Acts 2:1-11 ¾ 1 Corinthians 12:3-7,12-13 ¾ Sequence ¾ John 20:19-23
May 27, 2012
Come Holy Ghost, Creator Blest
And in our hearts take up Thy rest….
As the June events calendar was made for this weekend’s bulletin, a picture was put there to commemorate one of June’s saints. June 5th is the feast day of Saint Boniface, the apostle to Germany, and the patron saint of German volk everywhere. Everyone knows that Saint Patrick is the patron saint of those of Irish descent, but Saint Boniface is not as well known. But he should be, especially here at St. Mark’s, where he has a mural on our ceiling dedicated to him. He’s a good saint for us to call on, especially as the Church celebrates the culmination of Easter.
Boniface, who lived in the seventh and eighth centuries, was a Benedictine monk. The pope sent him as a missionary from the isle of Britain, to bring the Catholic Faith to the Germanic tribes who had overtaken north-central Europe. Saint Boniface got along for a while with the people there, because he was much like them: hard-working, organized, efficient, and willing to bear great hardships. One tale about Boniface bears this out: on Mount Gudenberg stood a huge oak tree that was sacred to the pagan peoples of the area. In order to destroy their superstitions, Boniface announced that on a given day, he would strike the oak down, dealing a blow to the pagan gods as well. When the announced day came, Boniface took his axe and attacked the oak tree, and it split into four parts. With each blow, the pagans expected their gods to strike Boniface dead. But they realized, finally, that their gods were powerless: in fact, nonexistent. Boniface used the remains of the oak to build a Catholic chapel.
But in the end, Boniface became a martyr, unable to persuade ALL of the tribes he met of the truth of the Gospel. Nonetheless, the Catholic Faith would never have taken hold firmly among the German peoples if not for Boniface, who, by his life and his death, showed them how to use what was best in them for the sake of others.
About a week ago I enjoyed dinner at the home of some parishioners, and during conversation, mentioned that there’s been talk—now and again—about a parish pilgrimage to Germany and Rome. Rome, of course, is the center of the Church on earth, while Germany is the ancestral home to many—if not most—of the families of our parish. If our parish council decides to proceed with this pilgrimage, our pilgrims will face a striking, and very interesting contrast as they travel north from Italy into Germany. The German temperament is about as different from the Italian temperament as is humanly possible. The Italians are extremely animated, spontaneous, and not terribly organized. In Italy, if a bus or train is an hour late, people shrug their shoulders, and find something else to do while they wait. In Germany, if a train is one minute late, they begin wondering if there was a massive wreck somewhere up the line, and they organize a search party to discover what could possibly have gone wrong.
I often wondered how these two peoples could come to exist so close to each other, and yet be so different from each other. The Italians and the Germans are sort of like siblings who have opposite temperaments, and simply cannot get along. The wise parent knows not to put the two next to each other, whether in the back seat of a car, or in a pew.
At the very least, you’ve got to have a buffer between the two, whether it’s another sibling, a wall, a parent: something to serve as a physical barrier between them. I think that’s why God created the Alps, one of the largest mountain chains in this world. As a wise Father, knowing well the differences between his children the Germans and the Italians, God put the Alps there to keep them from constantly fighting with each other, and to keep peace among his children.
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We celebrate today the feast of Pentecost: a feast of peace. The Holy Spirit descended, proceeding from the Father and the Son, and filled the hearts, minds and souls of the apostles. When this event occurred almost 2000 years ago, the apostles were obviously changed men. But why were the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit given to them? Was it simply to make them “saved”?
The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit were given to them, not just to better their odds of getting into Heaven, but to help them in helping others get to Heaven. The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit were given to the apostles to equip them for their vocation in this world.
So it is with you. The gifts of the Spirit are given to apostles and prophets, clergy and lay people, in the first and twenty-first centuries, in order to carry on the work of the Church on earth. There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit. There are different forms of service but the same Lord. To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit: to make all of us One Body, Christ’s Body on this earth. It does not matter what our gifts or temperaments are, the Holy Spirit works through all of us, reconciles those who cannot get along, and draws us closer to each other.
To put all this a different way, there are two sides to the coin of our Christian lives in this world. On the one hand is the work that God calls us to do, and on the other hand is the Holy Spirit who equips us to do them. On the one hand there is the vocation God has given us, and on the other is the Holy Spirit, who gives us the strength to be faithful to that vocation.
We go forth from Mass every week, to love and serve the Lord. We go forth into our homes, and into the places outside the home where we work. We do this through our prayers, and through our stewardship. Yet no matter how much we do to build up the Body of Christ around us, it is not simply our work which is at work. It is always the Holy Spirit who takes what is simple, and transforms it into an instrument of God’s labor. The Holy Spirit is the one who transforms our offerings into an opportunity for someone halfway around the world to hear the Gospel by means of your Easter offering for the missions. It is the Holy Spirit who transforms the simplest of gifts—the bread which earth has given and human hands have made, and the wine that is fruit of the vine and work of human hands—into Jesus’ own Body and Blood. If God can change simple bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus, He can change your life into the life of a saint.
Bread and wine, of course, have no say in the matter. When a couple or family brings up the bread and the wine in the offertory procession, the bread and wine can’t run the other way. When the priest places the bread and wine on the altar, they can’t jump off of God’s altar. When the priest extends his hands over the bread and wine, and asks God the Father to send down the Holy Spirit to transform the bread and wine, they can’t keep the Holy Spirit from effecting that transformation.
You and I, however, do have a choice in the matter, because being created in God’s image, we have a free will. God wants to take you, with your temperament and all your gifts and talents, to make you a saint. But you have the choice not to work with God’s plan for your life. God pours down His Holy Spirit from Heaven to change your life, and through you, to change the lives of those around you, even those you find it difficult to get along with. That is God’s plan, anyhow. But you can refuse to co-operate with God. You can chose your own way, your own truth, and your own life. You can be like the apostles who ran away from the Cross on Good Friday. But God calls you to be like the apostles who gathered together in the Upper Room to pray for ten days, uncertain of what the future holds, but willing to accept the Holy Spirit, in order to work with others for the sake of God’s Kingdom.