When I entered into college, I entered into a phase of my life when I pushed for success and a certain kind of popularity at all costs. I had spent at least half of high school being basically in the nerd group, not completely ignored because the football players and cheerleaders needed somebody to give them right answers for tests and homework, but for the most part pretty quiet, shy and non-descript.
This ended in college. I made a decision to chase my dreams, I guess. And at the time those dreams were of success, which I defined as political notoriety, making good grades and building a resume’ for a wealthy and famous career.
I joined Tiger band. I started writing for the Revellie, LSU’s paper. I joined one of the political groups on campus—either the College Republicans or Democrats—(just guess which one, and was elected State Secretary for ONE of them. I actually ran the youth campaign for one of the presidential candidates for LSU and the other Louisiana colleges in 1992. While doing all this, I worked for a lobbying firm, maintained about a 3.2 and somehow found the time to make the Southern Regional Olympic Weightlifting team with Coach Gayle Hatch in 1990 (BELIEVE IT OR NOT….)
And why do I bring this up? Because though I seemed successful on the outside to many—insofar as a college student can be successful—I don’t really think it was with the right SPIRIT. Basically, it was all about me. There wasn’t a lot of prayer in there, although I never let go of my faith. My faith was kindof pushed off to the margins and attended to when I really got in a bind, or when I felt guilty that I had been ignoring Him, or when I was trying to make a bargain with God that I would attend an extra mass a week if I could convince one of the golden girls to go out to dinner with me.
In this Easter Season we hear a lot about the Acts of the Apostles where men like Peter and John and Paul preach boldly about the name of Jesus and work signs in his name. One of those stories is the healing of the man lame from birth—told in the reading schedule only a few days ago—and Peter and John have been questioned about it by the Sanhedrin. They are speaking boldly to the chief leaders of the Jews and to the people about Jesus, and wonders are being done in the name of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. They were filled with the Holy Spirit when they cured the cripple, Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit when he spoke out boldly in the name of Jesus to the Sanhedrin, the apostles mention the Holy Spirit in this prayer of the community that we hear in that beautiful first reading. The first reading is a prayer to God. And what happens at the end of that prayer? This is the line that we hear= “As they prayed, the place where they were gathered shook, and they were all filled with the holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.
In short, there’s a lot about the Holy Spirit. They were doing all these works—works of boldness, works of charity, miracles, prayer—by the power of the Holy Spirit. This was the right spirit. The spirit that I was operating in when I had those college successes was NOT. After Jesus dies and ascends into heaven, he basically leaves himself behind in four different modes: 1) through the teaching of the apostles, 2) through the breaking of the bread, 3) through scripture, and 4) through the power of the Holy Spirit. And the last one is probably the most important of all, because it is the spirit that exists between the father and the son.
What is spirit? Spirit is basically a kind of relationship. We all know that a marriage can have a certain kind of spirit. A sports team can have a spirit. A room can have a certain kind of spirit—I will actually change my homily when I feel the spirit of the church has changed. What is this spirit? It is the combination of what is going on in my heart united with what is going on in yours, and like flint to steel, this can actually strike together and create something bigger than itself. Flint to steel creates fire. But heart to heart can create miracles and conversion.
But make no mistake—it can also create WARS. How do you think it was possible that Hitler could unite the Germans to commit such atrocities? Spirit. But that spirit was not HOLY.
At the end of today’s first reading, we hear St. Peter proclaim:
God raised this Jesus;
of this we are all witnesses.
Exalted at the right hand of God,
he received the promise of the Holy Spirit from the Father
and poured him forth, as you see and hear…
We are supposed to have the Holy Spirit pour into our hearts. But again—make no mistake—THE HOLY SPIRIT IS NOT THE ONLY SPIRIT THERE IS!! I love the second reading as well, also from St. Peter, our first pope:
If you invoke as Father him who judges impartially
according to each one’s works,
conduct yourselves with reverence during the time of your sojourning,
realizing that you were ransomed from your futile conduct,
handed on by your ancestors,
not with perishable things like silver or gold
but with the precious blood of Christ
as of a spotless unblemished lamb.
This basically says, “Hey, if you call upon God as your father then you need to remember that this life is a journey and that Jesus has saved you from the futile conduct handed on to you by your ancestors.” That’s what it says! In other words, maybe what your mommy and daddy told you about success is actually futile—maybe its wrong. Maybe its killing your soul. Look, there is nothing wrong with success and there is nothing wrong with chasing your dreams.
But do you know what happened when I honestly started asking God’s Spirit what he wanted me to do during this journey called “life” rather than listening to my own spirit and the spirit of the world and the spirit of what my ancestors tell me is “success”? Well, I’m giving a homily about the Holy Spirit. THAT’S what happened.
There are some kinds of fuel that can actually run your car and get it from point A to point B, but in the end it will end up destroying the engine. Spirit is the power of fuel. What is running YOUR engine?
The spirit that I worked with in college wasn’t holy. I don’t think it was EVIL, but neither was it HOLY. When I preside over a funeral, most people tend to canonize the person in the coffin. “They were nice,” most people say. But what if it takes more than “nice” to get into heaven? What if it takes HOLINESS? Had I died at the end of college, everyone around would have talked about how kind I was and how I was inspiring and chased my dreams—but I wonder if my actions would have merited hell. I was not working with the power of the holy Spirit given to me by my baptism, I was working with my own spirit and the spirit of the world. And as a Christian, this is NOT the spirit I was called to serve and it is NOT the spirit that is supposed to fuel the engine of my life. We can never forget that our destination is not success; after that, judgment lies beyond. And HEAVEN for God’s sake—or some other place.
After Jesus left the two disciples on the way to Emmaus and they realized that it was Jesus, they said, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?” Do you want to know the voice of the Holy Spirit? Look for that voice that makes your heart burn. Because there you are working with flint and steel—your heart and the heart of Jesus, striking together to create something far greater than you can possibly imagine. That is the power that generates the Holy Spirit. What were your dreams? What are your dreams? Where is that voice that makes your heart burn, and has it grown faint? Let us allow the power of Easter to fuel that voice again and create within us the power to gain heaven.
But indeed—exactly what spirit is fueling your journey?