When was the last time you had a really good celebration, where you forgot about the difficulties of life and focused on the goodness God the Father gives? I myself can’t remember one recently. But God wants us to celebrate. Mass, Sunday, and heaven are all celebrations (Cf. CCC 1135, Ps 118:24, CCC 1187). We need celebrations to pass through the test of life, to remind us of where we’re headed.
[Listen to Fr. Justin’s homily here.]
[View Fr. Justin’s homily delivery here.]
But there’s a deeper reason: The human person needs to rejoice in goodness. That’s why so many of us last July and August loved our parish season The Sabbath Summer, where we stopped and worked on celebrating God and His gifts.
St. John Paul II once wrote about “the need for rest, but also the need for celebration which is inherent in our humanity… Human psychology in fact desires the celebration of anniversaries… the remembrance of past events” (Dies Domini, 4, 76).
Today is Pentecost. In the Old Testament, this feast was 50 days after the Jewish Passover, and celebrated God’s giving the Law, and the Law is something positive because it shows us how to love. In the New Testament, Pentecost is 50 days after Easter, which is Jesus’ Passover from death to life, and it celebrates the giving of the Holy Spirit.
I’ve entitled today’s homily Four Steps to Explosive Celebrations because Pentecost was an explosive event: Before Jesus ascended into heaven, He commanded the disciples to wait for the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4), and promised, “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you” (1:8). 120 disciples (1:15), including Mary and the twelve apostles (1:14), are waiting in prayer in the Upper Room where the Last Supper took place (1:13; Cf. Lk 22:12). There’s a sound like a violent wind; flames of fire appear on each of them, and they start speaking in different languages, and all the people in Jerusalem hear them speaking in their own languages about “God’s deeds of power” (Acts 2:2-11). Right after that, St. Peter addresses a crowd, and about 3,000 people become Christian that day (2:41). That’s a great first homily, and an explosive celebration!
How can a similar celebration happen in our lives?
Step 1: Remember God’s Love. In today’s Entrance Antiphon, which is the first prayer of the Mass but which is usually replaced by the opening hymn, it quotes St. Paul: “The love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Spirit of God dwelling within us” (Rom 5:5). This is what we’re supposed to remember and celebrate today: God’s love has been poured into our hearts. We’ve experienced this love, this goodness! St. John Chrysostom says that this love not only comes through the Holy Spirit, but is the Holy Spirit (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Romans, 125).
Throughout the Scriptures, God constantly tells us to remember what He’s done for us because we’re prone to forget. The devil always seeks to destroy everything, including our memory. He helps us forget how good God has been and what our mission is when we’re in a crisis. Deacon James Keating says that the devil especially attacks the truth that we “are of inestimable worth and dignity” (Pastoral Authority and Spiritual Warfare). We forget how good we are, that God delights in us and smiles at us because we’re His children.
Some of you have seen the video of my brother, Fr. Garrick, where he pointed out how he chose to follow God when he perceived and remembered all the good that was happening to him. Here’s a one-minute clip of this. (watch the first minute)
When I meditated on the Entrance Antiphon, I remembered how good God has been to me. It’s so beautiful what He’s done. It’s a celebration of love. And I received this not during a good day, but during a hard one so, even if we’re suffering, it’s still possible to remember His graces.
Step 2: Prepare Your Hearts. St. Luke tells us, “All these with one accord devoted themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren” (Acts 1:14). What were these disciples doing? They were preparing their hearts in prayer, because Jesus told them to wait.
The Holy Spirit won’t force Himself into our lives, so we have to be open to Him. How? We trust Jesus, pray from our hearts, (Bob Schuchts, Be Healed, 167) and even expect Him to give us great things. Jesus says, “If you ask anything of me in my name, I will do it” (Jn 14:14). Now, of course, that means it has to be according to God’s will, but do we really believe God will always grant us what we ask? Do we expect it?
In the past two or three years, I’ve heard so many stories about the power of the Holy Spirit physically healing people, converting hearts, and renewing parishes. Quite often people say, “Everything changed once we started to expect the Holy Spirit to do something. Before, when we prayed for healing or conversions, we were open to His doing something but didn’t expect it.” And the joke is: Well, maybe that’s why nothing happened.
Expecting God the Father to answer us is a vulnerable experience because sometimes He doesn’t grant what we ask. But He’s the perfect Father, and only does good, so, if He doesn’t grant something, it’s because He has a better plan. The point for us now is that we should prepare our hearts for the Holy Spirit to do miracles in our lives and expect Him to. And I’ll give a story about this at the end.
If we do Steps 1 & 2 well, they will lead explosively to Steps 3 & 4.
Step 3: Speak in Other People’s Languages. The First Reading says, “And at this sound (like the wind) the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in their own language… They asked… ‘How is it that we hear, each of us, in our own language” (Acts 2:6-8).
It’s a human and theological reality that when we’re loved and filled with the Holy Spirit we want to share it. The Holy Spirit appeared as fire because “fire symbolizes the transforming energy of the Holy Spirit’s actions” (CCC 696), so these 120 disciples became bold! But how did they share God’s love? In other people’s own languages, in ways they could understand—there’s something very profound here.
Many of you already know about Dr. Gary Chapman’s work on love languages. He’s a devout Christian marriage counsellor who wrote the book The 5 Love Languages where he says that we express and receive love in five ways or languages: words of affirmation, quality time, gifts, acts of service, and physical touch. If your primary love language is quality time, no matter if we cook, clean, or pick up groceries for you, you won’t understand our love for you until we spend time watching a movie together, going on trips, or having dinner together.
My weakest love language (in fact, I got 0% on the love language test) is gifts. Not that I don’t appreciate them (for they’re signs of love); but, I generally understand how much you love me when you tell me. When I asked my cousin, Fr. Danny, why he had so many gifts on his shelf that have no real value, he said, “Because they’re gifts, man! They remind me of people I love! You don’t have a sentimental bone in your body.”
Loving people in their language fits into what Pope Francis says, “There is a kind of preaching which falls to each of us as a daily responsibility. It has to do with bringing the Gospel to the people we meet, whether they be our neighbours or complete strangers… Being a disciple means being constantly ready to bring the love of Jesus to others… on the street, in a city square, during work, on a journey” (Evangelii Gaudium, 127). So, after we remember God’s love for us, we have to share it in ways that people can understand! Start thinking how to do this.
Step 4: Speak of God’s Deeds. The disciples in the First Reading spoke specifically about what? The crowds said, “We hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power” (Acts 2:11). What are those deeds of power? What happened in Jesus’ life and what He’s done and is doing in our lives.
Pope Francis says that it’s only after we bring the concrete love of Jesus to people that we can bring up God’s word, “always keeping in mind the fundamental message: the personal love of God who became man, who gave himself up for us, who is living and who offers us his salvation and his friendship” (Evangelii Gaudium, 128).
You have to share what God has done in your life. You have a story that no one else can tell. If you don’t share it, it’ll be lost forever. And I’m mainly talking about one-on-one sharing. You know the beautiful thing about sharing stories? You don’t have to persuade anyone! It’s your story and no one can argue with it.
I watched our first Testimony Thursdays with Aubrey’s interviewing Danah, and I was so encouraged hearing how far away Danah was from God, how she’s called herself immature, and then how God has made her so mature, full of self-possession, and wise beyond her years. The only negative part was how she said she disliked me when I first got here!
But people relate to those kinds of things! They love to hear them. “Shared stories build a relational bridge that Jesus can walk across from your heart to theirs” (Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life, 290). And if they ever ask how to learn more about God or faith, invite them to Alpha, which will be running for the next 12 weeks.
As your spiritual father, I’d like to call for a week-long explosive celebration. Why? Because we need it and this is what’s suggested in the Church’s calendar.
It would start like this: See if you can cancel some activities or meetings in order to have more time to pray.
Then do Step 1: Remember God’s love. Write it down or do it together with others.
Step 2: Prepare Your Hearts, and expect the Holy Spirit to come.
Then take The 5 Love Languages test! This is Step 3: Speak in Others’ Languages. We can share God’s love in ways they can understand. The Holy Spirit’s giving us an opportunity to pour out His love and, for example, I look forward to telling as many of you as possible how good you are.
Then Step 4: Speak of God’s Deeds. This is the most explosive part of the celebration: an opportunity to share what God has done in our lives, so that others can receive the same.
I told you to expect the Holy Spirit to do great things, in spite of the fact that He doesn’t always grant us what we ask. The person from whom I’ve learned this truth is Dr. Bob Schuchts. His father left him when he was 13, his basketball coach tried to molest him, he felt betrayed by God, had to go to counselling for his marriage, but was healed by Jesus during a retreat. What I didn’t tell you about is how explosive the Holy Spirit has been in the rest of his life. He forgave his father after years of silently judging him in his heart; his brother Bart was healed from being wounded by his father, and his brother Dave, who had become a drug addict, was also set free (Schuchts, 139-143).
As for his marriage, he wrote this: “Arriving home… after [a] retreat, I was still full of the Holy Spirit… When I saw Margie … I wrapped my arms around her and embraced her as never before. Though we had much to work through and still do, it was a new beginning in many ways… After holding Margie, I couldn’t wait to embrace Carrie and Kristen… My heart was full, and I wanted to share it with the ones I loved the most” (23).
Believe it or not, most of his family members have had similar healing experiences. He and some colleagues even started a Family Reconstruction community that has helped thousands of people (24). He’s also seen the Holy Spirit heal someone legally blind and someone who couldn’t walk (48-53). Here’s the point: Bob himself knows that the Holy Spirit doesn’t always give what we ask, but he still prays expecting the Holy Spirit to do something explosive, whether it’s physical or spiritual.
Be ready for something explosive in your lives! None of us will forget this Pentecost week, when the Holy Spirit’s love is poured into us and others.