Pentecost B

These statistics might be a repeat if you heard me on Ascension Thursday, but I am having a hard time shaking them off.  The numbers from the Pew Research Forum’s “America Changing Religious Landscape” are out and they are troubling for the home team.  After many decades of Catholics making up 25% of the US population, we are down to 20%.  For years we could be comforted by the fact that for every person that left the Church, someone else was converting. Now for every convert, there are 6.5 people leaving the Church.  And do you know what would make up the second largest denomination in the Unites States?  That’s right, former Catholics.

And what is fascinating is where they are going. By and large they have not become evangelical or joined another faith.  Hey have become “nones.”  Not “nuns”, that would be awesome, but none of the above. They still believe in God but they form a picture of their own God who works for them and surprisingly agrees with them on most everything, especially politics.

I kind of get it.  This is an age of anti-institution and there is no institution bigger than the Roman Catholic Church.  God seems to a younger generation as being distant and impersonal.  The Church seems to be set on imposing doctrines, limiting freedom and excluding our friends.  It seems outdated and irrelevant.

But I only kind of get it.  I can’t really get it because I love all this so much.  I can’t really get it because I see the teens on the Journey retreat so excited about the God they have encountered.  I can’t really get it because of the Confirmation students are eager to continue their faith.  I can’t really get it because I know our faith is an experience of beauty and love.

There is an answer to all these complaints and it is what we celebrate today.  It is Pentecost.  Just as the rushing wind and the tongues of fire transformed the disciples, the very spirit of God is transforming us toward light, toward goodness and toward justice.  In the Gospel, the Holy Spirit landed on the apostles as gently as the breath of Jesus.  This is not a distant and impersonal God.  This is a God that is closer than our next breath and more immediate than our heartbeat.

I do not believe that this is a God who is rejected, outdated and irrelevant.  This is a God of intimacy and mercy and it dwells within us.  I do not believe anyone who would reject a Holy Spirit of whom the first three fruits we know of are joy, love and peace – the very things we yearn for from the depths of our souls.  Shall we reject the institution or marvel at the work of the Holy Spirit in that today across barriers of ethnic, racial and political divides in every language known to humanity, these prayers are heard, these same readings read and one body is gathered?  This is not a God who limits freedom but who whispers a truth that resonates in our very soul – a way that leads to true freedom where we know our value by how we are blessed, how we are loved and how we see beauty in the other. I do not believe that this God is being rejected.

This is the Holy Spirit present in our lives in every sacrament.  The Spirit that came to live within us at baptism and made us brothers and sisters with all the world.  If we only recognized the Spirit that joins us, we would recognize the divinity within all of us.  It is the same Spirit that floods us at Confirmation with the realization of our strength, our courage our goodness.  How could we reject the God who comes to us in the Eucharist when we have seen the eagerness of the hands of our first communicants reaching for what they absolutely believe is the body and blood of Christ?

I do not believe anyone would reject the Spirit that binds two people together from all the world and keeps them together in good times and in bad, for richer and poorer, in sickness and in health.  And I give thanks for the Holy Spirit that called me to the greatest privilege of my life- serving you as a priest and praying with you as a family.

I don’t think anyone would reject the God who heals us physically, spiritually and emotionally.  I don’t think anyone would not welcome the Holy Spirit who always forgives and reconciles the gaping holes in our souls.  I do not believe that anyone would reject the God who is the one who comforts us as we mourn, who is the vigor behind our laughter, who wipes away our tears.  Who would reject the God who made us so beautiful; who speaks a truth that lasts forever; who knows us better than we know ourselves; who loves us and loves us forever?

This is the God we have.  This is the God we must preach.   This is the Holy Spirit – the consoler, the comforter, the giver of peace, the original love that has filled the world.  This is our answer. This is our God.