Our Stubborn Hearts
“And they were all filled with the holy Spirit…” (Acts 2:4)
“Bend our stubborn hearts and will. Melt the frozen, warm the chill.” (Pentecost Sequence)
The Pentecost Sequence is one of the most beautiful hymns we have in the Catholic Church. It is also a wonderful catechesis on the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Today we celebrate the Holy Spirit coming down on the apostles at Pentecost and enabling them to go forth on the mission that Christ entrusted to them: to spread the Gospel to all nations. They could not do this without the Holy Spirit. As St. Paul points out so succinctly in the second reading, “No one can say `Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12:3b).” Every prayer and good work of ours is prompted by the Spirit. So today we ask that same Spirit to come upon us to renew and refresh us which is why we pray this beautiful Sequence after the second reading invoking the power of the Holy Spirit to transform us into what God wants us to be as opposed to what we want to be.
Very early this morning at the 7:30 a.m. Mass while the Sequence was being sung, I focused on one particular verse: “Bend the stubborn heart and will, melt the frozen, warm the chill.” Why did this verse jump out at me? So many times I get in God’s way and try very hard to accomplish my own will instead of his. I want MY way. I want things done MY way. I want these things to happen in MY time. Yet I continue to pray the Our Father every day with those glorious words: “Thy will be done.” We should be seeking God’s ways and not our own, but unfortunately our stubborn hearts, as the sequence puts it, prevent us from being open to the prompting of the Holy Spirit. When it comes to our faith, we box ourselves into a corner and don’t want anyone to disrupt the way we practice our faith. We come to Mass, we sit in the same pew, we recite the same prayers, we go through the same motions, and we don’t want anyone to rattle our routine. I preached on this several months ago when my confessor told me: “Father, beware routine!” Routine is the enemy of the Spirit. Routine does not allow us to be open to God’s will. Unfortunately, many of us, including myself, are basically slaves to routine. We just don’t like change. Yet, the Holy Spirit is constantly moving us to change, to become a new person, and to become like Jesus.
As a priest, I am saddened when I see people aimlessly walking in and out of Mass as if it was something they need to check off a to-do list. I’ve seen people walking out of Publix with bigger smiles on their faces. Thankfully, this is not the majority, but the reason we call upon the Holy Spirit this day is to wake all of us up and kindle in us the FIRE of us his love. Ah yes, fire. There is no greater agent of change than fire. Fire destroys, but it can also be used to mold, to fashion, and to create. The fire of the Holy Spirit that we call upon today should destroy our old selves and help us become a new creation as Christ calls us to be. When we walk through the doors of this church, we have to be open to receiving something new, something transformative, and something Divine which is what we receive when we come up for Communion. There should be smiles on our faces and joy in our hearts because our Savior has prepared this feast for us and has poured out his Spirit into our hearts so that we can share it with a world that so desperately needs it. If we simply come to church to fulfill an obligation, not engage or participate in the celebration, and then walk right back out as if nothing ever happened, then WHY BOTHER COMING? It goes back to what our preached about last January when I talked about the HHS mandate: as Catholics, we don’t like to be challenged, and we don’t like to be bothered. We just want to get through our Saturday afternoon or Sunday routine and go on with our lives. These are the stubborn hearts that we must implore the Spirit to penetrate. There is so much good that each of us could do for the world if we simply allow the Spirit to guide us to where we need to be and not to where we want to be. The Mass is a transformative celebration, for every time we encounter Christ we should be and must be transformed for the better. We must be a joyful, Spirit-filled people because a broken, God-less world needs us to share the Good News of our Savior. Peter and the apostles immediately began spreading the Good News upon receiving the Holy Spirit on that first Pentecost Sunday. My prayer for all of you this day is that we allow the Spirit to penetrate our hearts so that we can become active and vibrant members of our parish community focused on spreading the Gospel and transforming the world. The world is in need of the fire of the Holy Spirit. Who is going to spread it if it isn’t all of you?