What’s your favorite song? The one you turn up the volume for. And then listen to one more time. And when you’re alone, you sing along to it.
Did you know that song, and he happiness it brings you, is a gift from God? Yes, even if the song is by Lady Gaga.
That song, whatever it is, is a tangible, real-life touch of God’s loving concern for you, and his desire to help you feel more deeply, to deal with your pain, to share the suffering of others, to experience simple joy, to be truly alive.
To be more accurate, that song is a gift to you from the Holy Spirit.
It is the Holy Spirit that is the source of all wisdom, creativity, beauty, truth. Our word “inspiration” means to have the Holy Spirit enter us and make us see the world in a different way.
God offers endless, constant, overwhelming gift to humanity, transforming our lives with his two hands of Word and Wisdom, Son and Spirit.
We know that today is the birthday of the Church, marking the time when the Holy Spirit created this amazing community, dedicated to spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ to the entire world. We know that the Spirit guides the Church, now and always.
But the fact that the Spirit guides the Church does not mean the Spirit is in service to the Church. Far from it. The Church is in service to the Spirit. Let me say that again: The Spirit is not in service to the Church; the Church is in service to the Spirit.
And here’s another thought: as Jesus said, the Spirit goes where she will. Because the Spirit is the source of all creativity, all inspiration, all truth, all beauty, she is not confined to the Church, much less only us Roman Catholics. In fact, the Spirit is the source of all that is good and true and beautiful in all religions.
Then how does that make us special? Isn’t this the day to make us feel special?
Well, you are. And here’s why: as soon as we drop our notion that we Catholics already know everything and we’re better than other Christians, as soon as we understand that the Holy Spirit also acted through Muhammad and Buddha, and respect the truth we find in all thee places, the sooner we can discover and act on our own unique place, the special role the Spirit is guiding us to. Not because all religions are the same, but exactly because they’re different. Unless we understand what we share in common, how can we be faithful to our unique gifts? Yet we often resist the Spirit.
The scriptural passage most often used to contrast with the account of Pentecost is the story of the Tower of Babel in the Book of Genesis.
In that story, the people are unable to cooperate in a grand project because they develop different languages. At Pentecost, the division of languages is overcome so that the people of the world can join together to help build the Kingdom of God.
Now if we persist in creating divisions among the people of the world, setting up group against group and seeking to advance our own clan, are we living out the story of Pentecost or the story of the Tower of Babel?
When we can celebrate the work of the Holy Spirit in Islam and Judaism and all the authentic religions of the world, and in the arts, and science, and every good movement, then we will be able to understand the role we must play as Christians and then our role as Catholics. Otherwise, we’ll only contribute to and perpetuate the confusion of tongues described in Genesis through our arrogance and pride.
In 1972, a shy young school teacher in Queens got a call from the police. Her son had been beaten and arrested during a protest in New York City. The police officer asked if she knew her son Morty was gay. She already knew that, and to Jeanne Manford that made no difference.
Enraged at the treatment her son received, Jeanne called The New York Times, where a reporter hung up on her, and then wrote an unprecedented letter published in the New York Post denouncing the vicious practices of the police. In those days it was common for the police to randomly beat gay and lesbian people, just for fun. “I have a homosexual son, and I love him,” she wrote. Nobody had every said or written those words publicly before Jeanne Manford.
A few months later, Jeanne did something unthinkable in those days. She marched in one of the first Gay Pride Parades in New York, carrying a sign reading “Parents of Gays: Unite in Support for Our Children.”
Those first steps along a New York street began an organization called Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, PFLAG. Today PFLAG has 350 chapters with nearly a quarter of a million members, helping family members to break through hatred and ignorance to protect and defend their gay and lesbian brothers, sisters, sons and daughters. She and her husband Jules would shelter in their own home disowned and abandoned gay and lesbian youth who sought them out.
Jeanne Manford died in January of this year at the age of 92. She is an example of how the Holy Spirit goes where she will, unencumbered by our own preconceived notions of how the Spirit should act.
Jeanne had no idea where she would wind up when she stepped of the curb into that parade in 1972; she just followed her heart. She saved many families. She saved many lives. She was inspired.
The Spirit will not be restrained. The Spirit will not be dictated to. The Spirit is not here to comfort us, but to drive us on to erase division, to build communion, to heal the world by proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ to all the world.
This candle represents the Risen Christ. At the Easter Vigil 50 days ago, I carried this candle into this church, and we all lighted our candles from it. Today we end our Easter celebration, and when Mass ends we’ll carry this candle out of the church, not because Christ is leaving us, but because we are called by the Spirit to follow him out into the streets, to bind up wounds, to heal, to break down walls and overcome divisions. To sing the song only we can sing.
Where will the Spirit lead us? We don’t know. And isn’t that absolutely marvelous?