Sunday, May 19, 2013

Tending to Wounded Butterflies - Homily Notes for Pentecost

The Commandments and Pentecost

If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always.

I found it interesting that the Gospel reading for today should mention the commandments. I thought that Pentecost and living by the Spirit superseded, in a sense, these commands from long ago. What is the relation?

Pentecost means fifty: it’s been fifty days since the Resurrection, the days of the Lord’s Passover. This “fifty” is important; for, what happens fifty days after the first Passover? Fifty days after the first Passover, we see Moses on Mt. Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments. These Commandments were the doctrine, the one confession, which united the people of Israel. The Commandments were not meant to enslave or restrict freedom, but to keep Israel from returning to the slavery of the world.

In much the same way, Pentecost today unites us in one confession of faith—and with a new command: a command to love. This is not a minimum as the Commandments are, but a maximum without limit: “Love one another as I have loved you.” And the way that Jesus loves us is infinite, eternal, perfect, divine, and without limit. Pentecost infuses us with this Holy Spirit so that we might not just do the minimum, but live the maximum in love.

The Spiritual Responses to a Wounded Butterfly

Earlier this week, I noticed this maximum of love being lived out—and, in all places, it happened on the playground. One of our little fourth graders found a butterfly who wasn’t able to fly. She held it in her hands, protecting it and almost praying for it. Kids around her asked, “Whatcha got in your hands?” And, upon discovering that it was a butterfly, they insisted that she let it go. But it wasn’t able to fly, she tried to explain, and she was going to take care of it. She took care of it for the duration of recess, for as long as she could. Eventually, recess ended and, as she and I walked to the school, she asked what would happen to her butterfly.

To this story, the spirit of our age might react with a couple of opinions:

First, the spirit of our age might respond with words like “oh, how cute” or “what a child-like faith” and other such niceties. But rarely does the spirit of the age actually slow down, process the matter, question itself and ask: When was the last time that I looked close enough around me to see a wounded butterfly?—and even more so, to feel responsibility towards it?” These are the more painful questions that the spirit of our age will not ask because not only does it require us to slow down and take valuable time (for to do so would mean to question our schedule), but it also puts us into the painful reality of our modern situation: that we need healing from a life too busy or too bored or too self-absorbed to see wounded butterflies, and much less so to be so recollected and loving that we would pick one up to take care of it. Yes, the spirit of our world does have a heart and an initial outpouring of emotion, but it doesn’t let such experiences “sink in” and “hit home.” Sadly, the world does not allow the fruit of love to ripen because the world doesn’t allow itself the time to process and to think deeply about what it has experienced. Here, time acts as a means of purification.

The second response would be to simply dismiss the whole matter as a giant waste of time: after all, it’s just a butterfly. I have more important things to do—like watch TV, update my Facebook, or take the kids to volleyball—very important things. This response is summed up in that great word that summarizes today’s culture: Whatever. And it is this response that is not spiritual at all; for not only does spirituality require that we think, but also that we love.

It was at the end of recess that the little girl realized that she couldn’t take the butterfly back into the classroom with her. And at the same time, she realized that if she let the butterfly go, the butterfly was going to die. She was thinking and she was loving, and initially she wanted to hold on; she wanted her will to be done: that is, she wanted to take the butterfly inside even if that meant making herself the authority, like the principal. Or, at the very least, she wanted to construct her own fantasy world where she could have the butterfly live forever and not actually be wounded.

But neither were the will of God.

In the spirit of the world, the girl could have simply dropped the butterfly and said, “I don’t care, it’s just a butterfly.” But this girl had a heart—and a mind. She looked at me and asked: “Father Gerber, will God take care of the butterfly?”
            “I have no reason to doubt otherwise; He made the butterfly, after all.”
“But if I let the butterfly go, he will surely die.”
I nodded.
Then she paused and thought. Then she asked, “Father, do you think God brings butterflies to heaven?”
            “That’s a good question. I don’t know, my dear. I hope so.”
At which point, she walked a few more steps, stopped, and then reverently placed the butterfly on the ground and began to walk away. Together, we walked to the school and as we neared the doors, she told me, “Father, I’m going to pray for him.”

In this decision, this little girl laid down her own desires in order for the deeper desire of God’s will be done. This is a holy act of charity. And an act of charity done with a drop of the Holy Spirit is worth far more than all of our human endeavors done with a bucketful of the spirit of the world.

And I believe she had the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit she received in her baptism, the Holy Spirit she received at each confession, the Holy Spirit which she receives at every sacrament and which I received in Holy Orders. The Holy Spirit which concludes the prayer which is the Sign of the Cross.

The Human Spirit at Babel and the Babbling at Pentecost

Here, then, is our entry into really understanding Pentecost.

At Pentecost, we see how the disciples were touched by fiery tongues while some onlookers scoffed, thinking their babbling was meaningless gibberish resulting from drunkenness due to new wine. The disciples might as well have been children tending to butterflies. Many of the onlookers failed to see the greater principle at work. That there was a new wine and it was being placed in new wine skins—for the old wine skins had grown old: humanity had grown tired and worn out and dry.

Behind this story of Pentecost, there is the older relative: the Tower of Babel. In that story, certain men with an overdeveloped sense of independence and pride, and motivated by the belief that all was up to their will, attempted to build a tower that would reach to heaven. They did not consult God nor consider whether they were building the foundation on sand. Rather, their action was, in a sense, a declaration of independence from the will of God and from his grace. They were saying to God: “I can do this myself. My will be done.” But as their tower fell, so did man into the confusion of many languages to be scattered across the world.

This is the fate of the spirit of the world: confusion and a disintegration of the human family, a confusion and disintegration which ultimately leads our human endeavors—as well-intentioned as they might be—into ruin.
Today, Pentecost does not unite the tongues of man, but unites man in the tongue of the Holy Spirit so as to unite man not simply in man’s own endeavors that fade, but into authentic Truth and Love—truth and love found in the charity and teachings of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church who is the mystical body of Christ and Temple of the Holy Spirit.

Pentecost makes us realize that our modern culture is characterized by a superficial existence and even a hostility towards authentic charity and truth, a hostility that builds towers against opportunities of service and authentic expressions of love as found in the caring for “wounded butterflies,” or the standing up for injustices against the most vulnerable like the unborn, the poor, and the elderly—not to mention the human family (… and is there a more “wounded butterfly” that the family today?).

Such hostility and superficiality doesn’t even free us to give fifteen minutes to God in prayer each day or to family at the dinner table. Rather, the spirit of the world builds tower after tower against things, calling them a waste of time or a practice for some other holy person, but not for me.

This modern-day slavery can only be remedied by the infusing of a new spirit. “New wine in new wine skins.” And this requires us to rediscover the Holy Spirit and to invite Him into our hearts and homes.

Many Catholics respond to this invitation in much the same way that the world responds to wounded butterflies: we tend to overlook Him as simply a nice extra to the faith that, really, only applies to holy people. He really isn’t for me and I really don’t need Him.

But the Holy Spirit is God. And Pentecost invites us to rediscover Him, to ask who He is, to probe deeper and not simply dismiss.

Spiritually Tending the Wounded Butterfly

And in so doing, Pentecost invites us to ask which spirit moves us today. Or, in other words: why do we do what we do? Is it the spirit of personal accomplishment and pride that moves us to do what we do? Is it the spirit of comparison and lifestyle that moves us? What motivates our calendars? What motivates our purchase and the ways that we spend our time? And, strangely, are we moved by sheer boredom? If our actions are not rooted in the solid bedrock of the Holy Spirit’s wisdom and love, then our actions might as well be the Tower of Babel. We are the wounded butterfly in need of care.

Yes, let us invite the Holy Spirit into our lives! Holy Spirit, come into my life! Come into my schedule and into the choices that I make each day! Holy Spirit, enlighten my mind and my heart and expand my often near-sighted vision! Keep me from choosing the things that fade, but help me to choose the things that are eternal.

My friends, as we rediscover God the Holy Spirit and put away the spirit of the world, we will then rediscover the “wounded butterflies” around us that need our assistance. And as we rediscover the God who is love, we will also rediscover (or perhaps even discover for the first time) the world beyond ourselves and we will be alert and able to respond to the needs of our family, the needs of our parish, and the needs of our community.

It is then that our spirit will become holy for we will have received the Holy Spirit, the Lord the giver of life and the God who is love! We will be united in one language of love that confesses the power of love that lives the new commandment of love.

For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear,
but you received a Spirit of adoption,
through whom we cry, “Abba, Father!”
The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit
that we are children of God,
and if children, then heirs,
heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ,
if only we suffer with him
so that we may also be glorified with him.
For those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 

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