On Friday, September 11, Regis High School marked the opening of the 2020-21 academic year by celebrating the Mass of the Holy Spirit. In his homily, Regis President Fr. Daniel K. Lahart, SJ, emphasized the importance of surprise, hope, and patience as the school begins the year remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Fr. Lahart's homily is printed in full below. A complete recording of the Mass can be viewed here.It is an old tradition at Jesuit schools, dating back to 1548, that the school year begins with the Mass of the Holy Spirit. At Regis, our tradition includes celebrating the Mass in the Church of St. Ignatius across the street, followed by a senior-faculty luncheon. These past six months have been part of a year which breaks with traditions at every turn, requiring us to do old things in new ways. So, for the first time in 107 years at Regis, we celebrate this Mass of the Holy Spirit in the Regis Chapel of the Sacred Heart, and online. Welcome.
We have three readings this morning, and I have three short points. Surprise. Hope. Patience
It has been a year unlike any before, and we are challenged to find God in unusual ways. Maybe we can’t find God in the normal places. We often think of finding God in church, at Mass, but most people can’t even get to mass these days. As we do the Examen at the end of a day, perhaps we’re used to reflecting on finding God in the people in our classes, or those we run into in our service work, but for months you were basically locked up at home, doing classes online. How was God present then?
I love this first reading from the First Book of Kings because it talks how God is not found in the usual showy ways – God was not in the strong wind, not in the powerful earthquake, not in the fire, but God was in the light, silent sound. As one commentator calls it, a still, small voice or even a divine whisper.
Look for God in unusual places, in unusual manifestations in this unusual time. Allow yourself to be surprised by God’s presence. First point.
Second point. The second reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans talks about creation – our world – groaning, as if in labor. That image seems fitting for a world dealing with a pandemic. But we are assured that in hope we are saved. We hope for what we can’t even see, such is the nature of hope. What are your hopes for this year ahead? What are your dreams? What do you hope to accomplish in this new year? We must live in hope, and this section from Paul ends with the assurance that the Spirit helps us, intercedes for us, to help bring us to the place where we can act according to God’s will. As we start this year, remotely, unfortunately, against our hope to be back in the building and back to normal, we must seek the Spirit’s strength to remain people of hope. Second point.
Third point. This parable from Luke about the servants waiting for their master’s return, is about preparation and patience. I’ll be frank with you, it has been difficult for me to be patient these last six months. I often imagine that I would happily push a fast forward button and just be at the start of the fall of 2021 right now, just skip this entire year of uncertainty and challenge. Let’s get this whole pandemic thing done with and over.
But I need to be patient, because God’s grace will undoubtedly be abundant in this year ahead, coming in unexpected, surprising ways, coming through the intercession of the Holy Spirit, to those who patiently wait for it. Of that I am quite certain. But it does test my patience.
There was a French Jesuit who died in 1955 named Pierre Teilhard de Chardin who was a philosopher and paleontologist. His writings were controversial in his day, he was silenced at one point by his superiors, later condemned by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and later, after his death, accepted more broadly by even Cardinal Ratzinger and fellow Jesuit Pope Francis.
There is a beautiful prayer of his that is entitled Patient Trust. I have often found it quite encouraging when I’m struggling with patience, and I find it very appropriate for us today as we set out on this journey of a new school year. He writes:
Above all, trust in the slow work of God. We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay. We should like to skip the intermediate stages. We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new. And yet it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability—and that it may take a very long time. And so I think it is with you, your ideas mature gradually—let them grow, let them shape themselves, without undue haste. Don’t try to force them on, as though you could be today what time (that is to say, grace and circumstances acting on your own good will) will make of you tomorrow. Only God could say what this new spirit gradually forming within you will be. Give Our Lord the benefit of believing that his Hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.
My friends, as we begin this unusual year, in this unusual way, let us allow ourselves to be surprised by how God approaches us; let us be people of hope as we trust that the Spirit will guide us; let us be patient – with ourselves and with others – as we come to recognize God’s grace happening all around us. There is no need to desire to fast forward through this year. It will be year of grace found in unusual, surprising ways. May the Spirit come to our aid as the Spirit intercedes for us each and every day. Amen.