Do something with me. First, hold your hand over your head for a couple of seconds – like this. Now, please say the “Glory be” with me. “Glory be…”
Are we there yet? I’m sure that question brings back memories of long drives in the family car: maybe on vacation, maybe to see grandparents. When you think about energetic kids sitting in the back seat of a car for a long time, you can understand why they’re more excited about being there than the process of getting there.
I thought about that question (Are we there yet?) a lot as we approached Easter, and during the 50 days leading up to today – Pentecost. The apostles spent so much time with Jesus, and while they did some wonderful things, they so often got things wrong. You remember when James and John asked Jesus if her sons could sit at his right and left hand in his kingdom, thinking it was an earthly kingdom. Then there’s the almost humorous exchange where Peter first proclaims that Jesus is the “Messiah.” And Jesus praises Peter for that, and then, a couple minutes later, calls him “Satan,” because Peter couldn’t accept that Jesus had to die. Obviously, Peter was making progress, but he wasn’t “there yet.”
And we know so well, that when Jesus was being interrogated and beaten, Peter denied being his follower – three times. And one of the saddest examples, we don’t hear much about it, is that at the crucifixion, the apostles were nowhere to be found. It’s only in John’s Gospel that we find mention of “the disciple whom he loved.” Where were the other apostles? Where were his closest followers – the ones who went with him from town to town? Where were these people who would form the Church? Were they there yet? Sadly, no – not even close.
On the evening following the Resurrection, we find these “pillars” of the one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church hiding behind locked doors in fear. Remember, when we call ourselves an “apostolic Church,” it means that we trace our origins to the apostles – these people who never seemed to get it right.
Well, what happened? Pentecost happened! As we just heard: “And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house… Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared and rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.” And we heard that people who listened to them – people from many different places – could hear them in their own languages.
Were they there yet? Yes! These people who never seemed to get it right, who acted like cowards, suddenly found the courage and the words to preach the gospel of Jesus to the whole world. In fact these people who had run away when things got tough, were prepared to die for the gospel – and many of them did!
So, are we there yet? At the start, I asked you to put your hand over your head. Did any of you burn yourselves on tongues of fire? And I know that some of you speak languages other than English. Did any of you hear us saying the “Glory be…” in another language? OK, so I guess we’re not there yet. But at least we’re here!
The growth in our relationship with God is often called the “spiritual journey.” It’s not called the “spiritual destination,” because we really only complete the journey in the next life. So when I say: “At least we’re here,” I mean that we’re on the journey – somewhere on the journey.
I used to play a game with my kids called Snakes and Ladders. It’s a board game with 100 squares, and the idea is to roll the dice and wind your way back and forth across the board until you reach the top. Now if you land on a ladder, you get to skip ahead. If you land on a snake, you have to go backward. So you roll the dice, and sometimes you just plod along, and sometimes you make great progress, and sometimes you hit reverse.
That’s kind of like the spiritual journey. We often make progress slowly. We come to Mass on the weekend, we say our prayers (usually – hopefully), we find ourselves getting closer to God – gradually. And that’s OK. But then sometimes, something happens that pushes us closer to God in a hurry – we land on a ladder! Maybe it’s an inspiring movie or book. We could be inspired by a sunset, or watching a flock of geese. It could even be something bad that happens: the death of a loved one, or maybe a serious illness. Sometimes the bad things that happen to us make us realize that the only truly constant, unshakable goodness in our life is God.
Oddly, the good things that happen in our lives can sometimes be like snakes. A new and exciting job might take time away from our prayer life. We may even skip Mass so we can get ready for the next week at work. New relationships can be wonderful and exciting, especially for young people, but they can also distract us from our relationship with God. And, of course, for some of us, the bad things that happen in our lives can be like snakes. Disappointments can turn us away from God. They can send us backward on our spiritual journey.
And for some of us, our spiritual journey stalls because we forget to roll the dice. We forget that, just like every other relationship in our lives, our relationship with God requires attention. We have to do something – a relationship needs input. We need to roll the dice.
Today we celebrate Pentecost – the coming of the Holy Spirit in a very dramatic way to the apostles. It’s sometimes called the birthday of the Church, because it marks the time when the apostles were inspired to live and preach the Gospel in a whole new way. That same Holy Spirit works in each of us.
I’ve used the word “inspired” a lot today. We can look at that word “inspired” as meaning “in Spirit.” We can make progress on our spiritual journey – we can get closer to our God – when we are in-spired – when we allow the Holy Spirit to work in our lives.
How do we do that? Well of course, the foundation is prayer and the sacraments – and that includes being at Mass each weekend. The Holy Spirit works in a very powerful way through the sacraments. A couple of weeks ago I was talking to the RCIA class about the Holy Spirit. This was after Easter. And I asked them if they had ever felt filled with the Holy Spirit. A number of them pointed to the sacraments they received on Holy Saturday. They said it was an overwhelming, spiritual experience. So prayer and the sacraments are important – critical.
But in addition to prayer and the sacraments, some people are also inspired being with nature, listening to beautiful music, meditating, giving to the poor, helping someone in need, taking time each day to thank God for his many blessings. These and other things can inspire us, and we need to find the people, places, and activities that bring us closer to God. I can’t tell you what it will be for you – what will bring you closer to God – but when you find it you’ll know, and you’ll feel the Holy Spirit inside.
We’re not there yet – but all of us are on the way. We’re each at a different stage on the spiritual journey. Some of us are just plodding along, some climbing ladders, and some slipping backward from time to time. We have to be patient with ourselves. Even the apostles who spent so much time with Jesus took a long time to get there. If we want to move ahead, we, like the apostles, have to connect with the Holy Spirit – the same Holy Spirit that filled them on the first Pentecost. That same Holy Spirit that’s available to all of us.
Connect with that Spirit – be inspired!