My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
As we approach Pentecost this year, we have received a gift from the Holy Father, Pope Francis, by way of his Apostolic Exhortation, “Gaudete et Exsultate” (“Rejoice and Be Glad”). These are words that remind us that our happiness comes from our relationship to God, especially through our intimate relationship to the Holy Spirit in whose power we have been baptized and confirmed, and by whose power we receive the sacraments.
The Holy Father’s exhortation speaks to us about holiness in the world today. How important it is that we understand what holiness truly is about. He tells us, “We need a spirit of holiness capable of filling both our solitude and our service, our personal life and our evangelizing efforts, so that every moment can be an expression of self-sacrificing love in the Lord’s eyes. In this way, every minute of our lives can be a step along the path to growth in holiness.” (Par 31)
It is the Holy Spirit who truly leads us on the path to God. The Holy Spirit is the unitive force of the Blessed Trinity and the force that unites us to the life of the Trinity in this world.
Our Holy Father quotes the words of León Bloy, one of the great French writers of the 19th century, who said, “the only great tragedy in life, is not to become a saint.” (Par 34)
Yes, sanctity and holiness frighten us. Most of us will believe that holiness is beyond our capability. We find our lives to be too full of sin and error. And not full, rather, of the joy that tells us that we truly are on the path to holiness that was begun in Baptism. Through Confirmation, we receive those special fruits of the Holy Spirit. Pope Francis reminds us that joy is one of the infallible signs of the presence of God in our life. This does not mean that we will not experience suffering, perhaps even at times depression. The joy of the Spirit, however, is something by which we imitate Mary in having received the Good News that she was to be the Mother of God, “My spirit rejoices.”
And Jesus, Himself, rejoiced in the Spirit, as the Holy Father tells us. Yes, joy is the way that we find holiness. If we are not joyful, there is a good chance that we are not pursuing the holiness that God intended for us in our life.
The Holy Spirit lights the paths of holiness to which the Lord is calling us. Prayer to the Holy Spirit is important, not just on the Feast of Pentecost, but every day of our lives. It is the Spirit, Himself, who prompts us to pray. Without that prompting, we cannot pray. Pope Francis tells us, “The path of holiness is a source of peace and joy, given to us by the Spirit.” (Par 164) That pathway is found by discernment and prayer, as pointed out time and time again by the Holy Father whose Jesuit tradition of discernment is always present. Pope Francis says, “How can we know if something comes from the Holy Spirit or if it stems from the spirit of the world or the spirit of the devil?” (Par 166)
It is prayer, it is direction, and it is our confidence in the Holy Spirit that He grants us this gift. “…prayer, reflection, reading and good counsel then surely we will grow in this spiritual endowment.” (Par 166)
In the Holy Father’s Apostolic Exhortation, he outlines five signs of holiness. These are ways in which we can understand if we are on the path to holiness. First, there is perseverance, patience and meekness – all virtues that Pope Francis explains in the context of the Beatitudes. These are concrete manifestations that we are living close to the Lord.
Our Holy Father reminds us that joy and a sense of humor are signs of our love for God. Sadness, on the other hand, is a sign of the ingratitude that we might have for the gifts that God gives to us.
The third sign of holiness is boldness and passion. These give us a certain courage to undertake the mission of bringing the Good News to the world. This mission has been undertaken by those who are on the path of holiness.
Most of all, it is in community that we find our way to God. Yes, we need our own individual solitude, but it is working in community by celebrating the Eucharist together that we find our common path to God.
Finally, it is in prayer, constant prayer, prayer that is inspired by the Holy Spirit – prayer of supplication and petition and intercession. These are the prayers that assure us the path of holiness.
I sincerely recommend to you the reading of our Holy Father’s most practical guide to understanding holiness in the world today. It can be found at https://bit.ly/2qm6f4C
During this Pentecost Vigil, as I have done in years past, we will meet with the Neocatecumenal communities of the Diocese. The Neocatecumenal Way is a movement or presence in the Church that reawakened the understanding of the ancient catechumenal initiation of Christians in the early Church. The movement’s 50th anniversary was recently celebrated. It reminds us that the path of initiation is not immediate. We constantly need to grow in the understanding of our faith and in its practice.
Brooklyn and Queens has been blessed to be the first in the U.S. where the Neocatecumenal Way began in the parish of St. Joan of Arc in Jackson Heights under the then-pastor, Msgr. James Donegan, of happy memory. Today, there are nine parishes where the Neocatecumenal Way is present and a few more where it is about to start. On the Vigil of Pentecost, all of those communities will gather with me at St. James Cathedral-Basilica.
The Vigil is one that St. John Paul II began in Rome by gathering all of the new communal movements for a service of prayer, meditating on seven readings, deepening our understanding of the waiting for the Spirit on Pentecost. For it is then that the Apostles waited with Mary in the Cenacle.
This year, a special event will take place when we will canonically begin a new seminary here in for the Neocatecumenal Way. For the past eight years, we have accepted as our seminarians, and eventually to be ordained for the Presbyterate of Brooklyn and Queens, seminarians recruited by the Neocatecumenal Way. We are blessed to have three priests – Father Nicholas Apollonio, Vincenzo Cardilicchia and Victor Bolanos. Currently, we have eight seminarians who have graciously been housed for us in the Neocatecumenal seminary, Redemptoris Mater, in the Archdiocese of Newark, N.J. At this time, there is a promise of four additional seminarians for a total of 12 men studying for the priesthood to serve our diocese.
Therefore, the Neocatecumenal House of Formation will be located at Immaculate Conception Seminary at Douglaston where our college and pre-theologian seminarians are already living. Many of the seminarians will either go to college with our diocesan seminarians, or go to Dunwoodie. Because of the unique community life and the formation that they receive, they will have their own rector and spiritual director. Many joint activities are planned among all the seminarians, giving them all an opportunity to learn about our Diocese and also be in contact with our other seminarians.
Pentecost uniquely frames life here. On Pentecost, Peter spoke to the crowds and they all understood him in their own language. It is quite similar here. We speak many languages, but the language of faith and love is the bond that brings us together. Please join me in prayer to the Holy Spirit at Pentecost for our own discernment in the path of holiness and for this new venture as we begin our own Neocatecumenal seminary here in the Diocese of Brooklyn. We truly put out into the deep, trying to find new ways of responding to the call of the Spirit to bring ever more people to the Lord.