(See the readings for Pentecost Sunday, May 20)
The family was struggling. They lived in Texas and owned a vast sheep ranch. Yet it was the Great Depression and the owner, a man called Yates, was struggling just to pay the mortgage. There was a real danger of his losing the ranch to foreclosure. With such limited resources, he found it difficult to purchase food and clothing for his family and himself so he had to rely on a government subsidy for help.
Day by day he would move the sheep from pasture to pasture. Out in the fields he would wonder where he could get help. He worried about his family and was quite anxious about the situation. One day a seismographic crew from an oil company showed up at his house and asked if they could survey part of the property. They suspected there was oil below the surface. He agreed and signed a lease allowing them to drill a wildcat well.
The work began. The large equipment came onto the property and the crew began drilling. At 1,115 feet they found oil. Not before long the well was producing 80,000 barrels a day. Needless to say, Mr. Yates’ financial difficulties were over. More wells were drilled. Thirty years later a government study showed that the field still had potential, not for 80,000 barrels a day but for 125,000 barrels.
Mr. Yates owned it all. Years before when he had purchased the land, he acquired all the oil and mineral rights to whatever was on the property. Yet he had been living on a government subsidy. Here was a multimillionaire, probably a billionaire by today’s standards, living in poverty. What was the problem? He did not know the oil was there even though he owned it.
Today we celebrate Pentecost. Jesus promised his disciples that after he had returned to the Father he would send the Spirit, the Paraclete, who would remain with his disciples and lead them in truth (John 14:16ff). He promised not to abandon us but to remain (John 14:18). He remains through the gift of the Spirit whose outpouring we celebrate today.
The gift of the Spirit brings gifts. We see the effect of the Spirit in the first reading. The disciples overcome with joy in the resurrection of the Lord were still troubled with fear. They were together when suddenly the strong, driving wind came, the house shook and tongues of fire appeared over their heads. They were filled with the Holy Spirit and began the proclamation. Jews from all over the world were in Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost (a Jewish pilgrimage feast).
The amazing thing that happened is that all heard the proclamation of “the mighty acts of God” (Acts 2:11) – a reference to Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection. No longer were the disciples bound by fear but from this point onward they would go out from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth proclaiming the Kingdom and its King, Jesus Christ.
The presence of the Spirit gives great gifts. St. Paul speaks of the abundance and variety of these gifts in his First Letter to the Corinthians. He writes: “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit” (1 Cor 12:4-7).
Those gifts are given to the church. Each one of us is a member and has been the recipient of the Spirit. The gifts are different but complement one another. St. Paul uses the analogy of the human body to describe this writing: “As a body is one though it has many parts, all the parts of the body, though many, are one body” (1 Cor 12:12).
Jesus, when he promises the Spirit, says: “I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth. He will not speak on his own, but will speak what he hears, and will declare to you the things that are coming” (John 16:12-13).
The Spirit leads us to truth. He leads us to Jesus who is the “way and the truth and the life.” (John 14:6) What an incredible gift, one that we share in the communion of the church.
Sometimes this present age is described as a “world of confusion.” How do we navigate the ship of our lives in an age where there are vast and many disagreements as to what is good, what is of value, what is permanent and lasting, and what is temporary and transient? Trying to discern and discover the right course of action, the right behavior, and the right disposition cannot only be confusing but a source of real anxiety for many. Real as this may be, there is a way out of that confusion and anxiety. A source for direction, for peace and for joy. This is what we celebrate today.
In the story above, Mr. Yates was literally sitting on a wellspring of wealth, but he did not realize it. As we celebrate Pentecost, we have the opportunity to “see” and to “tap into” the gift of the Spirit, the wellspring of life. The Spirit is here. The Spirit is with us.
We just have to tap into his presence and we will find the answers that we seek. We will find the love that we need, we will find our gifts and the way to proclaim “God’s mighty works.”
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.
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Thank you, Msgr. Prior, for a thoughtful homily.