Bishop Glen John Provost
Bishop of Lake Charles
Homily for the Feast of Pentecost
Sunday May 31, 2009
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
In a few moments, I will extend my hands over you and pray that the Holy Spirit send you seven gifts. What are those seven gifts of the Holy Spirit? Wisdom, Understanding, Right Judgment (Counsel), Courage (Fortitude), Knowledge, Reverence (Piety), and Wonder and Awe (Fear of the Lord). What do they mean? I would like to share with you a personal experience.
During Lent, I increased my spiritual reading. One of the books I read (I Want to See God by Père Marie-Eugène, O.C.D.) spoke about how important the Gifts of the Holy Spirit were for the spiritual life. This is what it said: “The gifts [of the Spirit] are to the soul as the sail is to the boat.” When I read that statement, I knew exactly what it meant. Have you ever been in a sail boat? I have only been twice. The first time there was no wind, and we were dead in the water. A motor brought the boat to shore. The second time was quite different. The boat this time was a schooner with three masts. We were in the middle of the sea. When the wind blew, the sails opened up and carried this enormous boat over the waves. There was no movement, if the sails were not opened. Without the sails, the boat had to rely on a lot more effort on the part of the crew or the boat just sat in the water and went nowhere. With the sails opened, they filled with a favorable wind and the boat glided towards its destination.
Today God is giving you the Gifts of the Spirit: Wisdom, Understanding, Right Judgment, Courage, Knowledge, Reverence, and Wonder and Awe. They are sails on your boat. Open them. Use them. Let them fill with the graces God will give you to bring you to your goal. What is that goal? It is nothing less than God Himself.
I would like to share a little story about a young man who opened his sails. He had been confirmed. He was a high school senior. Every year in our parish, we sponsored a trip to the missions in Mexico. He decided to come along. He opened the sail of Courage. It took Courage to come along, because the mission trip took place at Mardi Gras, when most of his peers were out partying and having a “good” time. Instead, he decided to work in the missions.
Every day in that mission, we divided our group of about thirty into three. One did a work project. Another distributed medications. And a third came with me to celebrate Mass in an isolated area. One morning, our group went out to celebrate Mass in a little settlement. About 100 Mexicans lived there in the middle of the Sierra Madre Mountains. There were no telephones. So the people in our group would go house to house, knocking on doors, announcing that I would celebrate Mass.
The young man, the high school senior I mentioned earlier, the one who had opened his sail of Courage, came to a little Mexican hut. He knocked. The door opened. Four or five wide-eyed children came face to face with him. In his broken Spanish, he invited them to Mass. At this point he noticed one little Mexican boy of about 10 years with a yellow sweater on. The young American man said to himself, “I had a yellow sweater like that once.” The more he looked at it, the more the more curious he became. Finally, he reached behind the little Mexican boy’s neck and lifted the tag on the yellow sweater. The sweater was in fact his. His mother had given it to the missions years before, and now the sweater was being worn by a little Mexican boy whom he was inviting to Mass. His mother had given it as a good deed to “clothe the naked” — remember the Corporal Works of Mercy — and now her son was discovering it on the back of a little boy he was inviting to Mass. God was filling his sail, confirming the good he was doing.
God works in gentle ways, but the sails have to be open. We must open the sail of Knowledge to know, Understanding to understand, Reverence to listen. If we do not do this, then the sails will never be used for what they were intended. The inspirations of the Holy Spirit will not be able to move us forward to our goal.
I can assure you the young man was never the same again. He attended Mass with a new Understanding. He prayed with a new Reverence. He practiced the faith with Courage. He didn’t care what his peers thought. He tried to do what was right. He didn’t follow the crowd blindly. He acted on his own with maturity because he had opened the sails of Knowledge and Wisdom to let God fill them with His grace.
I like the words of Jesus to Nicodemus in the Gospel of St. John, because it fits in with all this talk of sail and wind. “The wind blows where it wills,” Jesus said, “and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). This is the way it was with that young man who was confirmed. This is the way it can be with you if you open the sails that God gives you today as a gift.
Bishop Glen John Provost