Santa Clara University

Office of the President

Mass of the Holy Spirit, 2011

Mission Church, SCU
5 October 2011

Many of you here have heard of the recently released movie, “Moneyball.” This film was going to be included in my homily today. I wanted to mention the film because “Moneyball” is a charged, if fictionalized, look at how Billy Beane – the general manager - helped transform the lowly and poor Oakland A’s baseball team into serious competition for wealthier ball clubs. Beane did this largely by ignoring everything he’d been taught about how baseball should be played. Beane questioned the received knowledge of baseball – the traditions, the commonly held beliefs, even the statistics so prized by coaches. Beane drew upon the ideas he learned from an unlikely source, a computer whiz, and he re-envisioned how baseball teams are selected. A great story – or so I am told.

As I mentioned, I was going to work this film into my homily today. I never made it to the theatre. I watched the trailers and read the reviews. I suspect, however, that we might all benefit from heading off to the movies to see this film. Why? Because the new approach to baseball came through a fresh perspective in seeing the players. Billy Beane opened his eyes to see more in the rejected players, men relegated to the minor leagues for not fitting the accepted roles of what a winning player should look like, what stats he should have earned, and how he should have produced results. Beane perceived reality in a new way. He was hearing new ideas, examining them, taking a chance, and creating something novel. He became a symbol - and an agent - of change.

So what do we see in new ways? What does this movie about change have to do with starting a new school year? Our first reading offers us a key to answering this question. The scene: a crowded city full of visitors from around the world who speak many distinct languages. It is Pentecost; the Spirit has poured on the disciples and thrust them out and into the city of Jerusalem; a group of excited, enthusiastic men in the center of the city were telling anyone who would listen about their religious experiences.

Did people run away? Did they grab their children and shield them from these religious nuts? No, these residents and visitors stopped and listened because, as the text recounts, they heard something new. They paid attention, as they are quoted as saying, because “Each of us hears them speaking in our native languages.” In other words, the disciples spoke in ways that people unknown to them actually heard something about God that intrigued them, that spoke to their hearts. The disciples articulated something new, something that communicated to people’s deeper desires, a message that engaged their minds and that moved them. People took the risk to listen, to marvel, to wonder. The disciples were symbols – and agents – of change.

In a new academic year, you experience many new beginnings. You meet new students and faculty, you make friends, you encounter subjects and ideas that are novel to you. You learn about yourself, you discover abilities, skills, talents, and more of your potential. You might say to yourself, “I never felt this way before about another person,” or I never imagined that I could like a subject like… .” [No, I won’t name the subject, lest I offend someone who is unmentioned]. In the mix and midst of all that you encounter, change is happening all about you. It can be scary at times. I would suggest, however, that the Spirit of Jesus is also at work. Silent, usually unrecognized, but present all the same.

A Spanish poet described something of this experience of recognizing change within oneself. Poet Antonio Machado reflected about what it meant for him to uncover unknown dimensions of himself and to set aside tired old stereotypes of himself. Machado expressed his discoveries in a poem, “Last Night As I Was Sleeping.” Let me share part of it with you.

"Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt – blessed image! –
that I had a beehive here inside my heart.
And the golden bees were making white combs
and sweet honey from my old failures.

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt – blessed image! –
that a fiery sun was giving light inside my heart.
It was fiery because I felt warmth as from a hearth,
and sun because it gave light and brought tears to my eyes.

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt – blessed image! –
that it was God I had here inside my heart."

Deep within me, God’s divine spirit was at work transforming my failures into sweetness; sun within that brought warmth and light and profound feelings, even tears to my eyes.

Think of the changes you have experienced in recent weeks and months. Could you see past stereotypes when you moved into a dorm room and discovered a roommate of a different race or ethnicity? Could you tolerate ideas radically different from your own in a class or office discussion and listen with openness? Do we allow ourselves to accompany others when we meet people in need, on the street, on immersion trips and in community-based learning projects? In all of these situations, can we allow ourselves to stay long enough with uncomfortable feelings so that we might discover another reality, a different opinion?

We gather at Eucharist to support one another in prayer as we go through change and challenge. We come to this sacred table to receive nourishment and encouragement for all that we face. We take time out of the school day because what we do here together prepares us for the exciting if nervous-making discoveries of other people, other ideas, other approaches to life. We congregate here to listen and then leave this place to carry the message we have heard of God’s promise of peace, the promise of Jesus to accompany us. We leave from this holy place so that we can make the world holy and just and safe and healthy. We go, with the Spirit, to revolutionize not only sports or baseball, but to revolutionize our world.

"Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt – blessed image! –
that it was God I had here inside my heart."

Michael E. Engh, S.J.

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