Sunday, May 11, 2008

Year A Solemnity of Pentecost-Vespers

Reading: 1 Cor. 12,3b-7.12-13

Jesus is Lord. Indeed, no one can say this and mean it "except by the Holy Spirit" (1Cor. 12,3). Jesus sends His Holy Spirit, breathes His Holy Spirit, which is also the Spirit of the Father, upon His Church continuously. This breath, this Spirit, is the giver of life. The Spirit gives us life through the diversity of gifts He lavishes freely upon us. No matter what the gift, it is to be put at the service of others, of the Church and of the world.

In his encyclical letter, Deus Caritas Est, the Holy Father writes that our deepest nature, as Church, "is expressed in [our] three-fold responsibility: of proclaiming the word of God (kerygma-martyria), celebrating the sacraments (leitourgia), and exercising the ministry of charity (diakonia)" (DCE par. 25a). While these responsibilities "presuppose each other and are inseparable" from each other, they are distinguishable (DCE, par. 25a). What unites them is the common mission accomplished by God in us through them. This is what St. Paul writes about in our passage today.

We are one body, one spirit in Christ. Making us the Body of Christ is the work of the Holy Spirit. Of course, the masterworks of the Holy Spirit are the sacraments. Last evening and today, right here in this Cathedral, many people, young and old, received the sacrament of Confirmation. This sacrament consists in anointing with sacred chrism, accompanied by the words, "Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit." In Confirmation, as in all the sacraments, God gives us his very self, that is, we receive a portion of that divine life shared by the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We call this gift grace. The Holy Spirit is God’s gift par excellence.

When we receive the Holy Spirit, we receive His seven gifts: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord (Compendium, par. 389). These gifts, given for service and the advancement of God’s reign, bear fruit. The specific fruits they bear are the hallmarks Christian discipleship. In other words, they constitute the objectively verifiable criteria of our discipleship, indicating how closely we follow our Lord. These fruits are: charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, and chastity. All of which the world has sorely lacked since our fall from grace.

These fruits, in turn, are manifested in a specifically Christian manner, known as the works of mercy. These works are both spiritual and corporal. These, respectively, consist of counseling the doubtful, instructing the ignorant, admonishing sinners, comforting the afflicted, forgiving offenses, bearing wrongs patiently, and praying for the living and the dead, feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, visiting the sick, visiting the imprisoned, and burying the dead. It is easy to see that all ministries of our parish are based on these concrete works, all of which are asked of us by our Lord himself, in fulfillment of the two great commandments, as expressions of our love for Him and for each other.

So, on this Pentecost, certain that God gratuitously gifts us, let us discern the gifts God gives to each one of us. As we bring the season of Easter to a close with this Vespers service, we are challenged to put to our gifts at the service of others in order that they bear fruit in bringing about God’s reign. By doing so, we declare in our worship, witness, and service, by the Holy Spirit, that Jesus is Lord!

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