Be doers of the word and not hearers only. - Letter of James 1:22

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Fr. Fitz Homily Pentecost Sunday May 31, 2020

Pentecost Sunday


A couple of weeks ago there was a comic strip in Newsday which I have saved. Two older men were sitting on a park bench. The first one says, “Before I retired, I used to dread Mondays. Not anymore. This morning, I woke up and said to myself, ‘It’s Monday and I don’t care.’” The other fellow said, “Today is Friday.” The first one responded, “Yeah, before I retired I used to keep track of what day it was, too.” I think a good many of us could echo that feeling. We’ve been staying in for so long and keeping social distance for so long that every day seems the same. We’ve lost the structure of life that differentiates one day from another. I know that has happened to me.

When I reflected on today’s Scripture readings, I began to wonder whether St. Luke and St. John had the same problem. St. Luke in our first reading places the Pentecost event, the gift of the Holy Spirit, fifty days after the Resurrection. St. John, in the Gospel, says that Jesus gave the Holy Spirit to the Apostles on the first Easter night, no delay. Are they confused?

I think the answer lies in the perspective of each of the authors and how each wanted to present Jesus. St. John was a mystic. Throughout his Gospel, he presents Jesus as the divine Word who entered human history in order to bring all creation to the Father. Remember how he began his Gospel, “Before anything else existed, the Word already was. The Word was face to face with God and the Word was divine.” From his perspective, time was not important. God lives outside of time. So from his perspective, Resurrection, Ascension, and the pouring forth of His Spirit was a single event.

St. Luke, on the other hand, looks at the Christ event as the unfolding in time of God’s saving plan. From his perspective, history happens sequentially, one thing after another. But God’s plan for salvation begins with the Jews so it must flow out of Jerusalem and reach to the ends of the world. Our understanding of God’s plan demands time and attention on our part. So he gives the Apostles fifty days to digest the reality of Jesus so they can receive the Holy Spirit and then go out from Jerusalem to evangelize the whole world.

The task of evangelization still lies before us. We who have received the Spirit of God must live by that Holy Spirit. We must demonstrate our love and show our respect for all our brothers and sisters in the human family.

Unfortunately, this week we have witnessed a violation of that dignity. The reality of the sign of racism showed itself in Minneapolis in the death of George Floyd.

There is no other way to say it: racism is institutional sin. I believe that the Holy Spirit is moving among us and forcing us to face up to this evil. We must name it for what it is: SIN.

Sin is in the heart. Laws may make certain manifestations illegal – but there will be no real change unless hearts are changed. Some examples: Which schools on Long Island get poor ratings? You know – Roosevelt, Hempstead, Brentwood, Central Islip – what do they have in common? Institutional racism.

When I was a kid growing up in Hempstead, there were five or six elementary schools. We all knew which was the school for the black kids.

When William Levitt built all those houses in Levittown, it was understood that black people could not buy there. Institutional racism.

I can remember when the first African American family wanted to buy a house in Garden City. The local response was “Now why would they want to do that? Their kind just wouldn’t fit in.” Redlining by realtors was understood if never spoken.

Three fairly recent movies illustrated racism: “Hidden Figures,” “The Green Book,” and “42, The Jackie Robinson Story.” Each in its own way illustrated the reality of racial prejudice. It was bad. It is bad. It is sinful.

As I said earlier, I believe that the Holy Spirit is demanding that we confront this evil face on. I believe that the Holy Spirit is moving hearts to demonstrate against this evil. I believe that the Holy Spirit is opposed to violence and looting. But I believe that the Holy Spirit is calling us, each one of us, to examine our consciences, to root out prejudice and racism and to a real change of heart.

They Holy Spirit is alive and active today. St. Luke and St. John both attest that the gift of the Holy Spirit is not a one-moment event. Rather it is an ongoing experience for each of us; it begins at our baptism but continues throughout our lives. May we always be open to the action of the Holy Spirit here and now.


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