26 May 2015

Don't Stay in the Upper Room

In 1217 a man named Domingo did the unthinkable.  It was less than a year earlier that his small group of companions, along with a convent of nuns, had been approved by Pope Honorius III as the newest religious order in the Church.  But, even though he only had 16 mobile members in this new religious order, he sent them out: some to Spain, some in France, and some to Italy.  The other members of his small group of companions objected to this radical move.  They needed more members before they could spread out so much!  But Domingo insisted, stating that seeds that are kept in a container rot; only seeds that are scattered and sown can create new life in the ground.  These sixteen companions, along with the convent of nuns, was the beginning of what is known better today as the Order of Preachers, the Dominicans.  Domingo is the Spanish way of saying Dominic.
Today as we celebrate Pentecost, we go back to the group of disciples, some 170 people, who were crammed into the upper room (I’ve been there; 170 people would have been very tight!!).  Throughout the Easter Season we have heard about the disciples and the apostles.  They were scared, much like the first Dominicans would be some 1200 years later.  We heard about the Lord appearing in their very midst in the upper room, though the doors were locked for fear of the Jews.  They see Jesus, and yet, they are afraid.  They stayed in that upper room for some time, and even after having seen Jesus numerous times, they didn’t know what to do.  St. John records an account of Peter and the apostles deciding to go fishing, sometime after they had seen Jesus twice.  Even after seeing the Risen Jesus twice, they still don’t know what to do.  They are held back by their former way of life.  But then Jesus tells them to cast their nets over on the other side, and they catch 153 fish, one representing each known nation at that time.  John recognizes Jesus, and Peter, always the impetuous one, jumps in and swims to shore to see his Master.  It is then that Jesus asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?”, foretells Peter’s martyrdom, and then tells Peter to follow Him.  
But even after the Ascension, the disciples are in the upper room again.  They are obedient to Jesus, waiting for His promised gift of the Spirit, but they are there in the room.  It is then that the first Christian Pentecost (it was already a Jewish feast) happens, and the Holy Spirit moves the apostles outside of the upper room and leads them to proclaim the Risen Jesus, the importance of Baptism, and the call to a new life through conversion to all they meet.  The Holy Spirit is the catalyst that gets the apostles out of their comfort zone, out of their past, and into their future as evangelists.  The Holy Spirit gives them courage to conquer their fears and trust in Jesus.
On Memorial Day we remember and honor those who were not held back by their fears.  I’m sure that there were some soldiers in our military who were never afraid.  Perhaps this was a special gift; perhaps it was just rashness.  But I would guess that most soldiers, especially as they engaged in battle, had some fear.  That is natural.  It is part of how we usually stay alive.  And yet, for the greater good of God and country, they fought to protect those whom they served, to defend our freedom, and to defeat those who sought to do these United States harm.  They did not let their fears hold them back.  They acted with courage, even when it meant laying down their life.  What a precious gift they gave us, and it is right and just that we remember them.
But we are all called to trust in the power of the Holy Spirit to move us beyond our fears.  We may not necessarily go into battle with earthly forces, but the Holy Spirit wants to give us the gift of courage, to fight the fears in our lives that seek to keep us in a room.  Few have mentioned it to me, but I’m sure there are some fears with working with St. Mary for religious education, if for no other reason than this is new (at least in this iteration); I know that some of you are afraid because of your own poor health, or the poor health of those you love; I know that some of you are afraid because of the loss of a job, or a new job which is going to call for new gifts; some of you are afraid for the future of your children or grandchildren in their life of faith, and in their financial stability.  Allow the Holy Spirit to bring you out of that room of fear and have confidence that the Holy Spirit will take care of you.
Our 9th grade students received the seven-fold gifts of the Holy Spirit in a new and powerful way at their confirmation this past Tuesday.  One of those gifts is courage.  They will need it, because living as a faithful Catholic is becoming more and more difficult, at least in certain teachings that we have about life, marriage, and truth.  But we need courage, too, to proclaim Jesus as Risen and the Church as His Mystical Body.  We need to courage to try new things, maybe a Bible study or a faith sharing small group.  We need courage to be evangelists in an age where it is much easier to hunker down and hope that we can survive this current time of antagonism to the Church.  

Whatever keeps you in the upper room of fear, today God wants to give you a gift of the Holy Spirit to allow you to proclaim, like the apostles, that Jesus is Lord and that we are called to change our lives to conform to His because Jesus shows us how to be truly happy.  Together now, let us pray for that gift of the Spirit to fill us and give us courage to be, like St. Dominic, an evangelist in the way that God calls us.  Come, Holy Spirit…