[Acts 2: 1-11; Psalm 104; 1Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13; John 20: 19-23]
Lately I’ve been given to understand that many families these days have decided to undertake renovations to the home. A deck might be repaired or replaced; a new structure is added to the old; or, perhaps most frequently, interior renovations are undertaken. In fact, the desire for renovations is so widespread that companies cannot keep up with demand and the price of materials is soaring through the roof.
It seems to me that this desire for renovation is emblematic of a longing for deeper renewal that is even more often expressed. Time and again we hear people speak of the need for a wholesale change in their very lives. Attitudes, behaviours, assumptions and priorities have all been called into question by the trials that have ensued from the pandemic. “Something has to change.” “I have to live differently.” “Things really can’t be any more the way they once were.” These and other sentiments are commonly voiced. This desire for personal interior renovation is more deeply felt and more widespread than the wish for accommodation makeover. And, needless to say, it is of far greater consequence than a new kitchen.
The answer to this longing is given on the Solemnity of Pentecost, the occasion when Christians commemorate the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles. As we ponder the account of this event given in the Acts of the Apostles, what leaps out from the sacred page is the extraordinary effect brought about by the Spirit in the lives of the Twelve. That effect was, precisely, change – an interior renovation that left no area of their lives untouched. In the text we have before us, we hear how the gift of the Spirit enabled them to speak in foreign languages, but we know from the remainder of Acts that the change brought about in them was far more extensive than that. They who had been full of fear now went forth with great boldness; men without any formal education now spoke with an insight and wisdom that left their hearers astounded; simple people, confined by human weakness, now worked great deeds of power. As we ponder the need for change in our own lives, the lesson we draw here is simply this: the Holy Spirit is the change-maker. If we want change for the better, it is to the Holy Spirit that we must turn.
Now, when a homeowner wants a change, that person will always remain in control of the process. He or she may know exactly what they want, or will need to rely on a designer or architect to furnish the vision, but the direction and decision will always rest with the one who owns the building. The situation is very different when we turn to the Holy Spirit for change in our lives. He is sent to bring about the change that will accord with God’s vision for each of us and for the Church. We do not retain control; rather, we relinquish it. This may cause us to pause. If an architect proposes home changes we do not want, we shall likely look for a different one, because we want to cling to our vision and hold on to our control of the process. The invitation that comes to us through the Scriptures today is to let go and let God, to surrender fully to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, with trust that God knows what He is doing as the Spirit acts to change us in accord with God’s loving and saving design.
When we turn to the other biblical texts given to us today, we can discern some elements in the change process. If a home renovation is substantial, the first thing that will need to be verified is the condition of the foundation. The only secure foundation for human existence is Jesus Christ. That foundation is set and made firm when we acknowledge the Lordship of Jesus Christ. This is the first work of the Holy Spirit, the font from which all other change flows. As St. Paul teaches: “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.” To acknowledge Jesus as Lord is to accept his sovereignty over the entirety of my life; it is to surrender all things to him and live from his every Word. So, if I am feeling that my life needs change, that something just isn’t right, we can expect the Holy Spirit to lead us first to an examination of the foundation. Have I replaced the sovereignty of Jesus in my life with my own self-will? Do I no longer believe that Jesus is God? Have I forgotten the love he revealed on the Cross? Any such cracks in the foundation will first be sealed when the Spirit re-seals us in our love for Jesus Christ.
Once the house foundation has been deemed secure, the next step is often to consider what walls need to come down to bring about the homeowner’s vision. When the Holy Spirit has re-established our lives on the foundation of Jesus Christ, it will very soon become apparent what walls of resistance to him we have put up out of self-love. The Holy Spirit wills to bring these crashing down in accord with God’s vision, and does so through the beautiful gift of forgiveness, sacramentally bestowed, as we hear Jesus promise in the passage from John’s Gospel. God’s vision for us is holiness of life, which steadily and gradually takes shape as we are inwardly renewed, changed, by the divine mercy that reaches us in the bestowal of the Spirit.
The Holy Spirit’s action will also have outward visible effects. I have noticed in the course of evening strolls many exterior modifications being made to houses. From St. Paul we learn that the visible exterior change that the Holy Spirit aims to effect in our lives is that of service in and for the Church. When I look at homes undergoing outward alteration I have no idea if any internal renovation is happening at the same time. Whenever, though, we encounter someone who no longer lives for self but for the Lord and his Church, we can discern in that external change the indication of a prior interior renewal, born of a surrender in faith to the love of God made known in Jesus Christ.
So, do you want your life to change? If the answer is yes, our biblical texts tell us clearly that there is nothing else to do but go to the change-maker, the Holy Spirit. Do not be afraid to call upon the Holy Spirit, who hovered over the chaos at the dawn of creation and from it fashioned a peaceful order in accord with the mind of God. Bring to the Holy Spirit any chaos reigning in your own life right now, and ask him to restore to you the order, tranquility and purpose that come uniquely from accepting Jesus Christ as Lord of our lives.
Most Reverend Richard W. Smith
St. Joseph’s Basilica
May 23, 2021