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Life in the Spirit

Homily for the Solemnity of Pentecost (B Cycle)

Life in the Spirit

I suspect that you have heard the first lines of the poem, The Road Not Taken,  by Robert Frost.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth. . .

I confess, I am not much of a walker. Walking has become a job rather than a diversion for me. However, when I was younger and fitter, I remember hiking trails with my mother. She was an inveterate walker. She loved to hike the trails of the various state parks in my native Wisconsin. During the years that I was stationed in Cincinnati, she came to visit one weekend, and we walked along a trail through the woods behind St. Francis Seminary in Mt. Healthy, one of the seven hills of Cincinnati. It was a fascinating walk, but eventually we came to a fork in the trail. We had to choose. I thought of this experience as I was praying with the scripture passage from the Letter to the Galatians.

St. Paul urges us to live by the Spirit rather than by the flesh. We have to make a choice, just as one has to choose which way to go when one comes to a fork in the road. As the poet says, before striking out, one must look down the trail as far as one can go. St. Paul offers us some assistance in this respect. He tells us what to expect when one chooses the path of life in the flesh, grouping the expectations into four categories: sexual depravity (namely; immorality, impurity, licentiousness and lust) religious infidelity (namely; idolatry, and sorcery) social discord (namely; hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, and factions, and finally disorderly behavior (namely; occasions of envy, drinking bouts, and orgies. To be honest, I find it fascinating that social discord seems to be the primary result of living by the flesh if one simply goes by the number of different examples.

Not content to dwell on the negative, St. Paul also tells us what to expect if we walk the path of life in the Spirit. However, the list that he comes up with can all be grouped into one category; namely, love and its eight ministers: joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. When we look carefully at this list, it becomes all too evident that all of the sins that St. Paul lists flowing from the life of the flesh are sins or failures against justice and love. The lesson that St. Paul hopes to convey through this catechetical moment is that life in the flesh is divisive while life in the Spirit brings about unity. So it is important to remember that life according to the flesh is so much more than sins of a sexual nature or sins of the body. In fact, it might be better to see life according to the flesh as the sins of our selfish ego. Thus, pride, a sin of the mind, is very much a sin of the flesh.

On the Feast of Pentecost, we are mindful of the seven gifts and the twelve fruits of the Holy Spirit. In some traditional Catholic communities of Europe, it was the custom to write out on white strips of paper the gifts and fruits of the Spirit as listed in the catechism and garnered from the letters of St. Paul. They were turned upside down in two baskets. In families, classrooms, and sometimes churches, each person would draw one slip of paper from each basket. In this way, the community reflected at least once a year on what should be the characteristics manifest in a Spirit-filled gathering of believers.

Perhaps later today when you have a quiet moment, you could do a little review lesson yourself and spend some time thinking about the gifts and the fruits of the Holy Spirit, considering which gift and which of the fruits is your particular gift and which of the fruits is most evident in your life mindful of the fact that St. Paul also tells us in his First Letter to the Corinthians that the gifts were given to us for the benefit of the community rather than for our own benefit. It would be helpful also to consider which gift and which of the fruits is most needed at this time in your life.

Above all, let us give thanks that the Holy Spirit dwells with and within us. May our Eucharist today, our sacrifice of praise to the Lord, be an offering of grateful hearts for the God who has sent the Holy Spirit to dwell within us and given us each the many gifts that flow from the Holy Spirit.

Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator

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