Fr. Jeff's Homily - Mass of the Holy Spirit

September 29, 2013

To the rich tradition of St. Peter’s Parish, which goes back over 180 years, today we make an addition: We make our own the long tradition of marking the beginning of a new academic year, as well as a new year of parish activities, with a Mass of the Holy Spirit. It is entirely fitting that we do this at the advent of a new and promising development in the life of this community - the designation of St. Peter’s as a “university parish”, a spiritual home for all Catholics who are connected to the Rutgers community. As the ongoing collaboration between the parish and the campus ministry deepens, we strive to become in reality a single spiritual family serving a single mission – the mission of Jesus Christ and His Church.
And so, in this context we are taking advantage of this opportunity to come together and call down the Holy Spirit to guide and direct us as we go forward together. In this we make a statement of faith, of trust in God’s plan, and in His care for us. We make a statement of our desire and our intention to participate ever more fully in that plan.
I don’t believe it’s boasting to say that I am uniquely qualified to preach today. In fact, I think I’m kind of the poster child for St. Peter’s becoming a university parish! I’ve been connected in some way with the Catholic Center for 14 years. In fact, it was 14 years ago this month that, as a sophomore at Cook, I took my “driving test” with Sr. Jeanne in order to be allowed to drive “Big Blue” (the Catholic Center van)! Among other things, I went through the RCIA there, served as a liturgical minister at the Cook Campus Mass, and discerned a vocation to the Oratory and to the priesthood there. Today, as an Oratorian priest serving in St. Peter’s Parish, I direct the RCIA process, and tonight at 9 I’ll be presiding at the Cook Campus Mass!
As I look back and think of the people and events that have shaped my life in the 15 years since I first arrived in New Brunswick to report for marching band camp in the fall of 1998 (and even far before that), I can’t help but see evidence of the Holy Spirit at work throughout. And I find it very exciting to be serving here as we enter this new era as a single spiritual family, united by the one Spirit whose manifold gifts have made it possible for the campus ministry and parish communities to impact so many lives, including my own, with the Gospel proclaimed in word and deed. This celebration provides us with an opportunity to consider just what this unification means.
Giving the university’s Catholic community a parish home helps to situate it in the context of the Church. It helps to situate the work of the academic community within the larger context of the Church’s mission, of God’s plan for what He has created, redeemed, and desires to sanctify.
Here in the Church, we can come to be reminded, even to recognize anew, that our dreams and visions - for ourselves and our families, for society, for the earth, and even the whole universe - can only truly make sense, and can only come to fruition and fulfillment if we remain in contact with the Author of all things, in whose creative vision we are invited to participate.
The quest for knowledge and understanding of truth, for a fuller grasp of what is good, for an appreciation of what is beautiful, can only bear fruit when we take up the call – our baptismal call - to participate in the life of God, who is goodness, truth and beauty, and to take part in the saving mission of His Son, Jesus.
As our Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI, frequently pointed out, faith and reason are by no means opposed to each other. Rather, they complement each other – and not in the way we might be led to think. I remember as a child absorbing the idea that faith merely compensates for our ignorance of the workings of the universe, until the advancement of scientific knowledge renders it obsolete (what a sad and cynical, yet prevalent, idea). But when we say that faith and reason are complementary, it is in the sense that all real knowledge has its origins in the same Source, God who is creator of all things and the origin of truth. Therefore, faith and reason purify and strengthen each other.
Faith helps us to stay focused and humble, to resist the temptations to make an idol out of knowledge and to flaunt our academic credentials in an arrogant, self-aggrandizing way. It helps us to put our gifts, especially our intellectual gifts, at the service of the full reality, the full truth of God’s plan. Far from restricting reason, faith purifies our use of reason and elevates it, raises its gaze to take in eternal horizons. It helps us to remember, as Pope Francis has pointed out, that we do not own the truth, but the truth embraces us. As we come to deeper knowledge and understanding, we also assume a greater responsibility for how we use the truth we know. Faith provides the moral compass we need to use it wisely. Because of this, the parish community - as a locus for the living expression of faith - makes a valuable contribution to the life of the university.
Reason also purifies and strengthens faith, helping us to avoid slipping into a dangerous or even violent fundamentalism, informing our interpretation of God’s revelation and our living out of its consequences,  and keeping the Church engaged in responding to contemporary issues and needs. And so, the university community – in particular, faithful Catholics participating in university life - can also make a profound contribution to the life of the Church, in the great tradition of Catholic intellectuals throughout the Church’s history, by whose work we are able to grasp more fully God’s plan for the world and its implications for our lives.
We can stand together and offer a powerful witness to the world of what it means to be truly, fully Catholic. But in order to do so, we need the activity of the Holy Spirit. We need more than anything for the Spirit to cultivate the “soil” of our hearts - to plow it and fertilize it, removing the rocks and the thorns, the sins, the hurts, the anxieties, the attachment to riches and pleasures - so that the seed of God’s word will fall on rich soil and, through the grace of perseverance, produce mature fruit in our words and actions.
We need the Holy Spirit to be with us, to be active within us, among us and around us - to help us to recognize our gifts and to make the best use of them, to give us the wisdom to discern the truth, to choose the good, and to appreciate the beautiful, and to give us the courage to act on it - and so to fulfill our role, our baptismal call as members of the one Body - different but equal, each of us with unique combinations of gifts - all of which come from the same source, the one Spirit, who distributes them individually to each person as he wishes, all of which are meant for the same end, for some definite benefit - for the salvation of men and women and the upbuilding of the Kingdom of God.
So, with our gaze fixed on eternal horizons, with hope in eternal life and a desire to be servants of the fullness of truth as we live our baptismal call to holiness and mission, we call upon the Holy Spirit today, to prepare us, protect us, to guide and strengthen us, and to give us the grace of perseverance, that in this year and in the years to come our spiritual family of St. Peter the Apostle University and Community Parish will bear great fruit for the life of the Church and the University.