By Matthew Janeczko, OFM Cap.
Yesterday, I offered a Mass of Thanksgiving at Gate of Heaven Church in South Boston. These are the notes for my homily. I used the readings for the Vigil of Pentecost.
Several weeks ago, we gathered all of the Confirmation teachers together at the rectory for a meal, in order to thank them for their commitment to our young people over the last year. Once we had finished eating, Father Rouse went over to the piano and started playing tunes that he thought we might know. We did all right for a few of them – until he started playing “Southie is My Hometown.” Most gathered looked at each other and stayed silent. And then, after only a couple seconds hesitation, Ellen McDonough – a life-long Southie native – and I broke into song: raised up on A Street and all that. The other young adults looked at me with confusion: wasn’t I from New Jersey? How can someone who pronounces the “r” in heart know the words to this song?
It is because, and this may be the first time a Mets and Giants fan has ever said this, Southie has become my hometown!
For the past three years, I’ve had the honor of serving the people of Gate of Heaven, Saint Brigid, and Saint Monica-Saint Augustine parishes. The greater honor, however, has been to be taught and encouraged by all of you. This joy for me has grown even greater in the past year, as I’ve been able to share God’s Word with you at mass, serve you at the Table of the Lord, witness your weddings, baptize your infants, and share in the incredible honor of burying two wonderful fathers of my students who passed to the Lord entirely too soon.
But more than anything that I could have done for you, it has been the Lord working in me. Any good I have here has been the result of grace – the presence of the Lord in my life. It’s the same Holy Spirit who came upon the Apostles at Pentecost is the Spirit who deserves thanks and praise for whatever I have done well. And for the things I have done poorly, I solely deserve the “credit” for that.
Today, however, isn’t really about the past: when we come into this holy place, it never is. It’s not first and foremost our past failure, or future endeavors. No, when we enter into the worship of God, we make real again the promises of God. We do this so that we may be ready to serve God’s future – not our own.
The first reading of the Vigil of Pentecost tells a story that is likely familiar to us from our earliest days of religious education: a group of people comes together for a common task, to build a tower that reaches the sky. And yet God disapproves. This is not because God is jealous or is worried about humans becoming too powerful. The problem with the builders of the Tower of Babel is that they have convinced themselves that their own human projects are more important than the projects of God: they have fooled themselves into believing that success is the criteria by which God determine whether they have done right or wrong.
Brothers and sisters: this isn’t the way God works. This Feast of Pentecost – the day when we not only remember the past gift of the Holy Spirit to the Apostles, but also celebrate that God gives us this same gift today in the gift of the Church – makes present the living waters of the Spirit that Jesus promised in the Gospel.
When Jesus proclaimed, “Rivers of living water will flow from within him who believes in me,” he meant that the true successes of our lives will not come from our human projects, but rather from the presence of God that flows out Jesus’ heart into our own. Put in another way, Pentecost calls us to not put our future hopes and dreams into projects of money or possessions, but rather to seek the water that quenches the thirsts of others right at this moment: the waters of mercy, forgiveness, compassion, generosity, and encouragement. These are the living waters of the Spirit – this is what Paul meant in today’s second reading when he wrote about the “first fruits of the Spirit.”
These living waters, these fruits of the Holy Spirit, are present in this community. As I’ve mentioned before, one of my favorite things to do on Saturday and Sunday afternoons was to run the Castle Island loop. As I did so, I’d also be transfixed by this church soaring above the South Boston landscape, the Gate of Heaven, and in my own heart, I would give thanks not simply for a building, but rather so many of you who have made this place more than a civic center, but a place where living waters flow of God still flow.
And so, I cannot leave here without expressing my thanks to so many people who have been living water to me – truly signs of the Holy Spirit:
To Father Casey and Father Bennett, Father Rouse, and Monsignor Liam, Father Flavin, Fathers Blaney and Vozzo, and Bishop Hennessey: for providing me examples of priestly service, shepherds smelling of their sheep.
To all those who work in our parishes: Mary Sances, Pat Lyons, Daniel, Trish, Kathy, Carol, Kathy, JoAnn and Steve, and the greatest sacristan in the world, Mike Neff: for always pointing me in the right direction no matter how confused I looked.
To all those who volunteer in our religious education and Confirmation programs, especially Jim Fowkes and Mea Mustone: for, as Saint Paul wrote in the Letter to Romans, “coming to the aid of my weakness.”
To Nancy Carr, Barbara Keohane, and all of the South Boston Catholic Academy family that has welcomed me with open arms since my first day here.
And to all of the countless altar servers, lectors, Eucharistic ministers, leaders of song and music: for providing service to God’s holy church.
And finally to all of you here: all of those faces that I’ve seen nodding encouragement as I’ve preached, whose hands I’ve held in grief, whose babies I’ve baptized, whose sons and daughters I’ve walked with on their way to marriage: thank you.
On this vigil of Pentecost, we come to this holy place to once again drink from the living waters promised by the Lord. We drink deeply of the Word of God and then receive what we are to become: the Body of Christ.
Now, the words of Saint Paul come to mind: just as we do not always know how to pray as we ought, so I do not know how to end this homily as I ought. And so: what better way than to promise you my prayers everyday– and to thank you for encouragement and prayers – as well as the life that you all lead in Holy Spirit – a life that has made this church and this city, my new hometown. God bless you all, forever and ever, Amen!