Preached June 9, 2019; St. Peter Catholic Church, The Dalles, Oregon
As we have just heard, on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came upon the Apostles and disciples in the form of tongues of fire. The fire speaks of the fire of divine love, while the tongues speak of the gift of speech, speech that is at once strong, loving, and wise. The speech is first of all speech in praise of the mighty works of God, but then in the second place it involves announcing those same mighty works to others. The mighty works are not just any mighty works, but the mighty works that God has accomplished in Jesus Christ.
St. Peter wrote to the baptized: You are chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may announce the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Pe 1:9)
We can understand a little what took place on Pentecost, and so also what should take place in us through the activity of the Holy Spirit, if we consider the example of St. Peter.
Before Pentecost St. Peter was a weak man who knew and loved Jesus of Nazareth and sort of understood that he was the Christ and Son of God. Then, one Thursday night he fell asleep when he was supposed to be praying, when Jesus had told him, Watch and pray, so that you do not fall into temptation. (Mt 26:41) He woke up to find that Jesus was going out to meet the traitor accompanied by a group of soldiers. He got up his courage and struck a blow and then even followed after Jesus as they led him off. Then he came into the courtyard of the High Priest, saw what was happening to Jesus and then his human love and human courage failed. A servant girl said, You too were with Jesus the Galilean. Peter replied, I do not know what you are talking about. (Mt 26:6,7) Then he sought the comfort of the fire in the courtyard and it went downhill from there. (cf. Jn 18:18)
Peter’s faith was shaken, his love failed, his courage failed, he denied the truth, and he departed from the way of wisdom. All this was because he did not yet have the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Today, we Catholics have become rather like Peter before Pentecost. We fail to speak up, because we have been told to shut up, and we are afraid of offending.
If others speak and act in ways that are offensive to the Catholic faith, we are told that we must be tolerant; if we speak up on behalf of the truth of the Catholic faith and the moral law that is rooted in our created nature, we are not tolerated; we are called bigots and haters and worse.
So we close our mouths. Then what we are afraid to speak, we soon find that we are afraid to think. If we are afraid even to think with the Catholic faith, we will soon lose our faith altogether, even if we still go through the motions.
In any case, Peter denying Jesus was Peter before Pentecost. Let us now consider what Peter said on Pentecost and then again shortly thereafter. We will see Peter transformed.
Following what we heard in today’s 1st reading is Peter’s speech to the crowd, the first public preaching of the Apostles.
St. Peter’s speech showed the wisdom of God as he interpreted the events of Pentecost and the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in the light of the sacred Scripture of the Old Testament. In this way he showed the fulfillment of God’s plan in Jesus Christ and the Church.
His words, though, are not just a nice historical summary, they are addressed to a crowd that had once cried out, Crucify him! Crucify him! Peter does not let the crowd forget that fact and he brings his speech to a powerful conclusion declaring: God raised this Jesus; of this we are all witnesses. Exalted at the right hand of God, he received the promise of the Holy Spirit from the Father and poured it forth, as you both see and hear. … therefore let the whole house of Israel know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified. (Acts 2:32-33,36)
How insensitive of him! How hateful! Reminding those men of their sins. Didn’t Jesus pray, Father, forgive them? (Lk 23:34)
No, it was not insensitive; it was not hateful; it was a speech filled with highest love. It was filled with love because Peter who had denied Jesus and who had been forgiven, who had not only received Jesus’ forgiveness, but had received the gift of the Holy Spirit, wanted those men to receive the same gift of mercy.
Indeed the crowd, upon hearing St. Peter’s words were cut to the heart and asked what they should do. (Acts 2:37)
No, consider, who today, ever comes to the Church like that crowd spoke to St. Peter, with repentance, simplicity, and humility, and asks, “What must we do to be saved?”
In any case, Peter answered them: Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38) The same gift you are now witnessing in us. Three thousand were baptized that day. (cf. Acts 2:41)
Next, some days later, the Apostles were brought before the Sanhedrin, the very same tribunal that had condemned Jesus to death for blasphemy. Peter, who had once been terrified of the High Priest’s servant girl, had the courage to declare
openly to the High Priest himself that God had raised from the dead the very Jesus whom you crucified and there is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to men by which we are to be saved. (Acts 4:10,12)
The Sanhedrin was dumbfounded and could think of nothing else to do but to order the Apostles to stop speaking about Jesus. St. Peter replied, Whether it is right in the sight of God for us to obey you rather than God, you be the judges. It is impossible not to speak about what we have seen and heard. (Acts 4:19-20) There is St. Peter transformed by the Holy Spirit.
If we follow the path of St. Peter’s preaching we can discover the path to Pentecost and the renewal of Pentecost in our own lives.
The Holy Spirit first leads us to the knowledge of Jesus by belief in the preaching of the Apostles – which is handed on in the Tradition of the Church – and repentance of our sins. He then moves us to the sacraments, first baptism, then for those who are already baptized, confession, and the Holy Eucharist. Then as our knowledge of Jesus deepens we are given the power to bear witness, to speak about what we have seen and heard.
Even though we do not have the experience of St. Peter and the other Apostles, even though we were not there 2,000 years ago, even though we did not live with Jesus on a day-to-day basis, even though we did not hear his teaching and see his miracles, even though we did not witness his death and resurrection, we can bear witness to what we have seen and heard. We can do this because Jesus – the same Jesus – has risen from the dead, and lives and acts in his Church, pouring forth his Holy Spirit to this day, transforming lives and making saints.
The problem is that even though we have been baptized, even though we have been confirmed, even though we have received the gift of the Holy Spirit, we put up obstacles to his work. God wants it. There is no blockage on his side. We are the ones who put up obstacles.
The first obstacle is our lack of desire. We are content with our life here and now and so we have little real desire to know Jesus and attain eternal life.
This leads to the second obstacle that of our sins and our lack of repentance.
Repentance needs to go deeper than repenting of this or that sin. Repentance involves more than just saying, “I’m sorry”; repentance involves a whole change of attitude, this involves adopting a whole new way of thinking, a whole new worldview. As St. Paul puts it: Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind. (Rm 12:2) And, Take every thought captive in obedience to Christ. (2 Cor 10:5)
God gives himself to those who give themselves to him, without condition, without reserve. So we can ask ourselves: I am baptized, but have I ever really given myself to God? Have I have ever really sought to live by the gift of the Holy Spirit? Have I ever really let the Holy Spirit into my life? Have I ever really desired to become a saint? Or have I only wanted just so much of God’s blessing, enough to get on with my life, and to be successful with my own desires and plans? Have I ever really put God first in my life, seeking his will and his plan for my life? Have I truly put on the mind of Christ, or do I think with the world and use the language of faith as window dressing?
The third obstacle is that we do not really know Jesus.
God gives himself to those who give themselves to him. So we do not know Jesus because we do not give ourselves wholeheartedly to him.
We do not know Jesus – who is the same yesterday, today, and forever (cf. Heb 13:8)
– because we do not know the Jesus of the Gospels; that is because we hear only what we want to hear, filtered through all manner of modern day distortions and falsifications. We do not know Jesus because we do not know him in the tradition of the Church and in the lives of the saints. We do not know Jesus because we do not know Mary. Truly praying the mysteries of the rosary, which is a summary of the Gospel, would help get us on the right track.
Hidden among the disciples on that first Pentecost was the Blessed Virgin Mary. She was not among them as one awaiting the Holy Spirit for the first time; she was among them as the Immaculate Conception, the Spouse of the Holy Spirit from the beginning of her existence. She was among them as the Holy Mother of God who knew Jesus as no one else did. She was among them as a beacon of faith, praying for them, and gently showing them the way.
We need to turn to Mary, Queen of the Apostles, and ask her to teach us docility to the Holy Spirit, we need to ask her to show us Jesus, we need to ask her to bring about in us the promise of today’s Gospel: Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.
Pentecost brings about in the Church, what took place in Virgin Mary on the day when she said “yes” to the angel Gabriel. As the Holy Spirit came upon her that day and she conceived Jesus Christ, the Son of God, in her womb, so on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came upon Virgin Church and she conceived Jesus Christ, the Son of God, in the souls of those who believe.