As we ponder the feelings of anger, despair or hopelessness, doubt, and fear or insecurity, we begin to realize that, in their own right, they do have positive usefulness for how we negotiate life.
It's when these feeling are allowed to control and dominate us that they become destructive.
This is as true for us today as it was for the disciples in Jesus' time. And, like the disciples, we have a secret weapon to help us from being overwhelmed by these feelings: the grace of the Holy Spirit.
Father Mark talks about the benefits of opening ourselves to that grace, allowing the work of peace and love to be done in and through us. Listen to this week's homily in its entirety!
Hi everyone, and welcome to Weekly Homilies with Father Mark Suslenko, Pastor of SS. Isidore and Maria Parish in Glastonbury, Connecticut. We are part of the Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford. I'm Carol Vassar, parish director of communications, and you're listening to Season 4, Episode 19 for the Feast of Pentecost: May 23, 2021. Our Gospel reading is from John, Chapter 20 , verses 19-23.
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”
The Gospel of the Lord
“Opening Ourselves to the Grace of the Holy Spirit” by Father Mark S. Suslenko, Pastor, SS. Isidore and Maria Parish, Glastonbury, Connecticut
There are four dispositions or feelings that stand out amongst others that have the power to stifle us, rob us of our creativity, zap us of our potential, decrease our ability to be vessels of God's goodness, and also rob us of peace. Those four things are this anger, despair or hopelessness, doubt, and fear and insecurity.
Anger, despair or hopelessness, doubt, and fear or insecurity. Now as you ponder those four feelings or dispositions, begin to realize that, in their own right, they do have positive usefulness for how we negotiate life. It's when they're allowed to control and dominate us that they become destructive.
Anger. Anger is a very justifiable and necessary emotion, especially when it's expressed in light of an injustice that we see, a wrong that is being done. Jesus himself expressed anger when he saw things drifting away from the intended purpose of God. Anger for us is also necessary to voice in our relationships, as it often is the result of deeper hurt that needs to be reconciled in our relationships with one another. And so while there is a useful and rightful place for anger, it's when we allow it to control us, to inhabit us and to overcome us that it becomes self-destructive. Then that negativity not only affects how I interact in the world, but it also affects my relationship with others.
Despair and hopelessness. We all have moments when we find ourselves in despair where things get a little bit dark. Perhaps as we've gone through this pandemic and this last year, we found ourselves in exactly that place where things were being taken away and changed so dramatically that we felt ourselves lost and wondering when or if we were going to get beyond this.
And so it was a reasonable emotion to express to have a bit of despair, even hopelessness. But when that's allowed to control us, when it becomes our dominant affection, and we lose all sense of joy, all sense of any hope, it becomes something that is crippling. If we do not see anything positive in the future, if we are all constantly falling into despair, the next road is apathy and that helplessness and hopelessness control us.
The third is doubt. Doubt. Again in its own way, doubt is a positive thing. If we don't doubt our love for another human being, we will never find ourselves growing closer to them. It's only in this process of growing and becoming that we realize the depth of who we are and how special we are to one another.
The same is true in our relationship with God. Many spiritual writers will tell us that doubt can be occasion for greater love and devotion to God. But when doubt is the primary driver in our life, and we lose touch with any faith, then it has the power to bring us into a very dark place; a dark place where we feel lonely and out of control; a dark place where tomorrow really has no light.
And then lastly, fear and insecurity. Fear and insecurity. Again, a very natural human emotion in the face of something that is challenging or frightening. To be afraid is a normal reaction to have and to express. It has self protective qualities to it. But when fear or insecurity so inhabits our inner self that it keeps us from risking, from loving, from changing, from growing, from using the gifts that God has given us to their abundance and in their fullness. Then it can rob us of our creativity, of our ability to be used and stretched in the way that God may want to use and stretch us. And so fear and insecurity, when it becomes the primary force by which we act and react to things, can simply be destructive.
Now what's interesting about all four of those things, anger, despair, doubt, and fear, is as we look at the lives of the disciples after the resurrection of Christ and after the crucifixion, all of those things were present in each one of them. They felt them all. They were afraid. They were doubtful. They fell into despair, and they were angry. And then all of a sudden things changed so dramatically that the whole axis upon which things evolved and revolved turned. And all of that was gone. And it was replaced by courage, by conviction, by hope, by faith, and by love.
You see when Jesus came to his friends that day, that first day of Pentecost, and he breathed on them, the gift of the Holy Spirit, there was no magic act to be found, and a choice still had to be made. That Holy Spirits did not just erase the blackboard and take all of those negative emotions away from those disciples, the disciples still had to choose, and they had to choose to breathe in that Holy Spirit so that that life becomes a part of them. And to choose to leave those negative feelings and dispositions behind. You see, it was a radical choice of trust that allowed that space that was cluttered within them, that space that was filled with all of those fears and that doubt and that negative energy to then be replaced by something positive and joyful, and risk-taking to the point where these disciples went to places they never even dreamed they would be able to go. And they did things they never thought that they would be able to do, and took risks that were, quite honestly, things that would have made them afraid at one point. But they did it because they knew that they will be driven and they were being led by a power that was deeper and more powerful than their fears and doubts, their anxieties and their anger.
And so you and I, we have been given the same gift of the Holy Spirit, and we have all of those things going on in our lives as well, too personally, in our world, in our church. As we interact with life today, we realize how different it is then a year ago, two years ago, 10 years ago. Life has changed dramatically. And I know for a fact, as we went through this pandemic, not one, but many people shared stories with me of their difficulties and their challenges, of when they were facing the darkness of a wall because of one thing or another that was happening in their lives. Whether it be illness, the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job, whatever it was that the pandemic brought to them. And facing that darkness and facing that difficulty, they didn't realize that they could move beyond it. They didn't see that hope. They had the anger and the despair and the doubt and the fear. But the beauty of the process and the beauty of the gift of the Holy Spirit is when we take the leap and we trust. We move and we grow. You may not realize that, or we may not trust that, but it's true.
And those people are here today, different, stronger people than they were a year ago and they realized, wow, I was able to get through those very dark moments and into a better place today. Our world, our world is a challenging place that's changing all the time. Just look at the way we're doing the business of our lives, how different it is. Our priorities are different. How we shop, how we conduct business, how we interact in the world is all different. And it's changed. And it's going to continue to change. And so if we're bringing into that world, the anger and the despair, and the doubt, and the fear, then the world is not going to ever be a place where we can call it home, let alone do the work of God and build up the kingdom, which are all called as baptized people who have received the gift of the Holy Spirit are asked to do. And then our church: look at how the church has changed and continues to change, not just over the past year, but even before that. How, because of many different circumstances, parishes are asked to consolidate, to do things differently, to change, to grow.
Our resources have to be shared and distributed differently than they had to be a year ago, five years ago. The structure and the look of our communities is changing and growing. And guess what? That change and that growth is going to continue. What we see today will not be in five years, 10 years, 15 years. It's going to look differently. And what's going to be the driver in all of that?
You, with the spirit, clearing the space of your lives, allowing God to work in you as God has given you the gifts to do his work, so that you can bring his, love, his forgiveness, his peace to the world, and keep this thing called the Gospel alive and flourishing. Because the one thing for certain is that the structure is going to expand and change and develop, and it won't be the same as we see today. But you know what? That's okay. It's okay. It's okay that our lives are going to change. It's okay that our world is going to change. It's okay that our church is going to change. You know why? Because in all of that change, there's one constant; one constant that never goes away.
God is the same today, yesterday, tomorrow and the next day, and will never change. And so in the midst of all of that struggle and all that strife and all of that change and all of that leave taking and all of that loss, guess what? If we leave it behind, as the disciples learned to do, and allow the spirits breath to enter our hearts, we're going to be used as vessels of creation and recreation of joy and love, and we're going to wake up in the midst of it one day and say all is well. And that's the joy of the Gospel. And that's the joy that the Holy Spirit can bring. We can't do the work on our own, but if we open ourselves to the grace of the Holy Spirit, the work will be done in and through us.
Love, peace, forgiveness, all brought to the world, through our gestures, our thoughts and our personhood .
Father Mark Suslenko is the pastor of SS. Isidore and Maria Parish in Glastonbury, Connecticut. Learn more about our parish community on our website. And follow us on social media: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Our music comes free of charge from Blue Dot Sessions in Fall River, Massachusetts. I’m Carol Vassar. Thanks for joining us.