2018-2019 Academic Year Commences with Mass of the Holy Spirit

On Friday, September 7, the Regis High School community gathered in Saint Ignatius Loyola Church to officially begin the 2018-2019 academic year and celebrate the Mass of the Holy Spirit.. Below is a video and reprint of Rev. Daniel K. Lahart, SJ's homily delivered at the Mass.

The 2018 Mass of the Holy Spirit

It is always wonderful to have this opportunity to celebrate the Mass of the Holy Spirit at the beginning of the year. New school years are filled with hope and excitement.

A couple of weeks ago I was in Wyoming visiting some friends and at the end of my stay I was going to baptize their youngest grandchild. I have baptized 12 of their 17 grandchildren, and I had actually married the parents of the little boy exactly six years before, in the same church as we were doing the baptism. As I was headed to bed the night before the baptism, I was doing my Examen and that’s when I realized that it was my own anniversary – I was 35 years a Jesuit that day. I resisted the urge to tweet it out, or put it on Facebook, but instead simply texted a few Jesuit buddies who had entered the novitiate with me that day in 1983.

I started thinking about those 35 years, and so many stories started flooding in. And in these days of turmoil in the Church, I can still honestly say that there’s no life I would rather be living than my life as a Jesuit. So much of who I am today is wrapped up in my training and life as a Jesuit.

It was 1983 and I had just graduated from Georgetown with a major in finance, and was starting this new, somewhat unusual life. I viewed myself as a confident, capable, mature adult ready to make a lifelong commitment at 21 years old. I greatly admired many of the Jesuits that I knew, including the Regian from the Class of 1940 who was influential in my vocation, and while I was certainly intimidated on many levels, I felt I could do this Jesuit-thing without too many problems.

In an early conversation with one of the priests from the novitiate staff who had been assigned as my spiritual director, he asked me a simple question. To whom do you pray? To whom do I pray? Was this a trick question? God, right? That was the right answer, wasn’t it? Had Regis Philbin been there, I would have said, “God, that’s my final answer.”

Yes, of course, was his gentle reply; but do you pray to one member of the Holy Trinity more than the others, or to Mary, or one of the saints? Hmm. Maybe this Jesuit-thing was going to be a little more difficult than I had anticipated. And we had hardly talked yet about the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

To whom do you pray?

Today as we celebrate the Mass of the Holy Spirit at the beginning of the year, let’s take a few moments to ask ourselves that question, but a few others first. Let’s begin first with why should we pray. Second, when should we pray. And finally, that question that stumped me 35 years ago, to whom do we pray. Why do we pray, when do we pray, to whom do we pray. Each worthy of an entire course or a book, but this morning allow me just a brief word on each.

Why should we pray? Prayer at once leads us into communion with God and with neighbor. We pray to understand God’s will in our lives and to grow in relationship with him. In his forward to a simple book on prayer by Jesuit Mark Thibodeaux, The Armchair Mystic, the noted Jesuit author Fr. Mark Link says that prayer is both an expression of my love and my needs. Thomas Merton says, “Prayer is an expression of who we are... We are a living incompleteness. We are a gap, an emptiness that calls for fulfillment.”

Why should we pray? Because it is as natural to us as breathing. Created by God, prayer helps us connect with our creator God.

Why should we pray? As we are called to love one another, we find it difficult to demonize someone we pray for. Prayer strengthens our community.

Why should we pray? Because prayer makes us better people.

Why should we pray? Because it helps us to acknowledge our needs and our hopes. Because it helps us grow in gratitude.

How about the second question? When should we pray? Right before that biology test is always a good time to pray, but let’s not limit it to that. We certainly pray when we need things, normally referred to as prayer of petition. We pray when we are confused and are looking for guidance. We also see in the Psalms lots of examples of people praying even when angry. We pray when people we know are sick or in special need of God’s care.

St. Paul talks of praying constantly. The gospels tell of Jesus going off by himself to pray.

When should we pray? Minimally, St. Ignatius suggests that we pray twice a day to review what has happened during the day. He calls this prayer an Examen. Something we have the opportunity to do regularly here at Regis.

When should we pray? The short answer: if not constantly, at least regularly.

To whom do you pray? 35 years later and that question still haunts me.

The two most common prayers that many of us say are the Our Father, a prayer to God the Father; and the Hail Mary, a pray to the virgin mother of Jesus. And I often find myself praying to Jesus as I pray over the gospels. Praying to him for strength as he had strength in the passion, praying for compassion as he had compassion for the downtrodden.

Perhaps you’ve even found yourself praying to friends or relatives who have died, people we now sense are in heaven and can intercede for us. Or maybe you’ve prayed to one of the saints: Ignatius, Francis, David, Teresa, John Paul or others.

But the Holy Spirit. Do you pray much to the Holy Spirit? And why do we take this day and focus on the Holy Spirit? (As you know, the color of the Holy Spirit is red, perfect coincidence for us at Regis as we start the year.)

To whom do you pray? I suspect that we don’t pray enough to the Holy Spirit, the third person in the Trinity. I know I don’t.

At the beginning of this academic year we take time to pray to and for the Holy Spirit because we trust in the Spirit’s gift of wisdom and guidance.

In today’s Gospel from John, Jesus breathes on the disciples to give them the Holy Spirit. Elsewhere Jesus says, “The Paraclete, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name, will instruct you in everything, and remind you of all that I told you.” The Holy Spirit is a gift from Jesus that strengthens us, and as Romans says, leads us.

To whom do you pray? Not the trick question that I first thought it was. Rather, an insight that in God’s grandeur he has provided us many ways to ask for his help, many avenues for pray for his grace, many persons who intercede on our behalf.

That gift of the Spirit to the early Church gave the Church the ability to withstand enormous challenges and persecutions. I am confident that the same Spirit will guide the Church today through these difficult times.

We begin this year in prayer to the Holy Spirit, asking for wisdom, asking for guidance, asking for the graces we need to make this year a success. And we pray because it strengthens us as individuals and as a community.

To whom do you pray? Not a trick question at all, but a realization that God offers us many ways to grow in our relationship with him.

The Holy Spirit has given you many gifts, different and unique from those of others sitting around you. Use and develop those gifts this year. We join together in prayer now that the Holy Spirit will strengthen us, guide us, protect us, and bless us. I know he lead me to the Jesuits 35 years ago, and it has been a great blessing in my life. May the Spirit lead each of us to where we need to go and bless us all in this year ahead.

Posted: 9/7/18