Homily for the Mass of the Holy Spirit
26 September 2018
Let me repeat my welcome from the beginning of our Mass. I am pleased to see so many members of the Jesuit community, athletic teams, clubs, organizations, RLCs, administrative offices, and our alumni. From Native Americans to EMTs to athletes, you are all part of God’s great family at Santa Clara. The Bronco spirit is alive in this holy place.
Recently, I re-read an old church bulletin posted online that fits our celebration this morning. “We extend a special welcome to those who are inked, pierced, or both, gay, filthy rich, dirt poor, or no habla ingles. 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, 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.”
Whatever your belief, frame of mind, or outlook on life, God welcomes you. You can think of today’s Mass as a spiritual “come-as-you-are” celebration. God is not inspecting you, but waving you in 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. Thinking about this welcome that God offers us, three questions occurred to me. Why do we gather? How do we wish to live? What do we want this year to be? A few thoughts on each.
1. Why Do We Gather? Last week I attended a reception to launch the new Latinx Education Research Center in our School of Education and Counseling Psychology. A senior student whom I know delivered a spoken word presentation, a form of a poem, which expressed his experience as a Latino growing up in Arizona. He vividly evoked memories of his encounters with prejudice, discrimination, and fear. He asserted his desire to rise above these crises and work for a better world. The emotional impact of this poem captivated us and erased any political division the audience members might have had. Here we heard one person, speaking his truth, without judgment, but with the power of authentic feeling, and the desire to open ears, move hearts, to end hatred.
The Spirit of God enters our lives in many ways. The Spirit appears in forms we never expect to find God. We gather today to remind one another that at Santa Clara we intend to change the world, to improve society, to touch lives. We partner with the Spirit to bring God’s kingdom closer into reality and to continue God’s creative activity just as Jesus did through the disciples in our first reading.
2. How Do We Wish To Live? Many of you already know that before school started I attended the National Basketball Hall of Fame induction. You may have heard me talk about Steve Nash, Santa Clara alumnus, and his public remarks at that celebration. For all the world to hear, Steve explained that when no other school recruited him, Santa Clara took a chance on him. Coach Dick Davey and his staff invited him here, stood by him, and worked with him to develop his potential. The rest is history.
In our Gospel reading, Jesus appears to his disciples after his resurrection from the dead. Locked away in a room for safety, they were hiding, uncertain of the future. And Jesus took another chance on them, tracked them down, brought them encouragement, and then sent them out. And Jesus does that again today with all of us. Jesus joins us in this room, speaks a word of peace for whatever might trouble us, and, once more, sends us out. Jesus entrusts to us the good news of God’s love for each person so that we can change our personal world and our campus.
3. What do we want this year to be? Several months back, my Cabinet and I read Fr. Greg Boyle’s book, Barking to the Choir. Father Boyle has worked with youth at risk in East Los Angeles for over 25 years. He founded Homeboy Industries to offer young people job training, counseling, tattoo removal – all as an alternative to gang banging. He wrote his book to invite readers to learn what the “homies” had taught him about God.
In one chapter, Fr. Boyle commented on our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles. “[I]t doesn’t say that people ‘prayed in tongues’ - but [people] were suddenly able to hear those around them speaking ‘in their own language.’ The miracle of Pentecost is not just that the disciples suddenly could speak in a variety of foreign languages and startle the folks who heard them on the street. No, the miracle was even greater. Many diverse people understood them and found the Good News captivating their imagination and moving their hearts.
They heard the disciples “speaking a language of inclusion where barriers are dismantled, circles are widened, and no one is left outside. No one. People hear their languages spoken and feel brought in and welcomed as never before.” [p. 196] This year, we want Santa Clara University to break down barriers, banish fears, introduce people to one another, and inspire the friendships that the Spirit of God inspires and encourages. That is our deepest desire.
Let me conclude, or we will be late for lunch. For over 165 years, faculty, staff, and students of all faiths or none have found strength by seeking God’s help. We do that now. Today we hear again that the Spirit of God enters our world in many ways, often in forms we never expect to find God. Jesus takes a chance on us, offers encouragement and love, and then sends us out. Jesus teaches us a language of love that is a language of inclusion where barriers are dismantled, circles are widened, and no one is left outside. This year we will speak that language of love and inclusion.
May God bless you, may God bless us all this year.