Sunday, June 04, 2006

Pentecost, The Ordained Priesthood—And The Priesthood Of All Believers

The former deacon (left) with his favorite priest!

(Pentecost 2006 (B): This homily was given on June 4, 2006 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Acts 2: 1-11; 1 Corinthians 12: 3b-7; 12-13; John 20: 19-23.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Pentecost 2006]

Deacon Greg Stowe, who was stationed here at St. Pius last summer, shall henceforth be known as “Father Greg Stowe.”

That’s because, along with two other men from our diocese, he was ordained a priest yesterday morning at the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul in Providence by our bishop, Thomas Tobin.

This year, our diocesan ordinations have taken place on the Saturday of Pentecost weekend. Pentecost, of course, is the day the Church celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit on the apostles 50 days after Easter.

It’s not necessary that priestly ordinations take place on this particular weekend (they can be celebrated at other times of the year as well)—but it’s extremely meaningful when they do. That’s because on the very first Pentecost 2,000 years ago, the 12 apostles were empowered by the Holy Spirit for their missionary activity as priests. They had been ordained by Jesus on Holy Thursday at the Last Supper, but here—in the Upper Room at Pentecost—they were anointed by the Holy Spirit so that they could go forth and win the world for Jesus Christ.

And, as we heard in today’s first reading, they didn’t waste any time getting right to work. Literally within a few minutes after the Spirit’s descent, these men were out on the streets of Jerusalem preaching the Good News to the people there.

But this was not the first time the apostles had received the Holy Spirit after Easter, was it? (If you were paying close attention to the Gospel from John 20, you know that!) The first time they had received the Spirit after Jesus rose from the dead was on Easter Sunday itself.

However back then, the purpose of the Spirit’s coming was different. At Pentecost, he came to anoint them for their priestly mission; at Easter, he had come to give them the power to forgive sins in the name of Jesus Christ.

For Father Greg and those ordained with him, the Spirit came for both of those purposes yesterday. He came so that they could they could fulfill their priestly mission in this life, and he came so that they could forgive sins.

That means you can all go to Confession to Father Greg the next time you see him. (And that may be a good idea, because new priests are usually pretty easy in the penances they give!) It also means that even I can go to Confession to him (if the two of us can stop our usual joking around for a few moments!).

Now all this, believe it or not, has a direct application to your lives as lay people. If it didn’t have a direct application, I wouldn’t have brought it up in this homily.

The Holy Spirit has come to most of you in Baptism and in Confirmation. The Holy Spirit will also come to you outside of those sacraments on a daily basis if you ask him in faith.

Here’s what the Catechism says about those who are baptized. This is from paragraph 1268:

“The baptized have become ‘living stones’ to be ‘built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood.’ By Baptism they share in the priesthood of Christ, in his prophetic and royal mission. They are ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, that [they] may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called [them] out of darkness into his marvelous light.’ Baptism gives a share in the common priesthood of all believers.”

Father Greg and I share in the ordained priesthood of Jesus Christ. But long before either of us received the sacrament of Holy Orders, we both shared in the common priesthood of all believers by our Baptism.

And so do you.

Thus it should come as no surprise that Jesus sent you his Holy Spirit in Baptism for two of the same reasons he sent the Holy Spirit to us in the sacrament of Holy Orders: so that you will forgive sins, and so that you can fulfill your priestly mission in this life.

You, of course, don’t have the power to forgive sins in the name of Jesus Christ on behalf of the Church (you need to be ordained to do that). But you do have the power to extend forgiveness on a personal level to all those who have offended you in some way! And God expects you to do that, as he expects me to do that. Jesus said, “Forgive, as you have been forgiven.”

“But, Father Ray, that’s hard.”

That’s right—which is one of the reasons why Jesus sent us the Holy Spirit! He sent the Spirit to help us forgive and do lots of other things that we couldn’t possibly do on our own!

Forgiveness takes effort; forgiveness often takes time—but forgiveness IS possible, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

And forgiveness is good for us—in addition to being good for our relationship with God and good for our relationships with other people.

The other day I read a little article on-line by Dr. Diana Robinson, a psychologist. There she gave these powerful words of warning: “Recognize who is being hurt by your non-forgiveness. Does the other person burn with your anger, feel the knot in your stomach, experience the cycling and recycling of your thoughts as you re-experience the events in your mind? Do they stay awake as you rehearse in your mind what you would like to say or do to ‘punish’ them? No, the pain is all yours.”

Holy Spirit, help us to forgive—out of obedience to Jesus and for our own good!

As I said earlier, the Spirit also came to the 12 apostles on Pentecost for another reason: so that they could fulfill their priestly mission in this life.

The Spirit has come to all of you who are baptized for the same reason! Believe it or not, you too have a “priestly mission” here on earth. It’s a little different than the one Fr. Greg and I have as ordained priests, but it’s just as valid. And it’s extremely important in the eyes of God.

St. Paul alluded to this mission in today’s second reading from 1 Corinthians 12 when he wrote, “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.”

One of the most important “services” you are called to render as part of your “priestly mission in life”—aside from simply being a good example of Catholic living to those around you—is “feeding” your brothers and sisters in Christ with the truth. If you’re a parent, incidentally, that activity begins with your children! And it involves more than just taking them to Mass and sending them to CCD! It means making every effort to create a Catholic environment in your home and to instill in them Gospel values.

Father Greg Stowe was ordained a priest yesterday by the power of the Holy Spirit. But that event probably would never have taken place if his parents had not exercised their priestly ministry well by raising him in the faith!

They fulfilled their mission as Catholic parents by the power of the Spirit, and because of that Fr. Greg can now fulfill his ordained ministry by the power of the same Spirit.

So today we pray for Fr. Greg and those ordained with him yesterday at our cathedral. May they be instruments of the Lord’s forgiveness for many people, and fulfill their priestly mission, by the Spirit’s power.

And may each and every one of us do the same, according to our personal calling in this life.