Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Saints: The “Best” Of The Church, Whose Lives Were Transformed By The Power Of The Holy Spirit

(Pentecost 2012 (B): This homily was given on May 27, 2012 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Acts 2: 1-11.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Pentecost 2012]

If you were trying to decide whether or not it would be a good idea to apply to a certain college—for example, to my alma mater, PC—how would you proceed?  What would be your thought process?  In other words, how would you judge the value of a Providence College education, and whether it’s worth investing in?  Would you make that judgment based on someone you know who partied from the first day he arrived on campus and who finally flunked out in his junior year?  Or would you make your assessment based on other people you know who graduated from PC with honors and then went on to do great things in the world?

If you were trying to decide whether or not to become a doctor, how would you evaluate the medical profession as a whole?  Would you evaluate it by the bad doctors you know, or by all the good doctors you know?

If you were trying to decide whether or not marriage was a worthy vocation worth pursuing, how would you do it?  Would you focus your attention primarily on the people you know who are in bad, unhappy marriages, or would you focus your attention primarily on the people you know who are in good, solid, happy marriages?

Pretty easy questions, right?

Well, that’s okay; they’re meant to be easy questions—easy questions which illustrate a very important truth: We almost always evaluate things in this life by looking at the best, not the worst.

To properly assess the value of a Providence College education, you need to focus on the best and most intelligent graduates of PC that you know—not on those who flunked out!

To properly evaluate the medical profession, you need to look at the good doctors in your life, not the bad ones.

And to properly assess the goodness and dignity of the vocation of marriage, it’s imperative that you focus your attention first and foremost on those who are living that vocation well, not on those whose marriages are on the rocks.

We almost always evaluate things in this life by looking at the best, not the worst.

But notice I say “almost always.”

That’s because there is at least one institution on planet earth right now which is normally evaluated not by its best members, but by its worst members, its absolute worst members.

And you all belong to it!  It’s called “the Church.”

  • When priests are talked about in secular society, for example, (especially in the media) the focus is almost always on the 4% who are bad, not on the 96% who are good.  Most of the time the 96% don’t even get mentioned!  It’s as if they don’t exist.
  • When the history of the Church is spoken of or written about, the focus is almost always on the terrible sins that some members of the Church have committed over the centuries, and not on the billions and billions of loving acts that the majority of Catholics have performed over the same period of time in the name of Jesus Christ.
  • And when people who have left the Church or given up the practice of their faith want to make their point and justify themselves, what do they say?  They say, “All those Catholics who go to church—they’re all the same; they’re a bunch of phonies; they’re a bunch of hypocrites.”

It’s nice to be loved, isn’t it?

Now, as baptized, believing Catholics I don’t think we should be looking for any kind of special treatment in this regard.  But I do think that we have the right to be judged and evaluated like everyone else is judged and evaluated: by our best representatives, not our worst.

And that’s great, because our best representatives are literally the greatest people who ever lived—the saints!

And who were the saints?

Very simply, the saints were ordinary people—like us—who allowed the Holy Spirit to transform their lives in a radical way.  For them, Pentecost wasn’t simply a liturgical feast that was celebrated once a year; rather, it was an experience they lived throughout the year! 

Just think of the apostles.  Before Pentecost, Peter, for example, was a hot-headed, impulsive coward, who couldn’t even defend Jesus to a servant girl in the high priest’s courtyard on Holy Thursday night.  After Pentecost, as we see in Acts 2 (where today’s first reading is taken from), Peter was—by the power of the Spirit—a level-headed, faith-filled man of incredible conviction and fortitude, who was willing to defend Jesus to anybody, regardless of the consequences.

Thomas went from super-doubter to super-missionary and martyr—by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Before he experienced his own personal Pentecost—beginning on the road to Damascus—Saul of Tarsus was, by his own admission, “a blasphemer, a persecutor, a man filled with arrogance” (that’s how he described himself in his first letter to Timothy).  But by the power of the Holy Spirit, he was transformed into the loving St. Paul, who wrote—and who lived—the message of love that we find in 1 Corinthians 13 (that beautiful text that you hear so often at weddings).

Today is a day to invite the Holy Spirit into our lives more fully, to transform us as he transformed these men 2,000 years ago—and as he transformed the many other saints of Church history.

Now you might ask, “Fr. Ray, why do we need a fuller outpouring of the Spirit in our lives?  Haven’t we already received the Spirit in Baptism and Confirmation?”

Well, yes, we have. 

But, lest we forget, the Holy Spirit is God, and God is eternal.  Hence, there’s always more of his life and grace that we can receive—if we desire it and are open to it.

All it takes is a simple and sincere prayer.  Begin it with the words, “Come, Holy Spirit,” and then ask for what you believe you need: a deeper faith, a stronger hope, a more fervent charity—whatever.

And don’t just ask the Spirit today; pray to him often—like the great saints did.

And one final point: Remember to tell your friends who are critical of Catholicism that they should evaluate our religion by the best people in the Church, not the worst; by the people who truly have lived the message the Church proclaims; by the people who have lived their lives in the power of the Holy Spirit: people like the apostles, Blessed Mother Teresa, Catherine of Siena, Blessed John Paul II—and hopefully, someday, you and me.