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Basically every summer, all Holy Cross priests in the United States who have been ordained for five years or less gather for the Early Years Workshop.It is one of the most highly anticipated weeks of the year for our young Holy Cross priests, especially those who have been assigned to some of our more far-flung apostolates.These days of prayer, faith sharing, and fellowship at our Holy Cross Center in La Porte, IN, offer a wonderful opportunity for our young priests to reconnect with their peers in the community as well as to continue growing in their priestly ministry and identity.The only catch is that none of our young priests refer to the event as the “Early Years Workshop”; they all affectionately refer to it as “Baby Priest Camp.”
This year’s Baby Priest Camp just wrapped up this morning, with 17 young Holy Cross priests in attendance, including two from Mexico and two from East Africa.Preaching at the final Mass in celebration of the Feast of Pentecost was Fr. Charlie McCoy, C.S.C., one of our regular correspondents on this blog who just finished his second year of priesthood.Here is the homily he preached to his fellow “baby priests.”
Today's Gospel has special significance for those of us in Holy Cross who were ordained on Easter Saturday, because it's the first half of the Gospel from our Mass of Thanksgiving. For Fr. Nate, especially, it's a great little inclusio: the same Gospel for his first Mass as a priest and his final Mass as a baby priest. The Church chooses this Gospel for Pentecost, because on Easter night, Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit on the gathered disciples. And now, 50 days after Easter, we listen also to that passage from Acts recounting the descent of the Holy Spirit specifically associated with today’s great feast. It's the divine inclusio of the Easter season: the gift of the Spirit on Easter, and the gift of the Spirit on Pentecost.
Certainly, scripture scholars would account for this strange “double gift” with a literary-theological explanation about how John's Gospel compresses Resurrection, Ascension and Pentecost into one event. But Church tradition has often simply taken these two separate stories at face value and viewed them as two real and distinct encounters of the Holy Spirit; some minor meditations on the Sacraments even have used this pattern to justify the need for both Baptism and Confirmation.
Taken then at face value, Pentecost highlights a strange mystery: God follows up one great gift almost immediately with another. This phenomenon also is present in the ancient Hebrew feast of Pentecost, which marks the giving of the Law at Sinai 50 days after the Passover in Egypt. Now this pattern of a second divine gift so soon after the first could strike us as unnecessary, gratuitous, even unwise.
Why give the Law so soon after the Exodus? Shouldn't the ancient Israelites have been so struck with awe at God's saving work in Egypt that they could have just lived on love for awhile? Why not save that dramatic, first gift of the Law in cloud and fire from heaven until they were nearer the Promised Land, when they would have needed an extra boost to begin their settled life? Why send the Holy Spirit again on the Apostles so soon after Easter? Shouldn't they still have been filled with joy at the Resurrection? Why not save that dramatic gift of the Spirit in wind and flame for a time when the Church was suffering and needed a boost to endure persecution?
Today’s Psalm proclaims that the Lord’s Spirit renews the face of the earth, and Psalm 119 says that the Law of the Lord refreshes the soul. But just 50 days after the Exodus, just 50 days after Easter, faith among the people of God people should still have been very fresh, very new. Why the need for refreshment? Why the need for renewal?
And so, when we’re new to something, that’s when we most need renewal; when we’re fresh, that’s when we most need freshening up. We need that repetition to establish the grooves that we want to remain even when our minds become less flexible; we need that repetition to help us hold onto the ideas we want to retain even when our minds become more closed. And, thank God, when we are new to something, that’s when we’re most filled with zeal and energy, and so that’s probably when we’re most willing and able to participate in this necessary repetition. The strange paradox, I think, is that we often are most in need of and are most receptive to renewal precisely when we’re still new. Think back to a time when you were first engaged in some new endeavor: playing a new sport, or taking up an instrument, or — perhaps most fitting for Pentecost — learning a new language. At the beginning, especially if you were young at the time, you probably were somehow both like a sponge and like a sieve; you picked it up quickly, and you forgot it just as quickly. The intrigue and novelty of a new activity can make our minds especially flexible and open. Now a flexible object can bend easily into a new shape, but that flexible object can snap back just as easily to its original shape. And an open container can easily receive new things, but that open container can just as easily lose those very same things.
And so, it’s precisely now, just 50 days after the Exodus, that the Israelites need the Law of the LORD to refresh them in order to reinforce their status as His chosen people. It’s precisely now, just 50 days after Easter, that the gathered disciples need this most powerful manifestation of the Spirit to renew them, to repeat what Christ did for them that first Easter night, to re-form them more surely into His Body, the Church. And of course, it’s why we’re gathered here this weekend. A skeptic might ask, why do you need a weekend of renewal; aren’t you still new? But it’s precisely now, when we ARE new, when we have been ordained just 5 years, or less than 50 days, it’s precisely now that we need to be renewed by that very same Spirit we received at the moment of our ordination.
Surely the Holy Spirit of Pentecost, already has breathed on our priestly life and ministry in Holy Cross. We pray that the same Holy Spirit will descend on us again and again in order to renew us. We pray for renewal, for refreshment, for repetition, so that when the fires that mold us finally cool and we settle into a form, it will be the form of our Lord Jesus Christ.