Live-Streamed and Televised Mass (Coronavirus Crisis)
Cathedral of Mary Our Queen
May 31, 2020
During these past weeks, I have referred often to the pandemic that has afflicted so many individuals, families, and communities across the globe. While we hope and pray that the coronavirus will soon loosen its grip upon us, on this Pentecost Sunday we must acknowledge another infectious disease that continues to plague our society, namely, the pandemic of racism.
This pandemic has many symptoms, but all too often it is epitomized by incidents such as the killing of George Floyd. The events in Minneapolis painfully remind us of the similar crisis we faced here in Baltimore City five years ago. As the United States Bishops stated in their Pastoral Letter against Racism, “Despite the great blessings of liberty that this country offers, we must admit the plain truth that, for many of our fellow citizens … (notably those who are brown and black) … interactions with the police are often fraught with fear and danger.” To be sure, those in law enforcement have a difficult job and face multiple challenges as they strive to maintain peace and cultivate good relations with local communities. For that reason, we welcome the statement of Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison, a statement that condemned, unequivocally, the killing of George Floyd and pledged to continue local efforts of law enforcement reform and renewal. We cannot relent, even for a moment, in our ongoing efforts to ensure that justice prevails at every level of our law enforcement system.
As we enter into the great mystery of Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles, Mary, and the first disciples, let us acknowledge that we live in a society torn asunder by racism. Truly, we rely on the Spirit whom we have received at Baptism and in Confirmation to connect us to Christ, to incorporate us into the Church, the Body of Christ, and to enable us to live our faith in daily life. Truly, we rely on the Spirit to help us live the Law of Love – to love God above all things and to love others as Christ has first loved us. But, my friends, loving others, loving our neighbor, cannot be an abstraction. Can we say that we love our neighbors while remaining indifferent to their plight? Can we say we love others as Christ has first loved us while pretending not to notice the grave inequities that are all around us? If ever we needed a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit, it is now. How, then, does the seven-fold grace of the Spirit enable us to address the infectious diseases of racism, prejudice, anger, and division, diseases spread across our society, diseases that can so easily infect each one of us? Allow me suggest three things the Spirit of God wishes to do in us and among us.
Conversion of Heart and Forgiveness of Sin
First, the Holy Spirit speaks to us through the Scriptures about conversion, urging us to examine our sinfulness as individuals, as a church community, and as a society. The setting of today’s Gospel is that first Easter Sunday evening. As darkness falls, the disciples have gathered behind locked doors; they are fearful. Jesus, newly Risen, bearing the marks of his passion and death, appears before them, and says those words we so often repeat: “Peace be with you!” As we struggle with racism, division, and violence, let us take this greeting to heart. Jesus addressed that greeting, not only to his Apostles, but also to us. By these words, Jesus bestows upon us the peace the world cannot give, but he also challenges us to be instruments of his peace in the world today.
The Gospel goes on to say that Jesus breathed on the Apostles, saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them and whose sins you retain are retained”(Jn. 20:22-23). This was, so to speak, an initial Pentecost, an initial outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit who is the bond of love between God the Father and his Son, the Spirit who makes the victory of Jesus over sin and death real in our lives. But the reality of that victory does not take hold unless and until we acknowledge our sins and our failures; unless and until we take responsibility, not only for our personal sins, but also for our involvement in and indifference to the engrained injustice that surrounds us. To be reconciled to God, we must see our sins as an offense against God’s love and as an offense against the dignity of our neighbors – and we must ask the forgiveness of both God and neighbor. On this Pentecost Sunday, then, let us look at the Sacrament of Reconciliation anew. By the forgiveness of our sins in the power of the Spirit, we receive the peace of Christ and are equipped to be messengers of Christ’s peace to an ailing world.
Respect for All Peoples and Every Person
Second, true openness to the Holy Spirit leads us to a newfound respect for people whose look, language, and culture differ from our own. In his 1st Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul says that “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3). Here St. Paul is not talking about an abstract confession of faith in Jesus’ divinity, but rather an affirmation that Jesus is Lord and Savior of all peoples, everywhere.
Today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles drives this point home. Filled with the Holy Spirit, the Apostles began to proclaim the Name of Jesus, with understanding, with boldness, and with persuasive power. It is instructive that their first audience was a study in diversity. They were visitors from much of the world known to First C. Palestine (Wm. Kurz, AA, p. 45). They represented many languages and cultures yet each person heard the Apostles preaching in their own language. This surely says to us that the Holy Spirit has given the Church the power to go and make disciples of all nations. It also say that the God addresses his call of salvation, peace, and friendship to every person, to every race, to every culture, to every epoch, without exception. If that is so, who are we to harbor prejudice or feelings of superiority in our hearts? Let us learn to walk humbly with God so that we may be messengers of his love.
Boldness in Action
Finally, the Spirit enables us to be bold in our witness to the truth and love of Jesus. Prior to the Pentecost event, the disciples were often afraid and confused. They misunderstood Jesus and his mission; they entertained doubts; they were, by turns, joyful and bewildered. As the Spirit rested on them and entered into their hearts, they were transformed into bold and convincing witnesses of the Risen Lord. On the day of Pentecost, following Peter’s “inaugural” homily, some 3,000 people opened their hearts to Christ and were baptized (cf. AA 2:41).
We, no less than they, are to be bold and convincing witnesses of the Risen Lord. But our witness to the Lord’s redeeming love will be incomplete and deeply flawed, if it is clouded, wittingly or unwittingly, by racist assumptions, attitudes, or actions. Yet, it is not enough that each of us be cleansed of racism ourselves; more is needed! We must educate ourselves about racism, for example, by reading the most recent U.S. Bishops’ Pastoral Letter on Racism or the two pastoral letters I have issued as we journey toward racial justice. With the help of the Spirit, let us seek to be wise and loving advocates of racial justice. With the help of the Spirit, let find the courage to shed light on this scourge in discussions with fellow parishioners, family members, colleagues, and friends.
With the help of the Spirit, may we detect the infection of racism, not only in our hearts but in our policies, in ways of doing business and decision-making. Our discernment must extend, not only to society at large, but also to the Church, the Body of Christ, blessed with gifts that differ, blessed with a rich diversity, yet made one by the same source of unity, the Holy Spirit and Baptism. Let us not be afraid to ask if we are living up to what the Lord intended us to be. And let us not be afraid to make changes where change is needed.
Shaking the House
Let me leave you with this. That first Pentecost, the Spirit shook the house where the disciples had gathered. The Spirit was like a strong, driving wind. That first Pentecost, the Spirit came as tongues of fire, the fire of charity that seeks to consume every false idol. This Pentecost let us ask the Spirit to shake our house – to shake us out of complacency over the pandemic of racism and to fill us with fiery determination to defeat this heresy and sin, and to do so with the truth and love of Christ, poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. May God bless you and keep you in his love!