Setting the World On Fire

File0258Homily from Pentecost Sunday, May 19, 2013

Today is the 17th anniversary of the death of my father, John J. Donnelly, Jr. (lovingly remembered as “Red”). Indulge me for a moment, if you will, as I tie the memories and lessons of his passing to the Feast of Pentecost.

My dad had been sick for a while and would not recover from his illness. So, my family was challenged with the decision of honoring his wishes – to allow him to be removed from life support and to allow him to die in peace. As you can imagine, it was a difficult thing for my mother and her six children to experience.  We had to accept the end of my dad’s earthly life to allow him to begin his new life with God.

Seventeen years later, two things about that day still stick out in my mind. First, was the drive to the hospital to be with my dad. The song “Because You Loved Me” by Celine Dion was playing on the radio and, as I listened, that song served as a soundtrack of my life as I recalled my relationship with my dad:

“You were my strength when I was weak. You were my voice when I couldn’t speak. You were my eyes when I couldn’t see. You saw the best there was in me. Lifted me up when I couldn’t reach. You gave me faith ‘coz you believed. I’m everything I am because you loved me.”

The second thing was the reaction of my family members after my dad passed away. For me, it was interesting to observe how four sons and two daughters who grew up in the same family would experience and grieve my dad’s death in such different ways.

You may be familiar with the work of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross who wrote extensively on the stages of grief. She identified those stages as Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. And she writes that while “these are the responses to loss that many people have, there is not a typical response to loss and there is no typical loss. Our grief is as individual as our lives.”

I guess I was expecting something different. There we were; six kids from the same gene pool (shallow and murky as that pool may be) who grew up in the same house, went to the same schools, attended the same church, and shared the same family stories and traditions. But each experienced loss and grief in different ways. And each brought different gifts to the grieving process: none better, none worse – just different.

This reminds me of our First Reading today. The apostles were gathered all in one place. They had experienced their own stages of grief after the death of Jesus. As they witnessed the descent of the Holy Spirit, they each had a different experience. The Holy Spirit allowed them to speak in tongues – in unknown languages that were understood by a diverse group who had gathered in Jerusalem. Just as God does with each of us as we grieve a loss, God sent the Holy Spirit to meet those gathered in Jerusalem “where they were” and to minister to them in ways that allowed them to proclaim Christ in their lives.

This is what Pentecost is all about: For us to recall Christ’s command to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth.

In our Confirmation we have received a new spirit for a new life we are called to live. But this isn’t a one-time deal. We have to be open to receiving the Spirit every day and we have to be open to living the life we are called to live – every day. That’s where the challenge often begins.

Think about a time in your life when you were especially moved by the Holy Spirit. Maybe it was at the birth of your child or the death of a loved one. May be it was during your Timothy 4 retreat or an ACTS retreat. Maybe it was at sight of a beautiful sunset or the words of a particularly moving song or poem. The Spirit moves us in different ways. And each of us has different gifts to offer. But we have to share and live those gifts. We can’t just keep them to ourselves.

The beauty of this is summed up in something I read this week about the value of Catholic communities: “The gift and strength of community is that we come to community with individual gifts, and in turn we are the recipients of the gifts of all those who gather with us.” (Brother Stephen Glodek, SM – Marianist Praxis: Building Marianist Educational Culture) This is why we worship together at Mass each Sunday. This is why we gather – to bring our own unique gifts, and to receive the gifts of community in Christ. But in order for this formula to work we have to be open to accepting our individual and communal gifts. And we have to be open to sharing those gifts with others. This ebb and flow of grace needs to be a constant cycle in our lives.

This past Tuesday, I attended a workshop hosted by the Archdiocese on Social Media and Evangelization. We started the day with Mass. The lector began to proclaim the first reading but you could barely hear her. We continued with the Psalm, but it was hard to hear that as well – until half-way through the Psalm when someone remembered to turn on the sound system! Bishop Rice, who was presiding at the Mass, opened his homily by joking, “Lesson one in evangelization – turn on the microphone!”

We need to ask ourselves a question: Is my evangelization microphone on? Am I continuing to live those grace-filled moments of my ACTS retreat, or my Timothy 4 retreat, or my Luke 18 retreat? Am I allowing the Holy Spirit to continue to work through me and to lead me in my life? Am I on fire with the Holy Spirit … or do I need to rekindle the flame in my heart?

That’s what we are called to do: To be on fire wherever God leads us, to allow the gifts we have received to flow through us, to recognize and believe that we are loved, and to be witnesses to Christ to the ends of the earth.

Sure, sometimes this is scary and uncomfortable. Even the disciples were afraid. As we just heard, they locked themselves in a room after Jesus died out of fear of the Jews. But Jesus came and stood in their midst and he told them repeatedly: “Peace be with you. Peace be with you.”

Maybe that’s how we can help rekindle the fire in our hearts. This evening, when I invite you to share the sign of peace with others, I am going to invite our youth to do something a little different. I am going to invite you to make a symbolic gesture of going forth to share your gifts and spread the love of Christ.

I invite you teens, at the Sign of Peace, to leave your pews and mingle around the church, extending the sign of peace to the rest of the congregation. Allow the Holy Spirit to flow through you. Demonstrate what it means to proclaim Jesus to the ends of the earth (or at least to the ends of the last pews!). Are you willing to accept this invitation?

Let me wrap up this evening with a quick story and a quote. The late Fr. Jim Krings helped me understand my giftedness and my relationship with the Holy Spirit. From his spiritual counsel I adopted the phrase “Be on fire wherever you are” as my spiritual mantra. This was a response to Fr. Krings’ challenge to not just be a person who had received the gifts of the ACTS retreats, but to be a person who lives and shares those gifts. And, from that living and sharing, Fr. Krings challenged us to attract and invite others to share this wonderful experience (to put it in Bishop Rice terms, to “make sure our evangelization microphone was always on”).

It is true with the ACTS retreats. It is true with Timothy 4 retreats, the Luke 18 retreats, Kairos retreats … whatever spiritual movement you may experience. We are not only expected to receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit, but we are also expected to share (to live) those gifts with others. When we join our individual gifts with the gifts of our community, we can make a world of difference in our lives.

I think this quote from St. Catherine of Sienna sums it up very well. She said:

“Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire!”

This week, I pray that we will all reflect on these words and help set the world on fire by sharing our gifts and Christ’s love with each other.

Peace be with you!

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