Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Lord and Giver of Life

(Pentecost Sunday-Year A; This homily was given 10 & 11 May, 2008, at St. Mary's Church, Cranston, R.I.; read Acts 2:1-11 & John 20:19-23)

Mickey Mouse. Cinderella. Pinocchio.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.

These characters can seem so real to us, they have made us laugh and entertained us so often on TV and in the movies, that we can sometime forget they are only images on a piece of paper. They are merely sketches drawn by an artist’s pen.

But Walt Disney had the power and the ability to bring them to life; to make them walk and talk, and do so many of the things we do every day. The word used for that power or ability is animation. It is taken from the Latin verb animo, and means to give life to or to bring to life.

We are reminded this Pentecost Sunday that Walt Disney is not the only one who has the power and ability to do that. God Himself is the Great Animator. As we profess each week, speaking specifically about the person of the Holy Spirit, He is "the Lord and giver of life."

The work of animation is something God has been doing from the beginning. In the Book of Genesis, in the story of creation, He fashions a world of beauty and splendor. He creates the land and the sea, and all living creatures. But as the pinnacle and masterpiece He creates man and woman in His own image and likeness. We are told how He made Adam from the clay of the earth, and then breathed into him the breath of life. He animated Adam with His very own life’s breath.

But unlike Mickey Mouse and Pinocchio, we are given something that allows us to be like God Himself: Freedom. We are not puppets on a string, moved along on some set course that God has totally determined. We are completely free to live and love like God. We have the ability to be creative, to make decisions and choices of our own.

Yet along with this freedom comes the ability to do something that God never wanted. We have the ability to reject Him, and to refuse the love that He offers. We are able to be disobedient. In short, we are able to use our freedom to turn against the God who gave us life. We have the ability to sin.

That is the story we find immediately after creation. It is the story of the fall, when Satan tempted our first parents, and attempted to separate them from each other and to separate them from God. With their original sin, and all of our personal sins which we commit on a daily basis, we are driven further from each other and further from God Himself. His perfect story and magnificent plan for us was ruined. In fact, it was now doomed and destined to end with God being forever separated from the creatures that He made in such great love.

And so God did something truly amazing and remarkable, beyond the wildest imagination of even Walt Disney. He entered into His own creation in order to re-animate it from the inside. Imagine if Walt Disney could actually enter into one of his own cartoons, literally. That is what God has done. The Creator enters into His own creation; God becomes man, in order to redeem us.

By the power of the Holy Spirit, Christ is conceived in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary and becomes man. He comes to teach us how to live and how to love, and He suffers and dies on the cross to grant us the forgiveness of sins and the very mercy of God.

In the face of our disobedience and rejection of God, Christ comes straight for us. He comes at us not with a vengeance, but with a Passion. He comes to suffer and die on the cross to redeem us and is raised from the dead to offer us new and everlasting life.

Then, once He ascends to heaven and is seated at the right hand of His Father, the Father and the Son send forth the Holy Spirit upon the Church, to re-animate the world we live in. That is the feast we celebrate this weekend. The Church, by the power of the Holy Spirit, is sent forth to continue the work of re-animating and giving life to a world yearning and crying out for God.

As we hear in the Responsorial Psalm this weekend:

When you send forth your spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth.
—Psalm 104:30

This eternal plan of God to re-animate the world He created has, at its center, the dignity and vocation of women. In a document he wrote twenty years ago, Mulieris Dignitatem, Pope John Paul the Great spoke of this eternal plan of God to redeem us and establish us in that eternal relationship of love with Himself. That plan, says John Paul II, has a specific order of love, and women are first in that order. It is the woman, he says, “who receives love, in order to love in return” (Mulieris Dignitatem, #29). Women teach us all what it means to receive love, and to return that love again.

Think about the natural world for a moment. A woman receives the gift of love from her husband and she nurtures that gift for nine months. Then she returns that gift, lovingly introducing the child of her body to her husband, her family and to the world. So too, explains Pope John Paul the Great, in the supernatural world. The two great women he highlights are the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Bride of Christ, the Church.

Mary is overshadowed by the Holy Spirit; she conceives in her womb and bears a Son. She offers that child to God in love and to the world for our redemption. On the day of Pentecost, still with Our Lady present, the Holy Spirit comes upon the Church and “the love of God is poured out into our hearts” (Romans 5:5). The Church then returns that love by freely and joyfully giving Herself in faithful service and love for God and neighbor, manifesting in concrete ways the love She has received from Christ, Her Bridegroom.

This recognition of woman as first in the order of love is something inherent to every woman, says John Paul the Great. Yet this weekend, as we celebrate Mother’s Day throughout our nation, we remember our own mothers who taught us all so well what it means to receive love and to return that gift to God and the world. Today we pray in thanksgiving for them and seek to imitate them in our personal lives and in our Church.

How is God challenging us to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit more completely in our daily lives and in our Church? How are we called to surrender to the work and the will of God as He re-animates our faith lives, our Christian discipleship and the work of the Gospel that we have been entrusted with?

Today, as we celebrate Mother’s Day and Pentecost, we pray with the Psalmist:

Lord, send forth your spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth.
—Psalm 104:30