Pentecost Homily

[If I could preach on Pentecost, I would say this…]


I believe in the holy Catholic Church.

We say this in the Apostles’ Creed. “I believe in the holy Catholic Church.” What do we mean, when we say this? [Spanish]

The Acts of the Apostles ends with an account of St. Paul’s legal battles in Israel. The Roman governors hardly knew what to do with the case. One of them tried to explain it like this: ‘I thought the Jews had an accusation against Paul of some real crime. But it turns out, the whole thing has to do with this Jesus of Nazareth. The Jews say He’s dead. Paul says He’s alive.’

Jesus appeared to His Apostles. Wounded in the flesh, but risen from the dead. His resurrection made the Eucharist the Eucharist.

We believe in the Church with the wounded, risen Body, and the living, divine Blood, of Jesus Christ. We believe in the Church where Jesus encounters us, on the altar. We believe in the Church where He offers Himself as our sacrifice, where He feeds us with Himself and unites us in Himself.

We belong to the Church that began in the Upper Room, with the Apostles as the first priests. God gave mankind something in the Upper Room in Jerusalem. God gave mankind His Christ, as a perpetual, mystical gift. We believe in the Church that has received, cherished, and disseminated this inexhaustible gift.

Trinity Shield“Gift” is one of the titles of the Holy Spirit. God gives Himself. God gives eternity, everything, infinite goodness and beauty. The Father gives that divine Gift to His only-begotten Son. From eternity unto eternity, He gives Himself.

There is no true Church without the eternal Love that binds the Father and the Son. When the Son became human in the womb of the Virgin, the divine Love began to show itself as Jesus’ religion, Jesus’ humble adherence to the will of the Father.

We believe in the holy Church of Jesus’ religion. The religion of Jesus reveals the eternal divine Love, the eternal Gift of everything. Jesus receives the Gift, and, with piety, He returns Love for Love. He receives the eternal infinite Gift. And He gives the eternal, infinite Gift.

We believe in the Church only because we believe in the Holy Spirit of Christ, the Gift of the eternal Father. We believe in the holy Catholic Church only because we believe in the Incarnation of the eternal Word, the second person of the Blessed Trinity.

But the thing is: We do believe in the Trinity, and in the Incarnation, since that’s what believing in Jesus means. And so we also believe in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.

pentecost_with_maryGod founded our Church. Not us. We belong to our Church not like good citizens belong to a Rotary Club. Or even like lawyers belong to the bar association. We belong to the Church like children belong to their mother. We owe holy Mother Church our hope for heaven. She alone has given that hope to us. And She has given it to us with consummate humility, since She does not hesitate to admit that She Herself received it as a gift, from Jesus.

“I believe in the holy Catholic Church.” The situation involving the bishop and myself has a lot of us hanging on the edge of this particular article of the Creed. ‘Father, this is testing my Catholic faith. What if you don’t get justice?’ All I can say to this is: “I know the feeling.”

We have to wait and hold on. God rewards the patient.

After all, the holy Catholic Church is one enormously big and mysterious thing. It is an enormously big and mysterious bureaucracy, yes. But even the strange, cappuccino-fueled bureaucracy of the Vatican in AD 2020—even that bureaucracy sits as only a little toenail on the mysterious giant that is the holy Catholic Church.

The virus has interfered considerably with our commemoration of the bicentennial of our diocese. Pope Pius VII erected the Catholic diocese of Richmond, Virginia, in 1820.

The Vatican bureaucracy had its flaws then. An American churchman happened to find himself in Rome the preceding August, 1819, on the day when the Vatican made the final decision about establishing our diocese.

The Cardinal in charge of missionary dioceses gleefully told the American: ‘Guess what? The pope will establish a diocese in Virginia! The diocese of Hartford.’

The American had to produce a map. To convince the Cardinal that Hartford is the capital of Connecticut. The capital of Virginia is Richmond. Oops. The map finally convinced the Cardinal to re-word his memo to the pope.

Anyway, Pope Pius had a more-competent Cardinal serving as the Vatican Secretary of State at the time. Ercole Consalvi. A few years earlier, Cardinal Consalvi had a famous conversation with Napoleon Bonaparte.

“I will destroy the Church!” the French emperor had stormed. Consalvi replied: “That is unlikely. In 1800 years, the clergy has not succeeded in destroying it.”

I think we’ll survive these confusing days. Our precious Catholic faith will survive. May the Holy Spirit come. To give us all patient, persevering faith.

Dew of Heavenly Truth

Mare and foal

Come, Holy Spirit! On our dryness pour your dew. [Spanish]

The Lord Jesus died on the cross. On the third day, He rose again. He remained on earth for forty days. He ascended into heaven. Our Lady and the Apostles prayed. Then Christ poured out the Holy Spirit.

Sunday we conclude the Easter season, which is the same thing as springtime. We Christians celebrate spring by celebrating the Lord Jesus’ Easter mysteries, over the course of fifty days.

The sequence of events that we remember every Easter season—it teaches us why the Lord Jesus became man and conquered human death. He did not do it for His own sake. After all, before He became man in the womb of the Blessed Virgin, He already enjoyed undying life. From all eternity, He is true God from true God—one eternal God with the Father.

So Christ did not need to rise from the dead for His own sake. Rather, He rose from the dead for us. He rose from the dead to be the first-fruits of our resurrection.

So: two fundamental, unseen facts of life. 1. Jesus Christ rose from the dead. The Apostles saw Him, and we believe the testimony the Apostles left behind. 2. We believe that, in the end, we will rise again, too, like Christ rose again.

El Greco PentecostUnseen truths of faith. We believe the fundamental facts of our lives; we do not see them. We believe in the final consummation of the world, the coming of Christ the Judge, eternal glory for the just, and eternal damnation for the unjust.

And we live by our faith in this as-yet-unseen future.  What we do see, however—what we see when springtime comes every year—it gives us a sign of the unseen consummation to come. The springtime we see gives us a sign of the eternity we do not yet see.

Let me explain. Every spring, the earth brings forth new life. What was dead rises again. What had gone down into the soil as a seed emerges as a living flower. The unseen power of nature brings about an annual resurrection of everything that is green and fragrant. The fauna, too, are renewed. Chicks hatch. Horses foal. All the species of the animal kingdom get resurrected by nature’s power.

Now, if we are going to try and understand Pentecost, we have to ask ourselves: What is the great secret ingredient of the annual resurrection of Mother Nature, of the earth? What makes spring spring?

The answer is, of course: Water. Water makes the springtime resurrection of nature’s life occur. The sky pours water onto the soil, and the moistening dew wakes the sleeping power of life. Water revives the earth.

Everybody with me so far? Now of course we are greater than all the plants. We are greater than all the animals. God made the other creatures for us. The other creatures sustain us; we cannot do without them. But they live small and fleeting lives, compared to ours.

We human beings need more than the water of the annual spring rains. Because God does not cultivate us nor breed us just for annual regeneration. We are not little creatures that cycle through simple annual routines in order to provide food for higher creatures. Tomato plants go through an annual cycle so that we can eat them. Worms go through an annual cycle so that we can bait fish hooks with them.

Holy Spirit dove sunWe, however, are not food for any other creature. No—we are the ultimate fruit of the earth. We are the reason why the earth exists. God cultivates us to bear our fruit once and for all. Our springtime is the eternal day, when everything is fulfilled, time is complete, the devil is altogether subdued, and eternal glory fills the earth. The fruit of the human race will be ripe when the new Jerusalem descends like a bride from heaven, and God is all-in-all.

To come out of the earth and flower on that day, we need water of an altogether different kind than the plants and animals need. Nature has her annual resurrection by water every spring. But for our eternal resurrection, we need the dew of truth. We live by the water of life which flows from the Heart of Christ in heaven. We are watered not just by H20 water, but by the Holy Spirit.

Pentecost is the day of life-giving rain for Christian souls. So we pray.  Lord, rain down your holy dew on us! We are the seeds you have sewn in Your garden.  Turn on Your garden hose, and water us down with Your heavenly spiritual gifts—until the gullies and rivulets in our souls are gushing with wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, fortitude, piety, and fear of the Lord. We want puddles and puddles of Your dew in our hearts. Rain down Your grace on us, O God. Send Your Spirit.



PS. The Interfaith Council of Martinsville-Henry County invited me, along with other Jewish, Muslim, and other Christian leaders, to speak at a meeting on Sunday afternoon: The American Heritage of Religious Freedom: Are There Limits to Free Speech Regarding Other Faith Traditions?

I collected information from the Catechism, and from the documents of Vatican II, to prepare a little talk. If you’re interested, please come–3pm Sunday at the Islamic Center, 17125 Al Philpott Hwy, Martinsville.

Or you can read my notes by clicking HERE.

Holy Spirit, Painter

Anyone like to draw? Or paint? Anyone like to go to galleries and look at beautiful paintings?

Anyone ever seen a good painting or sculpture of the Lord Jesus? Many very famous master-painters have depicted Him. Caravaggio, Leonardo Da Vinci, Velázquez, El Greco… Here’s a couple amazingly beautiful paintings I discovered recently:

Jacopo Pontormo Deposition of Christ
Jacopo Pontorno, “Deposition of Christ”
Caravaggio Crowning Thorns
Caravaggio, “Crowning with Thorns”

Can we all imagine Jesus? Can we ‘paint a picture’ of Him in our minds? Thank God, yes—I think we can.

Now, how about this: What about painting the Holy Spirit?

Not so easy. Maybe a stained-glass dove. But depicting the Holy Spirit…extremely difficult, because the Holy Spirit is…


Let’s turn the whole thing around. Instead of thinking about how to draw or paint the Holy Spirit, let’s recognize this: the Holy Spirit is the Great Divine Artist. He paints. He made the heavens and the earth. He made us.

God made everything, and He made everything beautiful. When we find ourselves at the beach, or on a lovely hillside or mountaintop, or anywhere where God’s creation has the chance to show us itself, we know that God made a beautiful world.

The universe does not consist solely of dust and atoms. It’s a beautiful work of art. It glows with beauty. The Holy Spirit has given it that glow.

st petersNow, of all the beautiful things that God has made for us, surely the most beautiful of them all is… A butterfly? A pony? The Grand Canyon? Monica Bellucci?

No, the most beautiful is obviously Jesus Christ. The man of pure truth and kindness. The man Who gave Himself to save those He loves. The man Who embraced death and conquered it. He rose from the dead, and He filled the world with His divine light. Nothing could excel the beauty of Jesus Christ, risen from the dead.

Again, we don’t see the invisible Holy Spirit exactly, when we contemplate Christ crucified and risen. But we do, kind of, see the Spirit because: The holiness of Christ, His beauty, His luminosity: that is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit “painted” the Christ, so to speak, on the canvas of the earth. And that made the divine work of art complete.

There’s more, though. How else can we see the invisible Holy Spirit? Whenever anyone obeys God, like Jesus did. Whenever anyone allows God’s love to work through him, or through her.

We don’t exactly see the invisible Holy Spirit then, when we see a Christ-like person, but we do see the Holy Spirit’s work. We see that the Holy Spirit can and does make human spirits holy. So the Spirit of Christ still paints, still produces beauty—the beauty of kind, loving, humble, honest, fair, patient, chaste, gentle, prayerful people.

Three Crowns in Ninety Days

We celebrate Mass and try to cling to Christ throughout the entire year, of course. But I think everyone knows that for one ninety-day period we celebrate Christ’s mystery in an especially intense manner. [Click AQUI por Spanish.]

pentecost_with_maryWe keep the anniversary of the Redemption of the world with the first full moon of spring. For forty days before that, we fast. And for fifty days afterwards, we feast. Today we conclude the ninety-day liturgical extravaganza of Lent and Easter.

Jesus is the Christ, the Anointed One, the man Who bears on His brow a unique crown. Jesus of Nazareth wears God, the Holy Spirit, as a crown on His Head.

We began the ninety days with a kind of crown of our own–an unusual one: ashes. We confronted the fact that life on earth is short. God formed us out of dust, so to dust we naturally return. We languish as weak sinners, and a curse of meaningless emptiness hangs over us–unless we seek and find God. We faced all these facts, and we put them on, like a crown on our heads, in the form of a cross of ashes. We wore that “crown” in order to declare: ‘Yes, we are weak, sinful mortals!’

Then, forty days later, we saw Jesus crowned. Not with the earthly kingship of Israel, but with a crown of thorns. Only the malice of fallen man could come up with something so perverse–crowning the Messiah with thorn branches twisted into a cruel diadem. Even though Jesus had not sinned; even though He Himself is the Life that can turn the dust of the earth into living flesh; not grasping after His prerogatives, Jesus took the curse of human injustice and death upon Himself. The Roman soldiers crowned Him with the thorns that we sinners deserve.

Jesus bled for us, and died. But the power of His life conquered and overcame. They removed the crown of thorns after He gave up His spirit, and they laid Him in the tomb to start the sabbath. But when the women came to complete the burial anointings on Sunday morning, Jesus had already left the whole business of death behind Him. The Father had crowned Him with life again.


Christ breathed the life-giving Spirit on His friends that very day, as we hear in Sunday’s gospel reading at Holy Mass. But He waited another fifty days to crown them with His Spirit. On Pentecost, as we hear in the first reading, He poured out the Gift–wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, piety, fortitude, and holy fear–He poured the Spirit down upon His chosen ones, crowning them with God–just as He had been crowned with God from the moment of His conception in Mary’s womb.

Now, there’s nothing vague about the spiritual crowning of Pentecost. Sometimes people talk about the Holy Spirit as if He were a cloud of niceness. Or they think the Holy Spirit has come whenever you agree with them.

But we can’t cheapen the Gift of Pentecost like this. Jesus promised something very specific when He told the Apostles that He would give them His Spirit. He told them, “The Advocate will take from what is mine and give it to you.”

What exactly belongs to Christ, which the Holy Spirit gives to us? Well, everything belongs to Christ, of course, since He is God Almighty. But the thing that belongs especially to the incarnate Son is: the Redemption of man. The eternal Word, the Wisdom of the Father, became man in order to redeem man. He wore the crown of thorns to accomplish this. That crown of bitter suffering rests now, like a trophy, beside the empty cross. The victorious Redeemer reigns on high, giving freedom and new life to His people through His Spirit.

st petersIt’s a little sad that these ninety days of spiritual intensity have run their course. It’s like the whole Church goes on a kind of prayer retreat every spring, with the Sacred Liturgy of Lent and Easter lifting us up to the contemplation of Christ’s conquest in Jerusalem.

Now we must leave the retreat house, so to speak, and face the mission at hand. Namely, to participate–as He calls us to participate–in the redemption of man, by our fervent prayers and tireless deeds.

But we stride forward with our crowns resting securely on our heads. The crown of God’s heavenly Gift, our share in the anointing of the Anointed One.

Yes, we are dust and ashes, arcing toward inevitable death. Yes, the innocent Lamb had to wear a crown of thorns for our sins. But He has redeemed us by His gracious Gift. The curse over us has been lifted. And we wear on our brows the holy diadem that marks us as children of the household of God, consecrated for eternal life.

Painting Pentecost

Jan Joest
Jan Joest
Titan Pentecost
Giotto Pentecost
Book of Hours Pentecost
from a Book of Hours
El Greco Pentecost
El Greco

When the work which the Father gave the Son to do on earth was accomplished, the Holy Spirit came on the day of Pentecost, in order that He might continually sanctify the Church…He is the Spirit of Life, a fountain of water springing up to life eternal.

…The Spirit dwells in the Church and in the hearts of the faithful, as in a temple. In them He prays on their behalf and bears witness to the fact that they are adopted children.

The Spirit guides the Church in the way of all truth.  He unifies Her in communion and in works of ministry…By the power of the Gospel He makes the Church keep the freshness of youth.  He renews Her and leads Her to perfect union with Her Spouse.  The Spirit and the Bride both say to Jesus, the Lord, ‘Come!’

The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council extolled the Holy Spirit with these words.

Inspiring words.  But what about paintings?  Let me confide in you that I have never found a painting of Pentecost that I like.  Eminent sacred artists have produced impressive renditions of Pentecost.  And, of course, our own Stephen Brailo, of St. Andrew’s in Roanoke, has done for us a beautiful new baptismal mosaic, in honor of our former pastor.  Msgr. Miller will visit next week at the 11:30 Mass for the dedication.

brailo mosaic
new mosaic at St. Andrew’s in honor of Fr. Tom Miller, by Stephen Brailo

No offense to any of these artists.  Of all the events depicted in Christian art, Pentecost poses the greatest challenge.  For an obvious reason:  The subject of the work of art is


“It is better for you that I go,” said the Lord Jesus.  “Rivers of living water will flow from within the one who believes in Me.”

The one who believes.  Faith.  In the invisible.

Christ made the invisible God visible, by becoming a man.  But then He ascended to heaven, out of our sight.  From the true Temple above, He pours grace out of His own human Heart, upon the whole earth. It is better for us that He went.

That’s the thing about paintings of Pentecost:  Jesus isn’t in them.  He had completed His earthly pilgrimage by then.

The great artists have painted Christ, in the various events of His pilgrim life, so as to depict visibly the invisible life within Him.  But painting the third divine Person, Who comes as a gentle wind, a breath, tongues of flame, a dove, an anointing, an interior inspiration…  Well, I’m no artist.  But I do know that painting something invisible is downright difficult.  I think our Stephen Brailo deserves a lot of credit!

The Holy Spirit does make Himself perfectly visible in one way, though.  By filling the hearts of the people He makes saints.

The Invisible shows Himself whenever a Christian bears witness to the hope that is in us.  The unimaginable Spirit comes into view when someone has the courage to reach out in love.  The gentle Spirit speaks when a parent or teacher or friend gives good advice, or soothes the pain, or encourages.

In other words, the invisible Holy Spirit is as visible as the living, breathing Church.  The Church, consecrated in truth, burning with divine love, marching with certain hope towards the glory that awaits us.

How about this, dear artists?  The third Person of the divine Trinity left Himself so difficult to paint, because He Himself is a painter.  The Master Painter.

He painted the adorable natural world, using a brush that could make a universe out of nothing.  He painted the unique beauty of the High Priest of all creation, Jesus Christ.  And now He paints us—whenever we allow His holiness to overcome our sinfulness, and we do something good for God.

Holy Spirit Was and Is


We read at the end of chapter seven of St. John’s gospel, the Lord Jesus promised that “rivers of living water will flow from within” the one who believes in Him. St. John explains that the living water is the Holy Spirit.

Holy Spirit has come at certain points in time with outward signs. Tongues of fire. A luminous cloud. Speech in many languages. A dove. An anointing.

But the Holy Spirit comes, first and foremost, as an invisible spiritual gift. The gift operates inside us, not outside. The gift elevates the soul of a human being, from within.

Continue reading “Holy Spirit Was and Is”

Reality Novena

Father, consecrate us in the truth. Protect us from our propensities to subterfuge and close-mindedness. Free us from ourselves and the tendency we have to make up our own version of reality.

Now, if ever there were days to make a Novena…This is the week of the original Novena.

“Father, consecrate them in truth,” prayed the Lord Jesus. “Wait until you are clothed with power from on high,” He told His disciples.

ezekiel bonesCome, Holy Spirit of truth. Come and consecrate us with the greatest gift any human being can ever receive: a firm grip on reality.

I don’t know about you, but on Sunday something struck me like a ton of bricks, as if for the first time. The Savior came to the world, showed Himself the Savior, overcame death—and then He vanished.

He was here. At one time, Jesus wore shoes and a tunic of some kind, and dust collected on His garments, and He had to spend time cleaning His teeth every day.

But then He departed from the world. Peace out. To heaven. And—except by certain visionaries—He has not been seen with human eyes on the earth since.

This would seem to mean heartbreak and pain for His disciples. We read on Sunday, however, that they rejoiced and praised God when Jesus ascended and disappeared from their sight (Luke 24:52). The Master had triumphed altogether and returned to the unimaginable heaven from which He had come. Unlike the Christians of Miletus, who wept when St. Paul left them for good. In Jerusalem, after the Ascension of Christ, the disciples did not cry. Rather, joy filled their hearts as they prayed the first Novena.

el_greco-sinaiNow, we know that the Lord Jesus does not despise the world. He abides with us here still in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar. And He promised one day to come again in the sight of every human eye. His sandals will touch the earth again. Then heaven and earth will come together. Where He disappeared to on Ascension Day, and where we are now, will be the same place.

And it’s not just a matter of our passively waiting for Him to come back in all His glory. We can hasten the re-union. By prayer and zealous works of justice and peace.

But this reality which the Holy Spirit helps us get a grip on… This truth…

The Holy Spirit, Who looks like…what exactly? Pentecost looks like: “power from on high.” I think the greatest artists will freely tell us: Not easy to depict this for human eyes. Actually, it’s altogether impossible.

For now—while we still make our pilgrim way—the true reality which the invisible Holy Spirit helps us grasp is itself a lot more invisible than it is visible. “Getting a grip”—really getting a grip on reality—means believing. We pray with joy that God will help us to get a firm grip on the ungraspable Truth that He Himself is.

Original Novena (or Sextena)

“I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now,” said the Lord, to the Apostles.

St. Augustine made the best comment on this verse, in my opinion. We should not worry too much about knowing the ‘much more’ that the Lord intends eventually to reveal. If even the holy Apostles couldn’t bear it, we can be damn sure that we can’t, either.

The Holy Spirit will guide us into all truth. Someday we will know it all. Someday we will know things like: Why some people get cancer and other people don’t. Or why some people get born poor and hardly have half a chance, while some people are set-up so easy that they really have to work hard at squandering their advantages in order to wind up somewhere other than Easy Street. And we will learn why some people we know and love go ahead and do just that: work hard for pretty much their whole lives at squandering all their advantages.

In the meantime, though, even when we don’t understand something, we can always pray.

The time has come to make the original Novena. When He ascended into heaven, the Lord said, “You stay in Jerusalem until you are clothed with power from on high.” They prayed for nine days. Then the Holy Spirit came.

If you are like me, you can hardly get used to celebrating Ascension Day three days late. Especially since it turns the novena instituted by God into a sextena.

But the most important thing is to pray.

Lord, fill us with Your wisdom. Our own folly has become intolerably boring to us. Fill us with Your knowledge, because we are tired of our own ignorance. Fill us with Your prudence. We have made enough of our own mistakes.

We will gladly take on faith for now what You would have us take on faith. We know that when the time is right, Your Holy Spirit will make everything perfectly clear.

Bow or Kiss?

I do not mean to stereotype. But we can take note of clear cultural differences sometimes. For instance, when you meet a Japanese person, you will likely receive a friendly bow. On the other hand, when you meet an Italian, you might wind up with wet kisses all over both sides of your neck.

As we read in Sacred Scripture, on the first Pentecost, pilgrims from all over had come to Jerusalem for the feast of Weeks.

People traveled to the Holy City seven weeks after Passover both to commemorate the giving of the Ten Commandments fifty days after the Exodus and to celebrate the reaping of the first fruits of the wheat harvest.

On this feast, the Apostles preached the Gospel in all the languages of the world, and thousands believed.

…Right before He went into the Garden of Gethsemane on Holy Thursday night, the Lord Jesus had prayed aloud, and He said:

Father, this is eternal life: to know you, the one true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ.

Now, speaking of manners, perhaps it strikes us as a bit odd that the Lord Jesus would refer to Himself in the third person, using His first and last names. But before we accuse Him of pomposity, let us recall that Jesus’ ‘last’ name actually designates the mystery of His identity. Jesus Christ means Jesus the anointed.

Eternal life is to know the only true God and the ambassador upon Whose head the oil of heavenly gladness has been poured.

Continue reading “Bow or Kiss?”