable time in junior high school. But things had begun to turn around for me as I gained a sense of understanding other people’s perspectives. And remarkably, I found that I could pinpoint when that began to happen in my life… and that it coincided almost exactly to when I was confirmed! I now view this gift of understanding, or perhaps, of empathy, as a grace of the Holy Spirit.

Three gifts of the Holy Spirit. Three unexpected moments. Connected with … three sacraments of the Catholic Church? Every time we receive a sacrament, we receive grace. This is why I say what I say so often: Sacraments are not rewards for a job well done; they are graces for the journey ahead!

What is grace? It’s a gift of the Holy Spirit. Every time we receive a sacrament – and the vast majority of us are about to receive the sacrament of the Eucharist – we have the opportunity to ask God for a grace, for a gift of the Holy Spirit. Let’s take a moment in silence to pray: what is the gift I wish to receive today, Lord? There are many gifts, but one same Spirit. 

Why do we use red to depict the Holy Spirit? Because we often represent the Holy Spirit as fire. Fire has an important property in chemical reactions, including cooking. You can assemble all the ingredients for a meal or all the chemicals for an experiment, but it often takes the heat of a fire cause those elements to change. The molecules in every ingredient become more energetic. New flavors come to the fore. Together, the ingredients become a new creation. 

When the Holy Spirit descended on the Upper Room, a chemical reaction happened. Suddenly, each disciple’s experience of Jesus was refined and forged into a new gospel. And that energy forced the doors open, compelling the disciples to stream into the streets to proclaim the mighty acts of God.

On this great feast of Pentecost, come once again, Holy Spirit. Give us the graces and energy necessary to propel us forward in our journey of faith together!