June 5, 2022

Deacon Tim Papa Homily
Doves, Flames, and Geese

Pentecost Sunday Mass During the Day

Acts 2:1-11; 1 Corinthians 12:3-7, 12-13: John 14:15-16, 23b-26

Throughout Christian history, probably the dominant way of visualizing the Holy Spirit is as a dove. This is of course scriptural, since this is the way that all four Gospels describe the Holy Spirit as descending upon Jesus following his baptism by John, “like a dove” (Matthew 3:16, Mark 1:10, Luke 3:22, John 1:32). And also we heard just now the representation by Luke in Acts of the Holy Spirit as tongues of fire.

But here is something interesting. I was reading a Pentecost reflection by Father George Smiga, a priest from Ohio, and he relates the fact that the ancient Irish represented the Holy Spirit as a wild goose. Now, if you are like me and grew up in the city, the significance and finer meaning of this might not be obvious. It probably is more apparent, though, to anyone who has been in our Saint James parking lot and had to wait for one of the geese from the pond across the road to get out of the way so you could get around them to get to Mass.

Geese, it turns out, are very noisy and insistent creatures when they want something. When there is something going on that they don’t like, they let you know it and keep letting you know it. They have been used by farmers as watchdogs for an area, since they will get your attention if they feel threatened. And if you don’t listen to them and they can get at you, they very well might bite you. I’ve heard from people relate similar stories of swans, a close relative of the goose, going after people, dogs, cats, whatever.

So why would the Celtic people have used the goose as an appropriate representation of the Holy Spirit? Father Smiga suggests that people who are filled with the Holy Spirit are not quiet about their faith, but are people who will go out, like the Apostles and disciples after the first Pentecost, and will loudly announce the Good News to all people they encounter. They are not shy about letting you know what they want, which in the case of the Apostles is the execution of their Great Commission, the last directive of Christ which is our Saint James mission statement: “Go and make disciples.” And like the Canadian geese we see flying in V-formations, they honk constantly to help guide the rest to keep everyone in line and going in the correct direction.

Or, alternatively, maybe the goose analogy is to that nagging voice in our heads, our conscience, which is always telling us to do the things that we don’t want to do or, maybe more often, not do the things that we know we really shouldn’t do. We come to Mass, we listen to God’s word, we’ve had years of religious education, and then we have this noisy goose that is nagging at us, telling us that we need to do more than just listen to what we’ve heard and been taught, but actually do it. It is the Holy Spirit as our wing man, telling us that we are off course and not in the formation with Christ and other Christians.

In the second reading, Saint Paul tells the Corinthians that, “no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the holy Spirit.” [1Cor 12:3b NABRE] In other words, Paul is telling us that we can’t try to put ear plugs in and try to ignore the honking that we hear telling us to live a more Christian life. And we have to do more than just listen to the honking. No, to say that we are disciples, that we are members of the Church, or in the parlance of evangelicals, we have accepted Christ as our personal savior, we have to act on those directions, that feedback, that nagging when we do wrong, that pushing that is propelling us to do what we would rather not do.

There are many ways that symbolizing the Holy Spirit as a dove has going for it: the grace and beauty of the dove, certainly, and its association with peace and harmony that is consistent with the gentle nature of Jesus and his message. But we don’t want a docile dove to counter the other voice that we hear in our soul, the voice that advocates sin, that at best condones it and at worst encourages us to engage in evil behavior. In that situation, we want a loud insistent advocate that helps us reject these sinful tendencies and to do the right thing. Saint Paul told the Romans, “In the same way, the Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings.” [Romans 8:26 NABRE] Admittedly groanings and honking are not the same thing exactly, but I think you can draw a comparison here. And Christ told the disciples in today's Gospel that, “The Advocate … will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.” [John 14:26 NABRE] Maybe this is where the early Celtic Christians came up with the goose comparison. The world needs more geese. Not busybodies who become geese, telling everyone else what to do – not that kind of know-it-all goose. But instead those who demonstrate that they listen to the Holy Spirit prompting them to persevere and live the life of true Christian.

As we continue with the Mass, let us see God both in the Eucharist which we receive as well in Holy Spirit, who answers our prayers and intercessions. May we listen attentively to God’s will, and carry it out, and show others by our example that we are in formation with Christ and his church. As we end the season of Easter, let us continue to be inspired by the renewal and promise of this season. May the Holy Spirit, like a dove, encourage us to be peacemakers to everyone that we encounter, and like a tongue of fire, instilling a passion for loving everyone that we encounter, and like the goose, be militant against Satan and his urging us to sin, which is to say failing to love God and one another. Come, Holy Spirit, come.

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