Homilies for May 2018

Descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost

Sixth Sunday of Easter—May 6, 2018
Readings: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/050618.cfm
Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48; Ps 98:1, 2-3, 3-4; 1 Jn 4:7-10; Jn 15:9-17.

Love is a word that gets a lot of play in the world. Love makes the world go around to pick a phrase from many years ago. Much popular music is about love. We hear love as justification for many lifestyles including lifestyles that have little to do with Christ’s teaching. Love is used to describe many things: an affinity to a cuisine or particular food, deep friendship; family relationship; intense, passionate, romantic relationship are all described by the word love. It can be confusing sometimes unless we know the context of the conversation and the use of the word.

Jesus today sets love as the core of what he asks of his disciples. He says, “Remain in my love.” He sets this love as an extension of the relationship that exists between him and his Father in heaven. As the Father loves me so I also love you.” So the question that is before us is what does Jesus mean by the word love and what does it look like when we love Jesus and one another?

Jesus knowing the human heart and our need for guidance gives us direction to know when we are heading in the right direction. He says, A If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love.” Jesus himself lives this kind of love with his Father, as he shows, “as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.” So he is not expecting anything of us, he himself does not live.

Whether it is to catch our attention or just as a promise he tells is what the result of living his way of love will bring, AI have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy might be complete.” Who does not want joy? More importantly Jesus is saying that the joy he experiences in his relationship with the Father will be shared with us in our loving by keeping his commandments. Jesus is not promising a passing joy. The joys of this world come and go. A few weeks ago we celebrated Easter. Many gathered with family and had a very good time. There was laughter, sharing memories, and just the joy of being together. For all the goodness of that experience, the power of it, it has now passed. Other worldly joys pass sometimes more quickly. Remember the Winter Olympics? Perhaps the joy of seeing a particular athlete do very well. Does the memory of that now bring the same joy as the first experience of it? Not normally. Jesus is promising a joy that is as eternal as God.

So what is the Commandment that brings such joy? “Love one another as I love you.” Now the disciples who heard this will have had the experience of living with Jesus for three years. They experienced his love in many ways. So on first hearing this didn’t sound so hard. Then Jesus starts to explain. “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” The disciples as yet have not seen Jesus Passion so the implication of what Jesus is saying does not have the same impact as we see looking back on Jesus crucifixion. Nevertheless they understand he is asking a lot. Jesus is asking a kind of love that few in the ancient world and even today live. He is asking that we live what the ancients called “Agape” self-giving, self-sacrificing love. Of course we know that Jesus will live out this love in his Passion and Death. In the living of this love the disciples are no longer disciples that is students. We who live this, Jesus calls friends. And we were chosen to have this relationship so that we can go out and bear fruit of many more friends of Christ.

So how do we live this self-giving, self-sacrificing love that Jesus commands? Not many of us will be asked to sacrifice our life that another may live though sometimes that does happen. A soldier throwing his body on a grenade or someone pushing another out of the way of a speeding car does happen. Most of us will live this love in a day by day way. Giving oneself to one’s spouse wholly and completely. Raising one’s children valuing them for the treasure they are. Sacrificing for them. The care-taking of one’s parents even when they no longer remember who it is that takes care of them. Standing with a friend when no one else will. Perhaps sacrificial giving of time or talent to a worthy cause. These are all ways and there are more, where we live the love Jesus asks of us. So we set out to live in the joy he gives us when he says, “Love one another.”


The Ascension of the Lord—May 10, 2018
Readings: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/051018-ascension.cfm
Acts 1:1-11Ps 47:2-3, 6-7, 8-9; Eph 1:17-23; Mk 16:15-20.

One question that comes up with the Ascension is: “Why?”

Wouldn’t it have just been easier for Jesus to stay and overawe any opposition to the building of the Kingdom? After all, there he is, in all of his Divine Majesty! Deny that! You can’t kill him now! Submit!

But it would not have accomplished what God wants of us—a change of heart! God wants not external obedience, but interior change, which needs our willing surrender to the will of God in our lives. Besides, Jesus himself gives us reasons why he needs to go to the Father.

As he tells the Apostles in the Gospel of John, he is going to prepare a place for us. So what is there to prepare? If God has created Heaven for us, isn’t it already prepared? Well, no. Our place in heaven is part of the Body of Christ. Our incorporation into the Body of Christ at Baptism is not just a nice, poetic way of speaking of our relationship with Christ. It describes a reality of our existence, and if so, our place in heaven is in unity with Christ, one body with Christ. Christ himself is the prepared place for us in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Jesus ascending to Heaven sets the stage for the sending of the Holy Spirit. Again we hear in the Gospel of John, “…it is better for you that I go. For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.” We hear him promise in Acts of the Apostles today, “…in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” And, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.” This power of the Holy Spirit is the means by which the most important reason Jesus must ascend is accomplished.

Jesus ascends so that his command to “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature,” may be fulfilled. The Gifts of the Holy Spirit are given to accomplish the mission of spreading the Gospel. If we look at the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit, each one has something to do with helping us to help others in being open to the Redemption of Jesus Christ. Wisdom opens the mind. Understanding opens the heart. Counsel helps in difficult situations to know what is right. Fortitude gives us endurance like the martyrs, and provides inspiration. St. Irenaeus said, “The Blood of Martyrs is the seed of faith.” Knowledge lets us see things from God’s perspective, so we can help others to see the world, and themselves, in a new way. Piety puts us in a state of reverence so we can understand our dependence on God. We then offer to God the worship and thanksgiving due to him. Fear or awe of the Lord gives us wondrous awareness of the glory and majesty of God. This puts us not in a servile state, but rather in a joyful awareness of God’s grandeur, and a grateful realization that only in him do we find true peace.

Along with the Seven Gifts that help fulfill the mission of spreading the Gospel, there are the gifts of service, which are as many and varied as there are needs in the world. As we serve for the sake of Christ, that service, empowered by the Holy Spirit, becomes a means of spreading the Gospel, and building up the Kingdom. We also have the Charismatic Gifts that help manifest God’s presence and working in the world. All of these work toward the goal of building the Kingdom of God on earth. These help us be true witnesses of Jesus Christ in the world. We, the Church, the Body of Christ on earth, are empowered and commissioned to testify to the Resurrection, the redemption that Jesus won for us. We are the examples of the freedom his Redemption brings, and the proof of the reality in the truth of the Gospel.

The Church is calling us to a New Evangelization. It is a recognition that we need to call our sisters and brothers in the faith, who we don’t see very often, to a new appreciation of our faith in Jesus Christ. We need to use the same gifts and example that would call non-believers to Christ. The aim, as I said at the beginning, is a change of heart, a real conversion. That starts with our personal example, and extends to God-given opportunities to share our faith, and our experience of Jesus Christ. Christ is Ascended! Our work to build the Kingdom continues, to the Glory of God!


Seventh Sunday of Easter—May 13, 2018
Readings: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/051318-seventh-sunday-easter.cfm
Acts 1:15-17, 20a, 20c-26; Ps 103:1-2, 11-12, 19-20; 1 Jn 4:11-16; Jn 17:11b-19.

There is a phrase, in use by some who study the spiritual life, which is called “The Western Disease.” It describes a condition where there is a sharp divide between a practical daily life, and a spiritual life—if things of a spiritual nature are even acknowledged. In most of the rest of the world, the spiritual life is seen as integral to daily life, with time set aside to pray, and invoke God prayerfully and frequently, both in work and in conversations. Prayer is valued and honored. In the West, prayer is segregated to private time, and should never intrude on “real” things—like business, or day-to-day conversations. Invoking God’s help in the working world is seen as strange, marking one out as a “fanatic.” Prayer is treated as a waste of time, which could be more profitably spent doing something more practical.

This sets us up to view the reading from Acts in a different light. The Apostles need to replace Judas Iscariot. The way they replace him does not involve a vote, or a leader choosing a person. The Apostles set the qualifications for one who would have been with them, from the Baptism of John through the Ascension. This was so they could witness to the whole of Jesus’ ministry, and act as direct witnesses to his Passion, Death, and Resurrection. They have two possible candidates—Justus and Matthias. Up to this point, all this seems quite reasonable. But what they do next, for us, is unexpected, and what we normally would never do in picking someone for a leadership position. The Apostles, with the rest of the community, turn to prayer. They seek what would be God’s will in making the choice. Such is their trust in God’s working in and through their prayer, that they then draw lots to indicate God’s will as to who should be chosen. The lot fell to Matthias who became the Apostle replacing Judas.

We find here a lively sense that God should be involved, is involved, in our day-to-day lives, and decisions. Turning to prayer opens us to God’s will in whatever we are doing. We claim to be building the Kingdom of God on earth, which means that God is involved in how that comes about. Literally anything we do can be part of the building of that kingdom if we include God in what we are doing. We, as a Church, have been awakened to opening ourselves to God’s help. Instead of a perfunctory prayer before our gatherings and meetings, we make a conscious decision to enter a prayerful process of discernment that, step by step, will help us strip away our own preconceptions. We then open ourselves to listen to where the Holy Spirit would guide us, so that we can manifest Christ’s mission given to us for building up the Kingdom. This does not mean we don’t gather information, and brainstorm for ideas, but we do our best to seek, in all of the data and ideas, to find what God wants us to use and do. We can only do this in the context of prayer. Stopping discussion, from time to time, to reconnect with God, and prayerfully ask him for guidance, will make for better decisions. We know when we have found God’s will, and when we’ve reached consensus, when everyone agrees. It sounds impossible, but if everyone will humbly doubt a little of their own infallibility, then it can happen.

Now if you walk into your place of business, or general community organization, and try to suggest this as a way of making decisions, we all know it won’t fly. It doesn’t mean that we can’t try to do this privately, without others knowing how we are moving in a decision-making process. At least, in Church operations, we can try to do this because we are supposed to be seeking God’s will. The hardest part in the Church in using this approach is the cry: “We’ve always done it this way!” Well, maybe it’s time to try a new way! So many of us don’t come to church except for baptisms, weddings, and funerals. We need new ways of inviting more people, incorporating them into our parish life. The only way we really have of finding how to invite and include others in new ways, is by seeking the will of Him who knows all things, and then following  His will.

The Apostles had a lively sense of our Risen Lord’s presence. They sought his will for their decisions. So should we. Our Risen Lord is still among us. We are still his Church. He will show us his will if we seek it. Seeking his will is the first and best way of growing the Church. If we are to make the New Evangelization real, then it can only happen when we lay aside our own will, and follow God’s.


Pentecost, Mass during the Day—May 20, 2018
Readings: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/052018-mass-during-day.cfm
Acts 2:1-11; Ps 104:1, 24, 29-30, 31, 34 ; 1 Cor 12:3b-7, 12-13Gal 5:16-25.

When we think of Pentecost, a number of meanings come to mind. Of course, we have the Coming of the Holy Spirit. The account we have in Acts makes the Spirit’s presence especially powerful. This Spirit incorporates us, the Church, into the Body of Christ, and makes us, the Church, the Temple of the Holy Spirit. With this coming of the Holy Spirit, we see the empowerment of the Church for the work of evangelizing of the world. The Church now has all the spiritual gifts it needs to bring the nations to Christ. It’s the Birthday of the Church. It’s the beginning of all the Church will set out to do for Jesus, to this day, and into the future. We invoke the image of Pentecost when we approach the Sacrament of Confirmation. We emphasize, then, the gifts the Holy Spirit bestows on us for the mission of the Church: The Seven Gifts, the Gifts of Service, and The Charismatic Gifts. Each person is empowered to do the work God has planned for them in building the Kingdom.

All of this is true, but at the root of it all is the Holy Spirit’s role in healing the wound of Original Sin. Christ’s Victory in the Cross and Resurrection restored our relationship with the Father. We are cleansed of Original Sin when in our being baptized, Christ’s Victory becomes our own when we are configured to Christ, our Redeemer. What remains is the damage that Original Sin did to us, causing our woundedness. Paul speaks of that woundedness in Galatians today. The works of the flesh are the damage Original Sin did to us, and because of our woundedness, we easily fall prey to the works of the flesh. The Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. Where we are damaged, the Spirit heals. Where we are weak, the Spirit strengthens. Where there is emptiness, the Spirit makes whole, and completes us. This is the foundation of all that the Holy Spirit does for us, and for the Church. Everything else that the Spirit does builds on healing, completing the work the Holy Spirit accomplishes in us. Out of this then comes the fruits of the Holy Spirit: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. These all arise out of a healed person. This healed person then becomes a witness to the Victory of Christ, and the work of the Holy Spirit in the world.

So how do we open ourselves to all the work the Holy Spirit would accomplish in our lives? First, we must trust God. That sounds a little obvious, and doesn’t our being here in Church mean that we trust God? Well, not as much as we would like to believe it does. We like to have control of ourselves, and those we love. To trust God means that we must be willing to give up our own expectations, and allow God to guide us in ways that we may not want. Talk about difficult. How many parents upon hearing their child say they are thinking of a vocation in the Church do all they can to talk them out of it. Rather, wouldn’t it be better that both parent and child should seek what God wants, and then follow it? Feel your gut clench? That’s the point at which trust in God fails. If we are to be open to the Holy Spirit, we must be totally open.

Second, our openness to the Holy Spirit needs our knowing that he wants our happiness, joy, peace, and all that it takes to make us healthy. “Again, doesn’t it mean if we are here in Church, that we already know that?” Not necessarily. When we play a la carte Catholicism, and accept this teaching, and that teaching, but not those teachings, we cut ourselves off from all that it takes for the Spirit to give us a healthy, complete life as God had intended from the beginning, and the Victory of Christ was meant to restore. “Well, aren’t those the teachings of the Church, not Christ?” By the power of the Holy Spirit in the Church, it’s all the teaching of Christ. Christ himself promised to send the Holy Spirit to remind the Church of all that he taught. The Holy Spirit is the guarantor of the teaching of the Church.

Lastly, we need to be open to all that the Holy Spirit would give us. The Holy Spirit floods us with all that we need, and so much more. But our own preconceptions and impressions do not allow the Holy Spirit to flow freely in our lives. God does not force our free will. If we do not allow, God will not allow. Let the tornado of the powerful wind of the Holy Spirit overtake us, fill us, and lead us into the glory of the Kingdom of God!


The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity—May 27, 2018
Readings: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/052718.cfm
Dt 4:32-34, 39-40; Ps 33:4-5, 6, 9, 18-19, 20, 22Rom 8:14-17; Mt 28:16-20.

A Jew once commented that Orthodox Jews do not consider Christians monotheists because of our belief in the Holy Trinity. They consider us “tri-theists,” believers in three gods. In practical terms, that may be true for some committed Christians because they treat God as three separate persons, rather than as three persons in one God. Now I could go on trying to explain this, and get into some really heavy theology. That would do no one good here today. The best way to understand God in his three persons is to experience God in his relationships. That, by the way, is how to respond to our Jewish friend’s comment. Our experience of God shows his unity in his “Threeness”.

The Holy Trinity is how we describe the relationships within God. The classic way of speaking about this is The Father wanted to contemplate himself, so he stepped outside himself, and there was the Son. The Son loved the Father, and the Father loved the Son so much, that the love became the Holy Spirit. The unity is preserved in the sameness, the substance as the Creed puts it, of Father and Son bonded in the unity of the Divine Love who is the Holy Spirit. The threeness exists only in the relationships.

God wants to share his Trinitarian relationship with us. So in the Spirit of Adoption, as it says today, “through whom we cry out ‘Abba,’ Father.” we are Children of the Father. This then makes us “heirs of God, joint heirs with Christ,” brothers and sisters of Jesus.

We enter into this relationship with God through our Baptism, done in the name of the Holy Trinity, as Jesus commands in today’s Gospel. How we live our Baptism allows us to experience God in his unity in the midst of the three persons. Grounding our experience of God is our prayer life. If our prayer is only coming to Mass on Sunday, then we have little to see through, and build upon. We need to be in daily contact with God—good, substantial praying that allows time for silence, so that God may communicate with us in whatever way he chooses. As we grow in our prayer, we enter into a deep encounter with God, and can become aware of the presence that communicates God, who is the Holy Spirit, the sense of God who mediates, who bridges the gap, who is the Son, to God who draws us ever closer to himself, who is the Father. The wonder is that for all the differences in relationship, it is all experienced as the same God.

This carries over to our experience of God in the Sacraments. The Mass is offered to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. As the end of the Eucharistic prayer puts it, “Through Him and with Him and in Him.” The “Hims” are all Christ, the Son: “O God, almighty Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and Honor are yours, for ever and ever.” We are absolved in an action of the Holy Trinity. We hear in the prayer of Absolution how “God the Father, through the Death and Resurrection of his Son reconciles the world to himself and sends the Holy Spirit for the forgiveness of sins” and we are finally absolved in the name of the God who is the Holy Trinity. We are Baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity. All the rest of the sacraments, each in a way appropriate to the sacrament, shows the work of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Each experience of any of the sacraments, whether we receive it, or witness someone else receive it, offers a chance to experience God the Holy Trinity.

It sounds like a lot of work. Yep, it is. It is among the most important kinds of growing we do, and of course like any growth, it happens in little bits, not all at once. First, we need to be serious about our daily prayer life. Start with 20 minutes, and if you can, a half an hour. It you wonder what you can do for such a long time, open a Bible and read it prayerfully. Make sure though you make part of the time silent time, and simply be in the presence of God. The Rosary is good for this, too, but don’t pray it like a second grader, as fast as you can. Take time, and as you pray the decades of the Rosary, imagine the scenes of the Mysteries in your mind. Put yourself in the scene with one of the people in the scene. This will help open one up to the experience of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Fr. James Orr About Fr. James Orr

Fr. James R. Orr is a priest of the Diocese of Pittsburgh. He is currently pastor of St. Aloysius, Reserve Township, and Most Holy Name of Jesus, Pittsburgh, and Director of St. Anthony Chapel which enshrines 5000 relics of the saints. He teaches in the Diocese of Pittsburgh’s Catechist Certification Program and the Post-ordination Program for the Diocese of Pittsburgh. He holds a Bachelor's in Religious Studies from Penn State University, a Master of Divinity from Mt. St. Mary Seminary, Emmitsburg, MD, and a Master of Arts in Formative Spirituality from the Institute of Formative Spirituality, Duquesne University.