Pentecost in the life of a priest


Today I had a true experience of Pentecost: three parishes, two languages, one confirmation, three very different rich expressions of Catholicism.

Today the Church celebrates Pentecost, the day when the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples filling them with the necessary strength to preach what Jesus taught them.

“Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them.  And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.”

The curse of Babel was lifted that day when the apostles preached courageously while everyone present understood them regardless of language and background.

“Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem.  At this sound, they gathered in a large crowd, but they were confused  because each one heard them speaking in his own language.”

Today not only did I serve at a confirmation with my bishop where he called down the Holy Spirit upon the young people of a parish, but I served at three very different parishes which reveal the diversity of the Church which the Holy Spirit unites and lifts up to the Father.

This morning with my bishop we traveled a few blocks from the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist to Saint Benedict the Moor Parish, a parish founded in 1874 by two Benedictine priests to take care of the African American population of Savannah.  It is the oldest parish in the state dedicated to serve African American Catholics, and among the oldest parishes in the city.  Saint Benedict preserves its rich heritage and is a closely knit community.  Loud Gospel music resounds in the church and heartfelt ‘amens’ are never lacking as the priest preaches.  This is a unique expression of Catholicism, and one that is not found in very many places.  Its school, now closed, is where Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas studied many years ago.

Bishop Hartmayer confirming at Saint Benedict the Moor

After confirmation at this parish, I traveled across the Savannah River to Saint Gregory the Great Parish in Bluffton, South Carolina to celebrate Mass in Spanish.  A vast immigrant community welcomed me.  Spanish speakers from all over Central and South America (and at least one from Spain) eagerly waited for me as I arrived late since the confirmation Mass went a bit long.  I met at this parish faithful who were as Catholic as those at Saint Benedict the Moor, but they expressed their faith in a different way.  Despite the differences (music, culture, language, etc), the unity runs deep.  All are united in Christ.  Before the conclusion of Mass, I blessed two newborn babies, a high school graduate, I presented a statue of the Virgin Mary to a family, and the Elijah cup to another.  I sprinkled plenty of holy water on every one of them.

Recent Confirmation Mass in Tifton, Georgia, with a large Hispanic community

Finally, at six in the evening I served as the Master of Ceremonies at the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist for the 50th priesthood anniversary Mass of Monsignor Willie O’Neill, the rector emeritus of the cathedral.  The church was full, the organ and brass shaking the beautiful stained glass windows.  Yet here I experienced another expression of our Catholic faith.

High altar of the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist, Savannah

This Pentecost Sunday I had the opportunity to be fully immersed in three wonderful expressions of our Catholic faith.

I am grateful that unity does not require conformity.

Unity among the baptized already exists, we are already one in Christ.  The Holy Spirit transcends all differences by drawing us all together as we profess one faith and belong to one family.  This is the mystery of Pentecost, that though we are many, we are one.  That though we are different, we are united.


Top picture by Dnalor_01, taken from here.  All other pictures are mine, all rights reserved.

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