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Mass of the Holy Spirit 2012
Homily for the Mass of the Holy Spirit
Preparing today's homily is the first time I have consulted sports blogs and web pages to help explain the Gospel. As President, it has been my tough luck to HAVE TO attend the groundbreaking for the new 49er stadium, AND a barbeque at the 49ers training facility here in Santa Clara, AND a fundraising dinner for the 49ers philanthropic foundation. Along the way, Fred Smith from our Athletics Department introduced me to Isaac Sopoaga. A defensive lineman (nose tackle), Isaac Sopoaga stands a little taller than me, appears a little more buffed, and claims to be a little younger. Okay, he is 6' 2," weighs 330 pounds of solid muscle, and is 31 years old. I, however, have more hair!
Every week, five of the football players select an inspirational quotation to post on a whiteboard in the 49er locker room. Some of the quotations so far: "Show class, have pride and display character. If you do, winning takes care of itself." (Bear Bryant). "We win as a team. The Team. The Team. The Team." (Bo Schembechler). When it was his turn to pick the quotation, Isaac chose "Who's Got It Better Than Us? Nobody!" That quotation happens to be a favorite of the 49ers' coach, Jim Harbaugh, and his highly competitive family of coaches. Isaac and his quotation helped me with this homily.
Who's got it better than us? Nobody! The statement exhibits pride, bravado, a boast. As members of Santa Clara University, we can all be proud of our university, our traditions, our reputation. Historically, we launched higher education in California and we are the second-oldest university west of the Rockies. Academically, we stand among the top schools in the state of California. Our rankings gain attention across the nation because of achievements of students, faculty, staff, and graduates. Two of our graduates serve in the President's Cabinet in Washington D.C. Economically, our finances are strong and our endowment hefty. From the viewpoint of American higher education, Who's got it better than Us?
Spiritually, God looks at the world – including the academic world - from a different perspective. As we know from Jesus, God focuses on other values and sees matters from the point of view of the poor, the sick, the neglected, the suffering. God does not study rankings in U.S. News and World Report, nor does God get excited about who made the Forbes 500 list of the richest people of the world. Jesus revealed that God loves all people, in every rank of society, particularly those with no rank in society.
God asks very different questions about who's got it better than others. God's rankings start with God wanting to know from us: what are you doing for the least of my brothers and sisters? How are they better because of what you do? How is the world a little more just, a bit more compassionate, a spot more hopeful, a place more beautiful because of your actions to others? What have you done for others in need?
Today's Scripture passages illustrate God's values. In both the first reading and in the Gospel, the disciples of Jesus are huddled together in fear, with doors locked and heads down. They deserted Jesus, and he was killed. They want to be invisible, well barricaded. Jesus, however, seeks them out, finds them, and blesses them with God's Spirit. They do not earn the blessing; Jesus greets them with peace because of his love for each person, because he wants friendship renewed. Jesus opens their eyes to the fact that they are forgiven, they are loved, they are not forgotten or overlooked.
In the first reading, also, the disciples are hidden away again, locked in hiding, fearful. This time it is the Spirit of God that rushes in noisily, spectacularly, with tongues of fire. Love and friendship are renewed; they are affirmed and in this discovery of the enduring love of Jesus, the disciples react boldly. They can claim, Who's got it better than Us? because they have experienced the Spirit of God, the reality of being loved and forgiven, no matter what they had done.
At Santa Clara, a Jesuit, Catholic school, no one is isolated, no one need stand alone in despair or darkness. Our summons from Jesus animates our mission and beckons us to walk with those with whom we work and study, play and pray. Our mission at this university concerns the care of the individual, and each of us plays a role in living the mission. Our curriculum integrates the Jesuit education values of the highest academic standards, concern for service of the world, and opportunities for direct contact with the neediest of God's family. Our mission consists of living out the Spirit of Jesus, of developing a growing consciousness of others, a wider awareness beyond our desires and issues.
Let me conclude. When Saint Ignatius Loyola wrote letters to the first Jesuits, he repeatedly signed off with the same advice. It may have been penned slightly differently, but the theme was the same: Go set the world on fire! Ite inflamate omnia. I offer this as our inspirational quotation for this academic year. Set the world on fire with God's Spirit of love. In your classes, in your studies, in your sports, on the stage and in the lab, in the office, in residence halls and on immersion trips: Set the World on Fire. And as we advance through this academic year, may God bless us in our mission, so we can say, Who's Got It Better Than Us? Nobody!
Michael E. Engh, S.J.