Sunday, May 24, 2015

Light or darkness, Babylon or Christ? (Pentecost homily)

The readings for Pentecost are different for the Vigil and the Day. 
I don’t expect many of you to do this, but—
ideally we would come to Mass both on the vigil, and on the day. 
I know that’s a lot to ask, but: Pentecost really is that important!

So at the vigil, we hear from Genesis about how early in human history, 
people tried to make a name for themselves 
by building the city of Babel. 
They aren’t interested in God; they don’t seek God’s help.

This is the same city later called Babylon – 
which becomes, in Scripture, 
a symbol of all in the world that demands our loyalty other than God. 
You will remember how King Nebuchadnezzar built a golden statue, 
and the three Hebrew boys, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, refused to worship it, 
and they were thrown into the fiery furnace. 
Babylon always opposes God directly. 
Babylon lives on in our culture and government.

On the day of Pentecost, we hear about 
how the Apostles and the other first Christians, 
including the Mother of Jesus, are gathered in Jerusalem, 
praying for the Holy Spirit. 
So while God frustrates the designs of the city 
that worships itself: Babylon; 
the Father pours out the Holy Spirit 
on the gathering of people who trust in Jesus Christ.

In one sense, Pentecost is a conclusion. 
It’s the completion of what Jesus came to do: 
to bring us from darkness to light, from sin to hope.

But in another sense, it’s not a conclusion but a beginning: 
the beginning of the new creation.

While the color at Mass today is red—
standing for the fire of the Holy Spirit—
there’s a reason why it’ll be green after today. 
Green is the color of things that grow—
like our grass outside, at long last! 

When the universe began, long ago, 
scientists describe that event as “the Big Bang”—
a sudden, intense burst of energy that set everything in motion; 
and billions of years later, 
the force of that is still propelling the galaxies further outward. 
We know, of course, that that “Big Bang” 
was God saying, “Let there be light.” 

Pentecost is the new Creation: 
heavenly power bursting forth upon the first 120 Christians, 
led by Peter—and they all went out in different directions, 
sharing Jesus with the world. 
And that outward movement continues, 1,985 years later.

God’s People faced Babylon long ago; 
Peter and the Church faced Rome, and we face our own Babylon. 
So it will always be 
until Christ completes the New Creation at the end of time.

Now, one of the things that I have noticed about Saint Remy Parish 
is that people know their Faith. 
That doesn’t just happen; 
it’s something that the priests before me, and many of you, 
helping to teach and share, have made happen. 
It’s a strong refuge in stormy times.

But, the truth is that what wins people 
isn’t just knowing the Faith, but living it. 
Faith, hope and love, these three remain—
but the greatest of these is love. 
We need to know our Faith, to be sure; 
but what wins people is when they are convinced we practice it. 
When they see we make sacrifices to live holy lives, 
that we really put God first, and that we really believe in forgiveness—
not just in getting it for ourselves, but even more in giving it to others.

Present-day Babylon tells people 
that Christianity is nothing but rules and empty rituals. 
We tell each other stories to make ourselves feel better. 
We light candles because we’re afraid of the dark. 
But we don’t really have anything to offer. 
Babylon says, worship sex, worship power, worship beauty, 
worship the money you can make, worship yourself—
because that’s all there is.

What Babylon doesn’t say is that man without God really is empty; 
and what begins as the exaltation of man 
ends with concentration camps and piles of bones.

Jesus knew what he was doing when he told the Apostles, 
stay in Jerusalem and pray for the Gift of the Holy Spirit. 
He knew that the task he gave them 
wasn’t going to get done with a pep talk or a few clever phrases. 
They would need the Big Bang of the Holy Spirit filling their lives, 
and driving them outward.

In that regard, nothing’s changed. 
We wonder why we face difficult times; 
people wonder, where did the insanity of our times come from? 
But it’s always been there. 
Jesus knew the power of the spirit of the world. 
That’s why he said, pray for the gift of the Holy Spirit. 

Now, I want to call attention to something I know you’ve noticed: this candle. 
It was so tall when we first lit it at Easter! 
No doubt some of you wonder if someone let it burn all night. 
Why does that crazy Father Fox let it burn down like that? 
It’s not very pretty anymore. You’re right—it’s not.

A candle has but one purpose: it burns to give light. 
The Easter Candle stands for the Light of Christ. 
I wanted to keep it burning during Easter 
not only to remind us both where our light—our power—comes from, 
but also as a reminder of why Jesus came into the world: 
to be spent—used up—for the salvation of souls.

God doesn’t light us with the fire of the Holy Spirit 
so we can quickly put it out, 
and save ourselves for later. 
We’re only going to get so many years in this life. 
When our time ends, will we want to say to Jesus: 
look, I didn't burn my candle, I kept it pretty, I saved it?

I said a moment ago that those who mock us 
claim we’re afraid of the dark. 
In one sense they’re right: there is darkness in the world, 
and it’s growing, and it is something to fear. 
But you and I have the light of Jesus Christ, and we fear nothing!

Light that candle, keep it burning! Burn with the fire of God! 
This is what the Church of God is. This is what you are, O Christian! 
Lift up that light! Lift it up! Let it shine!


Jenny said...

Wow! Did they cheer your final words? I KNOW I would have been tempted to do so!! I did do so just now as I finished reading. God bless you, Father for your fire--the fire of God! Once again, I admit to envy of your parishioners...

Anonymous said...

This encouraged me. Even when I think no one but God sees, if I continue to shine, I help push back the darkness. Thank you, Father!~ Rosemary A.

rcg said...

This really is prescient when we consider the current news. I am as guilty as many, if not most, of thinking how I might portray the Light to the non-Catholic world when I should strive to support my Catholic brothers and sisters every bit as much.