Every few months the National Geographic channel runs a documentary series on some of the beautiful national parks in the United States. I’ve watched these several times and never get sick of the incredible beauty we are blessed with. It makes me want to visit all the different parks to experience the unique features they offer. One park in particular comes to mind as we celebrate Pentecost and the end of the Easter season. Saguaro National Park in southern Arizona is 142 square miles of seemingly harsh and barren desert terrain. At first glance, you might think the only thing growing there is the giant Saguaro cacti which give the park its name. But look a little closer and signs of life are everywhere. Much of it is hidden, beneath the surface, and hard to see. This desert area doesn’t get much rain. Only about 1-10 inches a year fall on its sandy soil. But when it does, the whole desert is transformed, almost instantly, into a magical garden of beautiful flowers, green vegetation and other plant life, all of which was waiting for the transforming rain to bring it to life.
Applying this to the spiritual realm, Fr. Benedict Groeschel wrote that the gifts of the Spirit are sewn into us like seeds. They remain in the desert of our souls waiting to be nourished and given life. They were first put there when we received the sacrament of baptism. Unfortunately, many of these gifts were never developed or we stopped using them to pursue worldly priorities. But they are still there, waiting for the rains to come. The grace of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit, is that life-giving water. Today’s celebration is a reminder to invite that Heavenly Dew into our lives, to shout, “come Holy Spirit, come” so we, like the Saguaro desert, can be transformed into a place of beauty and life.
Based on the readings this weekend, we might be tempted to think that the early Church had it better than us when it came to the Holy Spirit; that somehow we are at a disadvantage. But that isn’t true. When St. Paul went to visit the Ephesians, he sensed they were missing something in their faith. So he asked point-blank, "Have you received the Holy Spirit?" They replied that they hadn’t even heard of the Holy Spirit! When he heard this, St. Paul immediately confirmed them. They became supercharged Christians and their impact was felt immediately in the Church.
We are one step ahead of the Ephesians. We have listened to Christ's command, "Receive the Holy Spirit." Each of us received the Holy Spirit at Baptism and Confirmation. The Spirit's gifts are awesome. Listen to them: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. They are already present in our souls but we must learn to use them.
Why were the twelve apostles, most of them illiterate, able to win a world for Jesus? And why are a billion Christians unable to repeat the same feat now? The answer is the Apostles used the Holy Spirit's gifts to the full and we do not.
The Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Blessed Trinity, is just as available to you and me as he was to Peter and the other members of the early Church. But the Holy Spirit is God, he is not a pet. We cannot say, “Come Holy Spirit into my prayer, but stay out of my work” or “You are welcome in my house but stay out of my marriage or my finances or the way I parent or my choice of friends.” If we want his transforming power to take over our thoughts, words, and actions, we have to give him permission to enter every aspect of our lives. If we block off certain parts of our hearts to the Holy Spirit, his gifts cannot bring about the powerful results we heard about in today’s scriptures.
The amazing news of Pentecost is that God wants his Church to be just as lively and dynamic today as it was when Peter and the gang were around. He is still pouring out gifts of healing, prophecy, comfort, preaching, and so many others to Catholics around the world and right here at Incarnate Word in Chesterfield, Missouri. We are not waiting for God to deliver the goods, He is waiting for us to say “yes”, to accept his invitation and let Him pour the waters of grace on the seeds of the Spirit that have just been waiting to explode into full bloom.
One last story to send us on our way: A poor European family was coming to the US in the early 1900’s. Having never sailed across the ocean before, they figured they would need to plan for their own meals. Having spent so much on the tickets, they packed bread and cheese to eat during the long voyage.
After many days of cheese sandwiches, the son came to his father, "Dad, if I have to eat cheese sandwiches all the way across the Atlantic, I won't make it." The kind father gave him his last nickel for ice cream. Hours later the child returned. The father noticed his wide smile. He asked what he had eaten. "Several bowls of ice cream and a steak dinner." "For a nickel?" "No, dad, the food is free. It comes with the ticket." He returned the coin to his father.
The filet mignon and ice cream of the Holy Spirit came to us with the ticket of our Baptism and Confirmation. No one has to continue eating boring sandwiches every day. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are at our disposal. The Church and the world needs us to be powered by them! Say “yes” to God and do not hesitate to cry out, “Come, Holy Spirit come!”