Archbishop of Sydney
Homily at the Baccalaureate Mass of the Holy Spirit
God is with us. In faith we know that God is near, but the Spirit is elusive, sometimes hard to recognize with our minds and feel in our hearts. We all long to understand the signs of the times and, more importantly, to hear and understand as we “listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches” (Rev 3:22) and what the Spirit is saying to each one of you as you face into the future. This is hard work, and public opinion is sometimes quite wrong, often contributing to a culture of death and disarray.
American society, as well as the Catholic Church, needs many young women and men with enlightened minds, led by the Spirit of Truth, witnesses possessing wisdom, knowledge and understanding, so they can regularly exercise right judgment (Jn 15:26; 16:13; 1 Cor 12:4-11). May you all be among this list with your different gifts.
We know that the Spirit cannot be reduced to the blind, impersonal forces which guide the universe and occasionally seem to fail (for example, in earthquakes, volcanoes, droughts) because the Holy Spirit is personal, the Third Person of the Trinity, the Spirit of Jesus Christ, our leader and Redeemer. Only a personal God can love us.
Yes, there is no doubt that the Holy Spirit is mysterious, invisible, and in some ways silent. Scripture speaks of the Spirit as ruah — a breath or wind. We know the wind is blowing from seeing the effects: trees moving; leaves falling. Discerning what the Holy Spirit wants us to do requires courage since it sometimes means going where we do not wish to go.
The wind can be gentle or strong, sometimes fierce and destructive, but as with the Old Testament prophet Elijah, God is generally not in the storm or the earthquake or lightning, but in the gentle breeze, a “light murmuring sound” (1 Kings 19:9-13).
Elijah was a prophet about 2,850 years ago, who lived in a time of drought, which we hope is just ending in Australia. His struggles were much fiercer than ours. Ahab and Jezebel persecuted him viciously as they strove to destroy faith in the one, true God. The struggle for this faith — the capacity to believe today in the reality of God — is quieter, but still real. The forces of secularism, post-secularism, and superstition are not spent.
St. Paul told us when he wrote to the Christians of Galatia that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal 5:22-23), while the gifts of the Spirit are taken from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah’s list of wisdom, insight, counsel, power, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord (Is 11:2). All of these are based on truth, and all can be exercised in many different ways, provided we keep faithful to the words of the Son of the Father, Jesus our leader and Savior.
In good times, the fruits exist in abundance, but when the spirit of evil strengthens, these fruits are in short supply. However, in every circumstance we need to cooperate because no one has all the gifts, and each individual has different gifts in different measure, as we heard in the first reading.
There are many images for the Spirit at work, such as the streams of living water coming from the Temple in Ezekiel, or the life-giving waters streaming from the throne of the Lamb in the Apocalypse. Another image for the graduating class is the spring of clear water which fills, for example, the pools behind the Hacienda. Your class is not the mighty Mississippi River, but it is like that spring pouring out good and pure and clean water which will run and run and run — and we know not where.
Everyone at this Mass of the Holy Spirit acknowledges the reality of evil. Everyone acknowledges the psychology of sin — what we’re up against — because we are all sinners.
Peer pressure can be fierce, whether we are young or whether we are old. Alcohol, drugs, and promiscuity can seem attractive escapes for every generation, and advanced age is no certain protection. Long journeys start with small steps, and bad habits capture our wills. Apathy is poisonous, but individual courage and leadership inspire others, like a snowball rolling down a hill. That will be your task, in a thousand different ways in the years ahead, to inspire that courage and enthusiasm.
When the Holy Spirit first came upon the timid disciples at Pentecost, they were transformed, filled with the spirit of courage. Peter, the up-country Galilean who had denied Christ three times, supported now by the Eleven, went out and preached to the Jewish visitors to Jerusalem from many nations that Jesus the Nazarene whom they had crucified was back from the dead, raised to life, and freed from the pangs of Hades. Three thousand were on that occasion converted and baptized (Acts 2:1-41).
May God give us all the courage and wisdom to refuse compromise and balance with the forces of evil, and to struggle mightily against them with our message of love and faith and hope.
The tongues of fire are another powerful symbol of the reality of the Holy Spirit. There is an old tag which says that the role of young people is to bring fire into the Church, while, as you know, we elders ensure you don’t burn it down! This is true, even as we admit that young people must have room to make their own mistakes, because the Holy Spirit is not like a totally destructive bushfire, but like the ever-burning bush which fascinated Moses in the desert (Ex 3:1-6), like the flame of love. It is interesting, though, even when we are confronted with bad downturns, really bad times, what looks like catastrophe, that in Australia we have some native seeds that will only generate and germinate after there has been a bushfire!
The Spirit is always moving amongst people, and especially amidst young people, if He’s given half a chance. And this is happening more and more around the Catholic world — I think the English-speaking Catholic world, in particular — as young Catholic leaders realize what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, Our Lord. Your enthusiasm, your competence, your confidence are invigorating for priests and bishops, and all the bishops and cardinals. I can vouch for that, and I thank you.
So, I hope and pray you continue to participate in this renewal of the Church, which is taking place. Renewal is possible today. Decline can be reversed by people like yourselves.
The Spirit is calling you to turn towards the Triune God of Father, Son, and Spirit, as you turn your faces out to the world, to your future. The Spirit is calling you all to prayer, sacrifice and obedience, to service, to be disciples of love. May each one of you hear and heed this call. Come Holy Spirit!