“You have a Mission- if you choose to accept it”. You and I have a Mission, and we don’t have to be Ethan Hunt to accomplish it (for those who don’t know- Ethan Hunt is the character of Tom Cruise in the Mission Impossible movies). You and I have a mission, that is possible, but we have to choose to accept it. And it is a mission for each and every person, no matter who a person is. And it is not a mission that you should do, like you should clean your room; nor is it just another thing added to everything else that you’ll never really get around to, but rather this mission will no doubt encompass our entire life, but will also truly give your life meaning, purpose, and joy. This mission has been given to us by the Holy Spirit at our Baptism, and fully if we were Confirmed; and so this mission dwells within us, and is meant to be lived out.
In our Gospel Jesus says to his disciples, “As the Father sent me, so I send you” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit”. Jesus breathed on them, He gave the Holy Spirit and breathed His very life into them. Take a moment and focus on your breathing, breathe in and out, in and out, in and out. My brothers and sisters, the Holy Spirit is as close to us as breath, and we are as dependent on the Holy Spirit for our spiritual life as we are on breathing for our physical life.
On this Pentecost Sunday, on this birthday of the Church, I invite you and I to ask the Holy Spirit to convict us- some of us for the first time, for others to renew in us our unconditional acceptance of this mission we are given. My brothers and sisters, this Mission we are given is nothing less than to become holy, to become a Saint. Our one mission in life is to become holy, to become a Saint. I know that some of you might be thinking- “uuh, that really is mission impossible. There’s no way that I can become a Saint’. Consider though, that every person who is in Heaven is a saint, at least with a small ‘s’. So in reality, if you want to go to Heaven- be a Saint, what else is there?! My friends, in the history of the Church, chances are there have been Saints who have been worse sinners than you and I are now. And even though most of the people in Heaven went through Purgatory first, none of them strived for purgatory- rather they all, at some point in their lives, strived for complete and authentic holiness. The Saints strived with all their hearts for holiness; but settled for purgatory first. And if we strive for holiness, God will bring it to completion, guaranteed- but we must accept and respond to this life-long mission. And so today in this homily I want us to reflect on Holiness and ask ourselves how well we are accomplishing our mission. Are we really pursuing holiness with all that we are and in every aspect of our lives? To be inspired, I will quote extensively from Pope Francis’ most recent Exhortation this past April - Gaudete et exultate- Rejoice and be glad. It is written for every Catholic, and every person. I will only quote from chapter 1, so I strongly encourage you to read it all for yourself, it is very inspiring. Pope Francis declares, “with this Exhortation I would like to insist primarily on the call to holiness that the Lord addresses to each of us, the call that he also addresses, personally, to you: “Be holy, for I am holy” (Lev 11:44; cf. 1 Pet 1:16).
Knowing that we are all given a mission by the Holy Spirit to become holy, what exactly is holiness? Saint Maximillian Kolbe challenges us perfectly with what holiness is using the simple contraction- Big W plus small w equals big S. (W+w=S)- which stands for: God’s will plus our will equals Sanctity. Holiness is uniting our will with God’s will- it is us wanting to do His will in all circumstances of our lives. Authentic Holiness is a letting God into our entire lives- our time of prayer, and our time of work and leisure. Therefore, Holiness is us being present to God in all things- what does God want for me in this time of prayer, what does God want for me or through me while at work? What does God want for me at home, at school, at work, in all places?
Even though the Holy Spirit has many titles like Advocate and Comforter- his primary title is HOLY Spirit. In every Mass, the priest asks that the Holy Spirit comes down upon the gifts of bread and wine to make them Holy and to transform them into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. My brothers and sisters, that is what the Holy Spirit does- and can do for you and me if we allow him- He makes us Holy and conforms us into Christ. No matter who we are or what we do, we are all called to transformation and holiness in Christ. All of us are sinners, some worse than others, but as I said, chances are some of the Saints were worse sinners than you and I, but all are called to holiness, and it is possible if we surrender ourselves and let the Lord into all that we are, where we are at, every day of our lives. Holiness is possible- it is hard and takes much effort, probably our entire lives, but is such a worthwhile pursuit.
However, even though we are all called to allow the Holy Spirit to make us holy, the holiness looks different for every person. Pope Francis clarifies, “The Second Vatican Council stated this clearly: “Strengthened by so many and such great means of salvation, all the faithful, whatever their condition or state, are called by the Lord – each in his or her own way – to that perfect holiness by which the Father himself is perfect”. “Each in his or her own way” the Council says. We should not grow discouraged before examples of holiness that appear unattainable. There are some testimonies that may prove helpful and inspiring, but that we are not meant to copy, for that could even lead us astray from the one specific path that the Lord has in mind for us. The important thing is that each believer discerns his or her own path, that they bring out the very best of themselves, the most personal gifts that God has placed in their hearts (cf. 1 Cor 12:7), rather than hopelessly trying to imitate something not meant for them. We are all called to be witnesses, but there are many actual ways of bearing witness”. Therefore, we are all called to be holy and become a Saint. And the Saints should inspire us, but we are not meant to necessarily copy what the saints did. There is a great song called, “the Saint that is just me” which iterates this truth. Matthew will sing it at Communion time. If we let Him, God will make us the Saint we are meant to be.
Pope Francis continues, “To be holy does not require being a bishop, a priest or a religious. We are frequently tempted to think that holiness is only for those who can withdraw from ordinary affairs to spend much time in prayer. That is not the case. We are all called to be holy by living our lives with love and by bearing witness in everything we do, wherever we find ourselves. Are you called to the consecrated life? Be holy by living out your commitment with joy. Are you married? Be holy by loving and caring for your husband or wife, as Christ does for the Church. Do you work for a living? Be holy by laboring with integrity and skill in the service of your brothers and sisters. Are you a parent or grandparent? Be holy by patiently teaching the children how to follow Jesus. Are you in a position of authority? Be holy by working for the common good and renouncing personal gain”.
You might be wondering then, how are you to accept this mission to become holy? What does holiness look like? Holiness doesn’t mean that we do nothing but pray, nor does it mean nothing but activity. Holiness is not what we do, rather is who we are- holiness is to encompass all of who we are, as we are- in all that we do. Holiness is bringing our prayer lives with Christ into our home life, our work, our school- into all that we do. Pope Francis clarifies, “It is not healthy to love silence while fleeing interaction with others, to want peace and quiet while avoiding activity, to seek prayer while disdaining service. Everything can be accepted and integrated into our life in this world and become a part of our path to holiness. We are called to be contemplatives even in the midst of action, and to grow in holiness by responsibly and generously carrying out our proper mission. This does not mean ignoring the need for moments of quiet, solitude and silence before God. Quite the contrary. The presence of constantly new gadgets, the excitement of travel and an endless array of consumer goods at times leave no room for God’s voice to be heard. We are overwhelmed by words, by superficial pleasures, filled not by joy but rather by the discontent of those whose lives have lost meaning. How can we fail to realize the need to stop this rat race and to recover the personal space needed to carry on a heartfelt dialogue with God? Finding that space may prove painful, but it is always fruitful. Sooner or later, we have to face our true selves and let the Lord enter”.
Pope Francis encourages us, “When you feel the temptation to dwell on your own weakness, raise your eyes to Christ crucified and say: “Lord, I am a poor sinner, but you can work the miracle of making me a little bit better”. In the Church, holy yet made up of sinners, you will find everything you need to grow towards holiness. The Lord has bestowed on the Church the gifts of scripture, the sacraments, living communities, the witness of the saints and a multifaceted beauty that proceeds from God’s love”. “Let the grace of your baptism bear fruit in a path of holiness. Let everything be open to God; turn to him in every situation. Do not be dismayed, for the power of the Holy Spirit enables you to do this, and holiness, in the end, is the fruit of the Holy Spirit in your life (cf. Gal 5:22-23). That mission has its fullest meaning in Christ and can only be understood through him. At its core, holiness is experiencing, in union with Christ, the mysteries of his life. It consists in uniting ourselves to the Lord’s death and resurrection in a unique and personal way, constantly dying and rising anew with him”.
Pope Francis concludes by inspiring us, “Do not be afraid of holiness. It will take away none of your energy, vitality or joy. On the contrary, you will become what the Father had in mind when he created you, and you will be faithful to your deepest self. To depend on God sets us free from every form of enslavement and leads us to recognize our great dignity. Do not be afraid to set your sights higher, to allow yourself to be loved and liberated by God. Do not be afraid to let yourself be guided by the Holy Spirit. Holiness does not make you less human, since it is an encounter between your weakness and the power of God’s grace. For in the words of León Bloy, a French novelist, when all is said and done, “the only great tragedy in life, is not to become a saint”. Join me in praying-(Pause) Come Holy Spirit, I give you permission to make me holy, to make me a Saint, no matter what it may take.