This coming Sunday, on the Fourth Sunday of Easter, the Church universal observes the World Day of Prayer for Vocations. In his message for this 58th annual Day of Prayer, Pope Francis writes, “The Lord’s call is not an intrusion of God in our freedom; it is not a ‘cage’ or a burden to be borne. On the contrary, it is the loving initiative whereby God encounters us and invites us to be part of a great undertaking. He opens before our eyes the horizon of a greater sea and an abundant catch.”
With this in mind, I would like to share with you my homily from the Third Sunday of Easter, which was a reflection on the gift of the Holy Spirit and its use in responding to Jesus’ commission to be his witnesses in the world (cf. Lk 24:28).
Dear Vincent, as you represented the Confirmation class of both St. Thomas Aquinas & St. Patrick [Parishes], along with a candidate that joins us from Holy Trinity Parish, I want to thank you for your words of welcome but also for your attestation of the preparation for the Sacrament. It is very interesting to me that you spoke of “witness” in the preparation process because today, with the receiving of the Gift of the Holy Spirit, that is what you are being sent out in the world to be! “You are witnesses of these things” (Lk 24:48); that’s the last line of today’s Gospel. And yet, what are you being called to be witness of?
Today Michela is also going to make her First Holy Communion and receive food for the journey. But what is that journey all about? In a nutshell, it is all about making Jesus Christ present in the world today. That’s what it is all about! It’s all about being what we call “real presence.” As Catholics — even though there have been polls taken that suggest otherwise — one of the core beliefs we have is in the real presence of Jesus Christ in the bread and wine and in the Holy Eucharist. That through the working of the Holy Spirit that bread and that wine placed upon the altar table become the very body and blood of Jesus Christ. He is really present to us in the Sacrament!
And again, like our mother Mary when she was asked to be the mother of Jesus — the Mother of God’s Son — she asked a question: “Well, how can this be?” The Angel Gabriel, God’s messenger, came back to her and said, “The power of the Most High will overshadow you” (Lk 1:35). What is the power of the Most High? It is the power of the Holy Spirit (see Lk 1:35)! And as you have been learning, who is the Holy Spirit? It is none other than God! So that the gift that you are receiving today is the gift of God himself, who promises to be with you all your days, to meet you wherever you are on the road of life.
That is the scene of our Gospel reading this morning. The scene involves two of Jesus’ disciples talking about their encounter with Jesus on the road to Emmaus. They realized what had happened and they run back to the Apostles to tell them about it. As they’re telling them, Jesus himself comes among them. But you know what is interesting? I don’t know if you caught who they thought Jesus was, but they thought, “Oh, it’s a ghost!” But Jesus says, “No, I am real! I am not a ghost, it’s really me.” And in fact, that is why he eats the piece of fish — to prove that it is really him.
But, in this particular account, it’s funny that we encounter that phrase, since he has appeared to his disciples before. It is also not the first time they say, “It’s a ghost.” Remember when Jesus was walking on the water in the midst of stormy seas, they thought Jesus was a ghost (cf. Jn 6:15-21). But notice what happens: he gets in the boat with them and everything calms down.
Well, sisters and brothers, today that is what Jesus wants to do for us. He wants to be part of our journey. He wants to be with us in the “ups” of life and in the “downs” of life, when the road is smooth and when the road is bumpy. And yet, you know sometimes if we were to make Jesus a ghost, wouldn’t it be easier to “blow him off,” as they say? Wouldn’t it be easier just to disregard Jesus? To say, “Oh, what a nice person but what does it matter to me?”
If Jesus is real and if the Jesus who we believe in comes to us every Sunday to be food for our journey, can our lives ever be the same again? Today, you receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, and what’s one of the symbols of the gift of the Holy Spirit but a flame or a dove. But think of it — a dove or a flame — in order for a flame to keep going it needs fuel, and in order for a dove to keep living it needs food. And where do you and I have fuel and food to stir into flame the gift of God in our lives but right here at this altar, at this Holy Table where Jesus comes to us and he breaks the bread? You see, if he is really present and if you and I receive this real presence, can we not be different in a sense — should it not make a difference?
See, that is why I think sometimes if we say that Jesus is a ghost it would be easier because I can’t make him present, I can’t make him real. But because Jesus IS present, Jesus IS real, we hear that call of today’s Gospel to be his witnesses to the world. When I was praying over our Scriptures, I went to one of the commentaries on today’s readings and I just want to share with you this one paragraph that I thought said so much to me. It stated: “Jesus’ work is not complete even after he has risen from the dead. At his time of dying and rising, his disciples had scattered. Their faith crushed and their spirits despairing. In Jesus’ resurrection, he conquered death in his own being, but his great desire was not to keep this for himself but to share it with all. And so, for forty days until his ascension he appeared to his disciples so that they might also know the resurrection and their share in it. During this time, he prepares them for their mission to serve as witnesses until all the nations have encountered the Gospel. In our Easter joy, we are reminded that this mission is ours” (Living Liturgy, p.113).
That is our mission, sisters and brothers, every time we leave this gathering, every time we leave this sacred place and this Holy Table. When we go out into the world, we carry with us the real presence of Jesus. And you know in a world that is wondering if Jesus is real, wondering again about his real presence, the challenge is that you and I are called to be that real presence. Last week, we heard the Gospel about Thomas and his encounter with the Risen Lord. Poor Thomas gets such a bum rap I feel — they call him Thomas the Doubter — but let’s be honest with ourselves. If you were Thomas and you went up into that upper room and you were met by these Apostles who say, “The Lord has been raised. We have seen him.” And yet they are all locked away. They are all afraid. Might you ask, “Did you really see him; did you really meet him? You are not acting like you met him.”
And can’t people say that in the world today? They’ll say, “You say you believe in God, you say you believe in Jesus. I don’t see any difference in the world because you call yourself a Christian.” You see, sisters and brothers, that’s the challenge: that just as you and I are now fed by the Lord, we are called to use that energy, that food for the journey, to let the face of God, to let Jesus, be seen through you and me.
When we talk about the gifts of the Holy Spirit, I like to use the example of a gift that remains in a box. Let’s take for example a KitchenAid mixer that remains on a shelf not seeing the light of day. In actuality, the mixer is no good unless you take it off the shelf, and then you have to plug in the mixer, and then you have to use it in order for it to be the gift that it is meant to be, producing a nice batch of chocolate- chip cookies!
But you know, isn’t it true? That mixer is no good unless it is plugged in; it has to be connected to its power source. Then also it needs to be used. That, too, is the gift of the Holy Spirit. Today, God is coming to you in a special way and in turn you are being invited to connect to that power source. And as you connect to that power of God in your life, just like our mother Mary, you are invited to say, “My soul doth magnify the Lord.” That is what we are being called to, sisters and brothers. And when we magnify the Lord, that is when we show forth the fruits of the Spirit. The fruits of the Spirit as found in St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians (cf. Gal 5:22-23). The fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Now can you imagine what our world would be like if not only we used the gifts of the Holy Spirit but it bore the fruits that it says it does? Our world would be a different place! Even just starting with the first ones of love and joy.
So, I am going to leave you with a final story today. It’s a story of a boy named Johnny. Johnny was the class clown. One day Sister Anne, their teacher, asked, “What is the most important part of the Mass?” One kid raised his hand. Sister said, “Yes, Mark, what is the most important part of the Mass?” Mark said that the most important part of the Mass is the “consecration,” that moment when the priest prays over the bread and wine asking the Holy Spirit to make them the Body and Blood of Christ. Sister said that was a very good answer. Another young girl raised her hand and Sister said, “OK, Sally, what is the most important part of the Mass?” She responded, “Well, Holy Communion is the most important part of the Mass because that is where we receive Jesus in us and as we receive Jesus in us, he has a special place within us.” “That’s a very good answer, Sally,” Sister replied.
Well, little Johnny is way in the back waving his hand; he wants Sister’s attention. Sister says to herself, “Oh no! Do I call on him?” Well, she calls on Johnny. “Ok, Johnny, what’s the most important part of the Mass?” Johnny stands up and he’s proud and he says, “Sister, the most important part of the Mass is the dismissal rite!” Sister looked at him and asked him if he was being a wise guy. He said, “No, no, Sister! The dismissal rite is the most important part of the Mass because that’s the part where we go out and live the Mass. That’s the part where we go out and bring Jesus into the world.” Wow! He got an “A” that day!
Sisters and brothers, that’s also what this day is all about for you and me, whether it’s the Lord’s day or receiving the gift of Confirmation. Today, we are being reminded that you and I are God’s witnesses in the world — that if Jesus Christ is going to be real for the world today, if Jesus Christ is going to be known, it’s through you and me!
Dear Confirmation students, today with the special gift of the Holy Spirit, may you know that you can always do that because God will be with you every step of the way. Amen!