Santa Clara University

Office of the President

Mass of the Holy Spirit 2013

Homily for the Mass of the Holy Spirit
Mission Church, Santa Clara
2 October 2013

Let me repeat my welcome on behalf of all the priests, Campus Ministers, and religious leaders.  We are delighted to see you here to launch the new academic year by asking God’s blessing. You are welcome in this House of God, and we hope that you return here many times.

Today I wish to share three thoughts with you.  One idea comes from a church bulletin; another concerns the concept of blessing; and the third came to me from a blogger. The three B’s: bulletin, blessing, and blogger.

I have adapted the church bulletin message to fit Santa Clara and our Mass today.  It goes like this:

We extend a special welcome to those who are transfer students, Greeks, commuters, gay, filthy rich, dirt poor, yo no hablo ingles. You’re welcome here if you’re “just browsing,” just woke up, or just got out of class. We don’t care if you’re more Catholic than the Pope, or haven’t been in church since God was a child. We welcome athletes, skateboarders, tree-huggers, latte sippers, ROTC, vegans, vegetarians, and junk food eaters.  We welcome you if you’re nervous about college, or down in the dumps, or if you don’t like organized religion - we’ve been there too. We offer a special welcome to all those who love Country-Western music, work too hard, haven’t started to work, can’t spell, or because your roommate did not want to go to church alone. We welcome those who are pierced, tattooed, or both. We offer a special welcome to those who could use a prayer right now, had religion shoved down your throat as a kid, or got lost - looking for the free food - and wound up here by mistake.

Whatever your belief, frame of mind, or outlook on life, God welcomes you today. You might think of today’s Mass as a spiritual “come-as-you-are” celebration.  God is not inspecting you, but welcoming you with love. God does not mind if you are nervous about being a transfer or first-year student, worrying about making friends, and wondering how you fit in at Santa Clara.  In fact, today’s Gospel message concerns how people cope with fear and deal with stress.  

2.  This Gospel story occurs after Jesus was killed and before the disciples understood what resurrection meant. The followers of Jesus have hidden themselves, trying to make themselves invisible.  You might say that they find themselves in a new place in their lives, separated from the one who had provided them safety and guidance in the past.

If you are new here or remember your first days at Santa Clara, you can understand being scared or nervous in this new place.  Life is changing for you if you live with a roommate for the first time, go to class with people you do not know, and discover what college homework involves. Introverts may hate it, and even extroverts can get homesick. In the midst of all these feelings and encounters, Jesus has something to say to you.  The message Jesus speaks: “Peace to you.” You are not alone. You remain safe in God’s care, care that is expressed through the words and actions of CFs, Resident Ministers, Resident Directors, faculty, and staff.

Peace. The Blessing of Jesus.  No one here need be alone.  God is using many people around you to encourage, assist, direct, answer questions, provide support, or get you to laugh and chill.  God’s Spirit inspires others to offer you an ear to listen, a smile to brighten spirits, a shoulder to cry on, or a word of invitation. God’s Spirit invites you to do the same for others. Be a Blessing yourself.  Extend God’s Peace. God is offering you peace, and promises to continue to do so, and invites you to pass it on.

3.  Recently I was speaking with a Santa Clara graduate, someone who until just months ago sat where you are sitting today. He connected me to his Blog.  This Blogger is now successfully employed, making serious money, and enjoying the good life with his 20-something friends.  He has also been thinking a great deal as he commutes to work each day, wondering where his life is headed, what goal he wants to set for himself, what he values.

Our Blogger has made amazing discoveries in a surprisingly easy manner. He unplugs the pods from his ears, ignores his text messages, and shuts down his iPad. For an hour at a time.  During one of these tech-free periods, he recognized and admitted to himself a matter of personal confusion.  He realized that when it comes to religion, he is not certain just what he believes.  Some beliefs in Christianity make sense to him, and certain other teachings do not - seriously do not.  So he wonders about who God is for him and where he fits in.

Our first reading today described a similar situation.  When the Apostles first went out to preach on the streets of Jerusalem, they astonished people.  The Apostles spoke in a new way, in languages unknown to them is how the author describes the scene. People from many countries recognized the power of the message and were astonished.  The spirit of the message grabbed them.  They asked one another, What is this new teaching being shared?  Why is it so appealing to me?

We can next imagine that those who heard the Apostles had to ask themselves: what do I believe?  I was raised in one faith, and these dynamic speakers are introducing something attractive, but I am not certain how it fits in my life, in my beliefs, in my religion.  Confusing for them back then…just as it is for our Blogger, and just as it may be for you at this stage in your life.

I have found great encouragement in my moments of uncertainty when I read what Pope Francis is saying.  Again and again, Pope Francis speaks of God’s love and God’s mercy.  God embraces us as we are, and waits patiently for us; God forgives all mistakes. Francis reminds us that the Church is not a museum for saints, but a hospital for those whose lives and spirits are battered and broken.  He reminds us that God promises compassion.  Francis also reminds us that we are called to be as compassionate as Jesus. We are to be blessings for others. God awaits us with open arms, as we make our way along many different paths.

Let me conclude.  Let us live this academic year in a spirit of welcome to all.  Let us live this year in ways that extend blessings of care for others – particularly those in greatest need.  And like our blogger, let us live this year attentively, by listening to God’s movement in our hearts, and with our ears open to the cries of the world around us.

May God’s Spirit live within and amongst us this year.

Michael E. Engh, S.J.

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