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October 5, 2018
Image credit: Winston O'Neil
At the Mass of the Holy Spirit on Oct. 4 at Immaculate Conception Church, Seattle University's students, faculty, staff and alumni gathered to ask for God's blessings upon the new academic year. Serving as homilist was Lucas Sharma, S.J., lecturer in the Department of Anthropology and Sociology and research fellow in the Institute for Catholic Thought and Culture. Following is Sharma’s homily.
We gather today in hope and with enthusiasm as we begin a new academic year, yet we also acknowledge that we are in the midst of a difficult political, cultural, and ecclesial moment.
Our world suffers the wounds of environmental degradation,
Our fractured political system demonizes some in the interest of others,
and the church and its believers are wounded by terrible scandal.
In honesty, many of us enter this year with uncertain hearts, and so it is more important than ever that we come to this place to find the spirit working among us.
~ ~ ~
St. Ignatius, the founder of the Society of Jesus, and the early Jesuits found themselves in a situation similar to ours:
Massive change from European colonization expanded the horizons of possibilities for many–even if through the lens of European superiority.
And when Ignatius was about twenty six years old, scandal hit the Catholic Church over the sale of indulgences culminating in the Protestant Reformation and eventual Catholic Church reform.
These radical changes, scandals, and cultural shifts must have left Ignatius and the early Jesuits tired and weary. But they still hoped they could make a difference in the world. With that hope, in 1548, they started the first Jesuit school.
And they recognized something profoundly important: they could not do this on their own: they needed the spirit of God to guide their work. With their first Mass of the Holy Spirit, they began the year acknowledging their dependence in the works of the spirit who is constantly at work laboring in the world around them.
And so too, in our Mass of the Holy Spirit, 470 year later and 127 years after our first Mass of the Holy Spirit here, we members of the Seattle University community evoke the spirit to be at work in us, to guide our thoughts and actions, to aid us in our mission as a university and our interactions with one another.
In our Gospel today, Jesus enters into his synagogue and according to his custom, he reads a scroll from the prophet Isaiah. He declares,
“The Spirt of the Lord is upon mebecause he has anointed meto bring glad tidings to the poor.He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind,to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”
To let the oppressed go free and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.
Filled with the spirit, Jesus did this during his ministry. I’d like to invite us to consider one in particular.
It is a hot day and Jesus and his disciples are walking when they stop by a well – far out from the town. While his disciples go into the town to fetch food, he waits at this well – in the heat of the day.
A woman of a marginalized ethnicity approaches the well. She is alone. And this tells us something. She is marginalized within her social group too, for who will go fetch water at the heat of the day? Perhaps the other women of her community exclude her from the well in the morning when it is cool.
Jesus, whose gender and ethnic background make him superior to her in this culture, initiates a conversation with this marginalized woman. She is stunned when he listens gently and patiently, with heartfelt compassion. Knowing all her faults, the things that she is judged for in her community, he shows love. Her heart is at peace as she hears him lovingly tell her the truth of who she is – and she is transformed. She has experienced a profound mercy and compassion.
She cannot contain it: it is contagious. She must return and tell the others in her town – everyone – including those who previously excluded her. Filled with a deep gratitude in her heart, she rushes home to tell everyone to come meet this man, to experience mercy, tenderness, and compassion.
Loved by God, the excluded becomes the radical includer.
~ ~ ~
Friends, as we begin this academic year hoping to proclaim a year acceptable to our loving God, I suggest this is how we know if the spirit of the Divine is at work in our lives. Who among us has not felt at some point the stings of our insecurities, our previous pains? Has not our own spirit groaned within us when we’ve felt marginalized, excluded, or like we did not belong? When in our own lives have we experienced the profound generous “mercy of God at work in the depths of our being and in the breadth of the human community?”
When, from our experiences with the spirit of the Divine or the relationships we have in our families, our friends, our community, and our university, we experience this profound mercy, like the woman in the story, we must “precisely reach out in mercy to others”—to model our own experience. Like her, we must not only liberate the captives but the captor too—for the captor is not free if their existence is bound up in the oppression of others.
We must not only liberate the captives but the captor too – for the captor is not free if their existence is bound up in the oppression of others.
Paul invites us to become people for others – persons who act in the ways of the spirit:
with compassion,kindness,gentleness,patience,bearing with one anotherand forgiving one anotherall in a spirit of gratitude and love
For together, we are all not all free from oppression or pain
But we are all on this journey to proclaim this year acceptable to the Lord.
As Paul says in Romans, “The one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit.”
Ignatius, from his own experience of mercy too, knew that the unfolding constant work of the spirit could be found in the human heart. And so too, we in our experiences, we are invited to search the hearts of one another in this spirit of mercy and love confident that indeed we will find the spirit together.
We as members of the Seattle University community gathered here can be the ones who search the hearts of one another, searching for where the spirit of mercy is at work. This is what makes us Seattle University – we are a Jesuit Catholic university dependent on the working of the spirit, trying each day to model love, gratitude, mercy in action.
For if we do so, we will proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord. We will be one step closer to the just and humane world we all long for and we’ve come here to learn how to build.
We will be one year closer to the wilderness of our world becoming a garden land as common as forest.
And, if we’re faithful year after year to the spirit of mercy, the excluded will become the radical includer. Together, we will liberate both the captives and the captors.
And our hearts will be filled with the peace of the spirit.
Click here for more photos from the Mass of the Holy Spirit and enjoy this video:
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