Seeing the Signs of the Holy Spirit

This is a reflection on 3 pieces of scripture: Jonah: 3:1-10fire (Jonah’s repentance), Acts 2:1-11 (Pentecost), John 20:19-23 (Receive the Holy Spirit)


We are always looking for signs?
When we’re driving…
Finding a new classroom…
A sale…
We look for a sign..maybe a smile that shows someone’s interested in us.

And a great sign…$.25 wings night.

But BIG signs are really important…big signs show us where God is inviting us to change our hearts and become even better than we thought we could be.

That’s what our readings are about and it’s also what I think Jesuit Education is about.

Our readings talk about 3 big signs…signs that change everything for those involved.

First Jonah…
You all know the story of Jonah, right?
God asks him to go to preach to people at Ninevah but he doesn’t want to go.  So he gets on a ship bound for the other direction.  The ship hits a storm.  He tells people that he disobeyed God’s orders so they think the storm is God’s curse on Jonah and they throw him overboard and a big fish swallows him.

Talk about a big sign…

But then the story gets better.  The fish pukes him up on the shore and guess where he is?  Ninevah– where God told him to go in the first place.

So Jonah preached to the people and they change their hearts and repent from their evil ways.  Another big sign that Jonah shouldn’t have been afraid…that Jonah possessed great gifts all along.

The disciples were also afraid…so afraid that they locked themselves in the upper room after Jesus had left them.  And they needed a sign!

Boy, did they get one.  A strong driving wind breaks down the locked doors and fills them with the Holy Spirit.  That sign the spirit gave them, allowed them to find the courage and the strength to no longer be afraid.  And so, they went out to preach the good news and an even bigger sign happens…everyone heard them and understood them in their own language…and those languages were many.

A final sign…Jesus himself.  Jesus breathes the very spirit of God on the disciples and the sign of both his resurrection and his giving of the Holy Spirit changes everything.  It is the sign that we too celebrate each week here from this altar…that God is alive and lives and breathes in our very selves and that death no longer has power over us.

And that has always been true…but humanity needed a physical sign to believe it.  Jesus is that sign.  The Holy Spirit continues to be that sign for us today.

So those are three big signs.  But what big signs do we see today?  What signs do you see in your life?   What signs in the world today inspire you?  What people or things are signs of God’s love for you?

For me, that sign is each one of you.  Canisius indeed is a sign.   It is a sign that reminds me that the Holy Spirit is very much alive in our world today.  I see it each time a student not only goes to serve a meal to some of the poorest people in the city at St Luke’s Mission of Mercy, but also sits and shares conversation with someone that most people ignore, restoring that person’s dignity.

I see the sign of the spirit, on each retreat we attend when someone tells a story of overcoming adversity with God’s help…or when students come together in conversation and talk about weighty matters and commit to getting through them together.

I see it each time a professor takes just a few extra moments to explain a difficult concept, to guide a student with their presentation for Ignatian Scholarship day, to take education beyond the classroom into service-learning and to prepare our students well for a world that will not always be kind to them, a world that we pray they can and will change for the better.

Students…you are especially a sign when you take care of one another, when someone is unable to care for themselves and someone else tries to take advantage of them–you are that sign of God’s care when you get them out of harm’s way.  The signs are there when you study hard in hopes of not just getting an A or even just getting your degree, but that your study here might allow you to go out from this place and set this world on fire!

So this new academic year…may we all be called to look for those signs.  Signs of God’s presence in all things–a great Ignatian concept.  May we see them in one another, in friends, in family.  Perhaps especially in those deep and lasting experiences on immersion trips with those who live in poverty both here and abroad.  The people you meet there just might need a sign.

And when you are in need of a sign…come here, around this altar each week.  It is here we see that sign of God’s love, especially in the transformation of bread and wine into Jesus himself, but we also see that sign in each person who comes through the doors of the chapel.  We come to see our friends and to pray with them on our day off.  So that we might all have renewed strength for the rest of the week but also, so that we might have the insight to see the signs of God in all things throughout the week by intentionally taking time to see those signs at least once a week.

That’s what Ignatian spirituality and education is all about.  We hope that we can create an opportunity for you to be a sign…for that is a sign that God is indeed alive and breathing and living within each one of you.

And that is the sign that is more than enough to show that Canisius is filled with the power of the Holy Spirit.

And that is a sign that can indeed change the world.

Go In Peace: Reflection for UB Graduation Sunday

Sorry for a late post on this. But here is my reflection from last night’s final mass of the semester.

Here’s a graduation story—my own from my undergraduate years at Fordham. It was an outdoor graduation and in the middle of the ceremonies it rained. And as bad as that might be—That rain didn’t stop our graduation speaker–whose name I can’t even recall— from talking for over 22 minutes in the cold mist about well frankly, I don’t remember what he said, I just remember being cold, being wet and not being able to find my family in all the confusion.

I also remember being afraid. Afraid I wouldn’t find a job, much less, a satisfying career. I was afraid I’d never get married, afraid that perhaps God didn’t really have my best interests at heart. By the end of that dreadful day, my parents were annoyed and didn’t even want to go out to celebrate which caused a huge argument between us.

In short, it was one of least peaceful days of my life…and I felt like God was far, far away.

But the truth is that God was working there. Perhaps all of that confusion mirrored the unsettling of my own soul. That I wasn’t really in touch with what God wanted for me at all. I didn’t really believe that God could satisfy all of my desires if I could just be open to listening to that still, small voice that called me to think about what I really wanted in life.

I had chosen to go into radio and I did that because people told me I had a good speaking voice and that’s would be a place I would do well. And I hated it. My gift of speaking was really more of a preaching voice, not a broadcaster’s pitch. But off I went into the world of radio–all the while ignoring where I felt the pull of God’s voice calling me.

And it took me 10 years to listen to that voice. Ah, that voice, that gnawed and prodded and kept telling me “YOU’RE NOT HAPPY HERE” That same voice that told me that I wasn’t satisfied with the relationship I had been in. That voice was calling me to make a change in my life. That voice that was eventually leading me into a place of peace.

Our readings today…are really all about finding that kind of peace—and they remind us that only when we are attuned to God’s voice can God then offer that peace to us.

And in our gospel today Jesus knows that disaster is coming. He is going to the cross and these disciples are all going to think that Jesus’ mission has been a failure. They will head to a locked upper room and not be able to move until that Holy Spirit—the advocate as Jesus calls the spirit—that Holy Spirit comes in anyway and blows off the doors and gives those disciples courage and fortitude and understanding and counsel and a healthy fear of God. These men are able to see that they can’t lock the Holy Spirit out of their lives–no matter how hard they might try. That the Holy Spirit keeps knocking and gnawing until we pay attention and most importantly, these men need that Holy Spirit to unlock not just the doors of that room but unlock the doors of their hearts in order to find peace within themselves.

And of course, Jesus knows that. And so, well in advance of the disaster he makes a promise to send that Holy Spirit to help them. So that not just the disciples but, we all, might remember that in our darkest hour—all we need to do is to let those doors open to listen to that voice of God that resides within us. That asks us “What is it that you really want in life?” When we feel restless with our decisions can we recall the words of St Augustine who once said: “Lord, you have made us for yourself—and our hearts are restless, until they rest in you.”

Have you graduates and even you students who will remain with us — do you ever consider bringing God into the choices you make about who you will become? Because it is there that you will find peace.

And on this Mother’s Day that is all a mother could ever want for her child. Peace. And while you graduates celebrate today, your mothers are probably frantic with worry. The economy is not kind these days. Jobs are scarce. Many of you who are from Buffalo will be forced to leave this great city to find work elsewhere. Others may travel far away from mom, to begin a career that mom prepared you for from the day you came into her life. And maybe for a moment on that day you arrived–mom too, knew a bit of peace. She knew that that was exactly where she was supposed to be–with her child–this gift from God which brought her much peace—well, at least until you became a teen-ager anyway.

And now dear mothers you want that same kind of peace for your child, do you not? That kind of peace that lets you know you have made a great choice. That kind of peace that is life-giving and sustaining. That kind of peace that God offers to us when we are living a life that we are meant to be living.

But we bring a lot of our own baggage to this life, don’t we? Sometimes we choose things that often bring discord into our lives. Don’t we sometimes choose careers that value money or fame instead of service to others? Don’t we sometimes choose relationships based on superficial attraction instead of finding someone who really values us for who we are? Don’t we want something for our children that is better than what we have for ourselves without thinking about what it is that they really want and desire? Don’t we sometimes push others away because they aren’t exactly like us so that we can protect our own self-interests?

I think that’s what we call sin—and we all do it much to often. And because of that–because we rely on things that we think will satisfy us–we get reminded that we need that Holy Spirit in our lives to show us what we really desire in life. It’s why we need to come here at least once a week to remind ourselves that we need to be fed with the peace that Jesus offers to us with his very self—in bread and wine transformed by us so that we might be that same gift of self to the world.

Nearly 20 years ago I sat in this very cap and gown–totally unprepared for what the world was about to throw at me. And 10 years later, I thought I was a complete failure because I found my radio career was a big “so what” to me—this life I was living failed to satisfy me.

But the good news–and the news that Jesus wants us all to hear today is that the Advocate–the Holy Spirit–is always seeking us, even when we don’t seek him. That all Spirit never gives up on us and is always available for us. And when we choose to listen to that gnawing and prodding of that voice within our hearts–things can change for the better.

It’s what allows the early apostles in our first reading to open their hearts and to allow the gentiles into their community even though they aren’t circumcised. Something just didn’t feel right about excluding people because they weren’t the same as everyone else. What really matters is they are all together because of Jesus.

What is it that you may be being prodded by the spirit to change?
Students have you been open to where God may be calling you during your time here?
Mothers have you been able to unconditionally support that same call that God has for your child even when it might not be what you had in mind?
All of us here, can we all look to our mothers with gratitude today for what they had to endure for us to be where we are today?
Can we trust the spirit enough to let down our guard with others a bit, put aside our differences with one another and celebrate peace?

That’s what Jesus calls us to do, folks. That’s all he asks.

15 years after that rainy graduation day, I found myself on that same graduation line, at the same school, Fordham. Instead of an English degree it was a Religious Education Master’s. And I don’t think anyone will convince me that it was a coincidence that it was a beautiful day. 70 and sunny. I was given the honor of carrying the class banner in our procession. My parents had great seats and since I had made so many changes in my life–I was able to attract a beautiful woman who became my wife–and who beamed proudly that day after years of supporting me in school and in my ministry to young people. I had a great career in ministry and my first book was accepted for publication that week.

I felt an overwhelming sense of peace that afternoon. My wife and I had a great dinner with good friends, where the food, I swear to you, tasted better than it ever had before. The next day was Mother’s Day and we had a great dinner with my mother with no family squabbles—and in a Irish family that indeed is a miracle!

I truly believe that I had been given peace by the prodding of that Holy Spirit. And I felt God in my heart more alive that day that I had ever felt the presence of God in my life before. The day literally “gleemed with the splendor of God” the words we heard in our second reading from revelation. “Clear as crystal—where God’s glory gave it light.”

Today, let us all pray for one another that we can keep listening for that place where the Holy Spirit is calling us. And more importantly may we remember that we often miss God’s call in our lives–but we can always return home to that place of peace.

For our graduates, I hope this has been a place where you could come to find peace during your time here and that in the brief time that I have been your campus minister I hope I have been able to offer you peace at times when you’ve needed it. I think I speak for all of us here at St Joseph’s that it is our deepest prayer that as you leave us, you will find the peace that God offers to everyone.

And so Jesus leaves us with the words: “Peace I leave you…my peace I give to you. So do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.”

And for those of you who leave us here, at UB—I pray that you can simply go in peace.