Acts 2:1-11; I Corinthians 12:3-7, 12-13; John 20:19-23 

I suspect that some of you might know the story of Saint Teresa of Calcutta and the journey that eventually brought her to become the saint of the poor and suffering for which we know her so well. 

Born in Yugoslavia, Mother Teresa studied English in Dublin and was eventually sent to India to teach the English-speaking daughters of wealthy Indians in an exclusive, private school.  That was her call, until in 1947, India obtained its independence through a revolution that split the country into warring factions.  Food supplies were cut off and the school where Mother Teresa taught had no way to feed its three hundred students.  And so, Mother Teresa was forced to go into the streets to find food.  While out among the struggling souls who themselves were suffering as a result of the revolution, she witnessed first-hand thousands who had been killed or wounded.  The experience spoke to her deeply as she felt something happening within her.  To her surprise, she felt the Spirit of God moving her to leave the relative comfort of her convent in order to care for the suffering masses who seemed to be everywhere in Calcutta.  She was given permission to do so as a two-year experiment.  …  And from there, it all began.  She labored tirelessly among the sick and the dying and eventually formed her own community that we know today as the Missionaries of Charity.  The rest of the story is now history.

In her biography, Mother Teresa spoke of being surprised by God.  At the time of her transformation, given her age and situation, she wondered if she could do something so radically different because of what she had experienced on the streets of Calcutta as she searched for food for the students in her school.    She stated that she was like the apostles as we encountered them in this morning’s gospel, hiding behind the closed doors of her convent when the risen Jesus surprised her, breathed his Spirit upon her and called her to a new vocation. 

Let’s look again at that gospel.  For all that we have come to know and understand about the Pentecost event that lies at the heart of this passage, in its initial experience, the sending forth of the Holy Spirit into the lives of Jesus’ closest followers was a surprise.  It was hardly an expected event despite all that Jesus may have said in the days leading up to his suffering and death. 

If you’re uncertain about such an assertion on my part, look at what we encounter in those verses from the 20th chapter of Saint John’s gospel.  The disciples of Jesus were hiding in fear behind closed and locked doors, shutting out the rest of the hostile world that surrounded them – a world for them that was now filled with suspicion and accusation.  They felt safer huddled together in isolation.

Then came the surprise!  Jesus burst into their isolation, despite the closed and locked doors.  Surprised and fearful, the disciples are stunned.  While from our vantage point at least, most of us believe that the disciples likely understood that this moment would come and were waiting for it to occur, there’s nothing in the scriptures that leads us to conclude that they did.  With his death and burial, they thought it was all over between Jesus and themselves. 

Yet, there he was in their midst.  Jesus sought them out in their weakness.  Jesus was there to speak words of forgiveness and, above all, to give them the gift of the Holy Spirit – the Spirit of the second chance – the Spirit who would break down doors and send them out as a community of wounded, forgiven healers, to preach the Good News of God’s love and mercy.  Simply put, through the indwelling of the Spirit of God, a frightened community of followers of a rabbi from Nazareth became the Church. 

My friends, this Mass and today’s conference proclaim that the Spirit continues to breathe upon us through our experience of the very Church that was first called into being by the same Spirit’s power and presence.   Through the presence of the Spirit within the Church, our lives are given the greatest of gifts:  forgiveness, meaning and purpose, hope in the midst of turmoil, and the promise of peace at our center through the indwelling of God – yes, peace even in the midst of a world turned upside down.

The real miracle of the Spirit’s presence within our Church, my friends, is that in spite of the brokenness of its members, the Church has always been blessed by the presence of God within it – not because we are righteous and have earned that presence – but because God is rich in mercy and faithful to his covenant. 

Yet, we’ve seen in the Church throughout the ages, beginning with the apostles, that the presence of the Spirit has always created a certain sense of resistance among its members – a resistance that can only be resolved through prayer, thoughtful discernment, honesty and humility on the part of all believers. 

Particularly in these days as we prepare for a worldwide Synod in the Church and many question how the Church should present itself to our broken, suffering and complicated world, we need to be docile to the breath of the Spirit of God more than ever.  As Pope Francis has reminded us, “Without the Spirit, the Church is lifeless, faith is mere doctrine, morality mere duty, pastoral work mere toil.  …  So let us put the Holy Spirit back at the center of the Church; otherwise, our hearts will not be consumed by love for Jesus, but by love for ourselves.” 

Pope Francis put this great challenge in perspective when he spoke to us of the preeminent place occupied by the Spirit in the life of the Church just a few weeks ago on Pentecost Sunday.  “On this great feast of Pentecost, let us ask ourselves:  Am I docile to the harmony of the Spirit?  Or do I pursue my projects, my own ideas, without letting myself be shaped and changed by him?  Is my way of living the faith docile to the Spirit or is it obstinate?  Am I stubbornly attached to texts or so-called doctrines that are only cold expressions of life?  Am I quick to judge?  Do I point fingers and slam doors in the face of others, considering myself a victim of everyone and everything?  Or do I welcome the Spirit’s harmonious and creative power, the ‘grace of wholeness’ that he inspires, his forgiveness that brings us peace?  And in turn, do I forgive?  Forgiveness is making room for the Spirit to come.  Do I foster reconciliation and build communion, or am I always on the lookout, poking my nose into problems and causing hurt, spite, division and breakdown?  Do I forgive, promote reconciliation and build communion?  If the world is divided, if the Church is polarized, if hearts are broken, let us not waste time in criticizing others and growing angry with one another; instead, let us invoke the Spirit.  He is able to resolve all of this.”

Brothers and sisters, may we find hope this day as we journey “with the Holy Spirit.”  And may we be wise and humble enough to sear into our hearts these final words that I will share from our Holy Father, Pope Francis, as he reflects upon all that is possible for those who seek to walk with God.  “The world needs men and women who are not closed in on themselves, but filled with the Holy Spirit.  …  The world needs the courage, hope, faith and perseverance of Christ’s followers.  The world needs the fruits of the Holy Spirit: ‘love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control’ (Gal 5:22).  …  Strengthened by the Spirit and his many gifts, may we uncompromisingly battle against sin and corruption, devoting ourselves with patient perseverance to the works of justice, mercy and peace.”