Mass of the Holy Spirit 2014

Homily for the Mass of the Holy Spirit
Mission Church, Santa Clara
8 October 2014

Let me repeat my welcome from the beginning of our Mass. I am pleased to see so many members of the religious communities, athletic teams, clubs, organizations, RLCs, administrative offices, and our alumni, Trustees, Regents, and Fellows. From ROTC to EMTs, you are all part of God’s great family at Santa Clara. You embody Bronco spirit as we gather here in this holy center of our campus.

As I said last year at this Mass, “You’re welcome here if you’re ‘just browsing,’ just woke up, or just got out of class. 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.” As members of God’s vast and diverse family, all are welcome in this House of Prayer for all people.

Today is the first day of our new creation at Santa Clara, the first day of a new season of learning and growth and service.  Like Jesus and his disciples, we are starting something new and amazing.  As we begin, I wish to share three reflections on the Spirit at Santa Clara. Let me speak of a prophet, a pastor and a post-graduate; three points and then on to our picnic. 

1. To begin, last week many of us heard Professor of philosophy Cornel West, speak on Black prophetic witness.  Professor West addressed a packed house in Mayer Theatre on Friday night and described how Jesuit education draws from two great human traditions.  Jesuit education unites the critical questioning of Socrates – what does it mean to be human? What kind of human being are you going to be? -- with the prophetic love of Jesus Christ, particularly for those who suffer. Whom do you love? Who has a claim on your heart?  Jesuit education is Socratic and prophetic.  Students of Jesuit universities are trained for leadership: taught to think critically, to speak candidly, to act honorably, and to risk everything, even one’s own integrity, for the sake of what is right and just.

Dr. West spoke enthusiastically about Santa Clara’s Jesuit educational tradition. At the welcome reception, he tackled me with a great bear hug and proclaimed how impressed he was with the SCU students with whom he had met.  He exclaimed what a joy it was to see the Cross in front of the Mission at the very center of our university. He was amazed and delighted that our statement of faith as Christians was so clear and bold. He also praised the eight crosses in front of the Church that commemorate, as he said, “our precious Jesuit brothers” and “that precious mother and daughter,” all killed for their witness to faith and to justice in El Salvador 25 years ago.

Dr. West demonstrated how a passion for justice and a love of learning leads to prophetic action. Through a Jesuit education, the Holy Spirit can inflame our hearts to see with new eyes how the world needs us to act.

2.  Dr. West reminded me of another person on fire with the Spirit of Jesus.  If you have ever watched Pope Francis on the news or in YouTube,  you have seen the Pope in action. He arrives in his popemobile, circles the crowds, and stops repeatedly to kiss a baby, bless a sick person, shake hands with the elderly, and give away his white skull cap. He smiles, waves, and reaches out to connect with people

The Pope’s speeches and writing also express this great connection to all God’s people. Recently I have been reading a little book that he wrote, called, The Joy of the Gospel. The opening line reveals what animates this pope: “The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ, joy is constantly born anew.”

Pope Francis lives this joy of Jesus and wants to set others on fire with this Spirit.  Like the first disciples, the Pope invites us to live in this Spirit, not just with words, but with actions. He reminds us that we need to reflect on Jesus in quiet moments and discover in solitude God’s spirit of love. We need time out or time away from noise to hear God at work within each of our hearts. Encountering God’s spirit within, we too can speak boldly like the disciples and attend to those who need God’s care and our support. Our world needs us; our world needs Santa Clara students and alumni who live and act in the Spirit.

3. This summer one of our recent alumnae wrote me an email as she completed her time at Casa de la Solidaridad in El Salvador.  It was only a few years ago that Michelle Maddox sat in this Mission Church, worked with SCCAP, lived in the residence halls, and puzzled what she would do with her life.  Her volunteer work with SCCAP led her to something more. Michelle spent a semester at the Casa, and, after graduation, returned as a staff member. In that post-graduate year she guided other students as they studied, worked with the campesinos, and confronted the question: in the face of such poverty, what claim do these people have on my heart?

Michelle wrote in her email, “Through the faith of the Salvadorans, the example of the Casa staff, and the many spaces for reflection and conversation, students connect to something greater than themselves. For me personally, that something greater was a loving, justice seeking God who was calling me…[to] reimagine how the world should be.”

Like Professor West, like Pope Francis, Michelle is reimagining how the world should be.  The Spirit of creation has stirred her heart and helped her to find something greater than herself.  The spirit of Jesuit education – Socratic and prophetic – enabled her to hear the voice of God’s spirit and to act accordingly. She is now enrolled as a graduate student at Boston College for a joint degree in Social Work and Pastoral Ministry.

Let me conclude.  Like Professor West, like Pope Francis, like this Santa Clara graduate, we too are called to reimagine our world. We too pray for the Spirit to enlighten us, to guide us to God, and to find that something greater than ourselves that God imagines for us.  We gather for this Mass of the Holy Spirit to ask for that Spirit for ourselves, for our university, and for all those with whom we come into contact. We pray for God’s Spirit today and throughout this new academic year. Lord, send us this prophetic spirit!

Michael E. Engh, S.J.