Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary - Homilies


Pentecost Sunday
Fr. Joseph Palermo
June 8, 2014
Year A

(Fr. Tim’s First Mass of Thanksgiving Homily)

Several times as a priest I have been on retreat at the St. Charles Retreat Center in Lake Charles, Louisiana.  The Retreat Center sits on a tiny strip of land right in the middle of a swamp; it is almost completely surrounded by swamp.  One of the outstanding features is a boardwalk (a wooden walkway) which extends 500 feet (almost 2 football fields) above the swamp.  You can walk on the boardwalk and look at the swamp below:  at cypress trees and stumps, unique foliage and flowers, and wildlife.  Once I saw a giant turtle laying eggs at the edge of the swamp; another time I saw a sizeable alligator resting perfectly still in the water.  The last time I went for retreat there, there had been little rainfall for many months and the swamp was dry.  There were many patches of dry ground and only pools of water here and there.  It was sad to watch fish fighting to survive in a few inches of water.  There were many dead fish.  The reality is:  fish can’t live without water and neither can a swamp.  Water is essential for physical life.

Just as water is essential for physical life, today, on the Feast of Pentecost, we celebrate the Great Power that is essential for the spiritual life:  the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity, is the ESSENTIAL person of God for our spiritual lives.

There is a phrase in Latin:  lex orandi, lex credendi.  Literally that means, “The law of prayer, the law of belief.”  Translated it means, “How we pray indicates what we believe.”  For example, praying the Hail Mary (“Pray for us now and at the hour of our death”) says we believe that Mary intercedes for us with God. Similarly, if we listen to the prayers of the Mass of Pentecost, we can see what the Church believes about the Holy Spirit. 

Opening Prayer:  “O God, sanctify your whole Church by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and fill once more the hearts of believers.”  That prayer says we believe that the Holy Spirit is the source of all spiritual gifts, including the gifts of faith and sanctification.  Prayer over the Offerings:  “May the Holy Spirit reveal more abundantly the mystery of this Eucharistic sacrifice and may the Spirit graciously lead us to all Truth.”  That prayer says we believe that the Spirit helps us Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary behind the gifts of bread and wine that are transformed into his body and blood; and that the Spirit guides us to the Truth about life.  And boy, do we ever need Truth in a world which says that good is evil and evil is good – with gross distortions about material possessions, sexuality, marriage, family, and the very meaning and value of life.  Preface:  “O God, the Holy Spirit makes us your adopted children and unites us to your only begotten Son.”  That prayer says we believe that the Holy Spirit unites us with Jesus (and through him, with the Trinity), and with all of God’s adopted children, our brothers and sisters in Christ.  Prayer after Communion:  “O God safeguard the grace of the Holy Spirit poured out upon your church and gain for her eternal redemption.”  That prayer says we believe that the Holy Spirit is our safeguard and protector in the battle against evil and our indispensable help in the quest for eternal life.

In addition to the prayers of the mass, today’s Scripture readings also tell us what we believe about the Holy Spirit.  The reading from Acts describes the Holy Spirit coming at Pentecost with wind and tongues of fire.  From that, we believe the Holy Spirit brings the spiritual energy, vitality and vigor needed for discipleship.  The responsorial psalm asks the Holy Spirit to renew the face of the earth, indicating we believe that the Holy Spirit can bring new spiritual life where there is fatigue, dullness and even death.  The reading from St. Paul tells us the Holy Spirit distributes a variety of gifts for the good of the Body of Christ.  And the gospel tells us that the Holy Spirit is the source of forgiveness and true peace.

To sum it all up, we believe that the Holy Spirit is the unifying, sanctifying, evangelizing, reconciling, energizing, empowering, transforming, truth-giving, gift-giving, peace-giving, evil-thwarting, grace-filled power of God!    Amen!  (Perhaps we could turn that into a rap song and make some money for the church!)  Can we survive spiritually without the Holy Spirit?  We cannot!  We need the Holy Spirit as much as fish need water to live.  The Holy Spirit is THE living, breathing, active presence of God in us and in our world:  the Lord and Giver of Life, as our Creed professes. 

In the early church, the Roman Empire tried to snuff out the Christianity by destroying its churches and martyring its followers.  That effort failed because the Church had the Holy Spirit.  In the last century, Communism tried to destroy the Church by creating the perfect nation state to fulfill all human needs.  That effort failed because the Church had the Holy Spirit.  Today the secular culture is trying to destroy the Church by marginalizing religious values and exalting materialism, hedonism, relativism and a totally false and distorted notion of freedom (anything goes).  Does anybody seriously think that will succeed?  As if!  It will fail because the Church has the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit gives us the power to be faithful disciples of Jesus:  faithful parents, spouses and children, faithful single people and religious – and faithful priests.  Another wonderful gift of God that comes to us through the Holy Spirit is the ordained priesthood.  By virtue of baptism, all of us are called to the “common” priesthood:  to the mission to be faithful disciples of Jesus and to evangelize the world.  Today, on the Feast of Pentecost, we celebrate the commitment of a man who has decided to live his baptismal call to discipleship as an ordained priest of Jesus Christ:  Father Tim. 

Today we celebrate, in the person of Father Tim, a special gift that Christ has given to the Church to sanctify it, shepherd it and teach it – to serve the common priesthood of the faithful:  the ordained priesthood.  The ordained priesthood was Jesus’ idea.  He instituted it at the Last Supper.  This is how the Catholic Catechism describes the ordained priesthood of Jesus Christ:  “The Sacrament of Holy Orders [by which a man is ordained a priest] is the means by which Christ unceasingly builds up and leads his Church for the salvation of souls.” (Cat. 1534 and 1547)  Christ grows the Church and leads people to salvation through the ministry of the ordained priest.  The Catechism also says that, in his priestly ministry, the priest acts in the person of Jesus Christ (in persona Christi capitis):  “In the service of the ordained priest, it is Christ Himself who is present to his Church as Head of his Body, Shepherd of his flock, high priest of the redemptive sacrifice, and Teacher of Truth.” (Cat. 1548)  The fact that the priest acts in the person of Christ and Christ in the person of the priest is awesome.

Father Tim, you didn’t choose the priesthood; God chose you and called you for the priesthood.  Why God chose you or any of us priests for this vocation is a mystery.  It is God’s providence.  You are a good, personable and very talented man, but you are not a perfect man; neither am I; neither are any of the priests here; neither were the first priests whom Jesus called:  Peter, James, John, Matthew, Thomas and the rest.  They had strengths and weaknesses like all of us, but they loved Jesus and were willing to leave behind their families and plans and ambitions and use their gifts and talents (albeit imperfectly) to follow and serve the Lord.  Thank you, Fr. Tim, for your generosity in responding to the call of Jesus, and thanks to your mom, dad and family for their support of your vocation and for sharing you with the church.

Father Tim, the fire of faith was lit in you when you were a teenager, and since then, you have served extensively in Youth and Church Ministry.  In seminary, you have been a leader among your peers.  In your priesthood [as you minister to the faithful at mass (consecrating Eucharist and preaching the Word) and hear confessions and celebrate baptisms, weddings and funerals, and help the poor and the sick and serve in many other places and ways], please stay faithful to what sustains a priestly vocation:  prayer (first and foremost), ongoing study, self-discipline, humility, good friendships (clerical and lay), a sense of humor, openness to God’s Spirit, and devotion to Our Lady. 

Today is a day of great rejoicing and celebrating in our Church:  a day of thanksgiving.  The coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is an amazing gift of God to our world.  The ordained priesthood is an amazing gift of God to our world, and God has seen fit to give this amazing gift once again.  Thank you, Almighty God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Father Tim, may God’s grace, peace, blessing and Holy Spirit be upon you as you lead souls to God and minister as a priest of Jesus Christ.  And let the Church say, “Amen.”


Fr. Joseph Palermo is a priest for the Archdiocese of New Orleans, Louisiana.
He serves serves as spiritual director at Notre Dame Seminary and spiritual advisor for the St. Thomas More Catholic Lawyers Association.


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