Homily of the Votive Mass of the Holy Spirit - Abbot Jeremy Driscoll, O.S.B.
School Opening 2017, Votive Mass of the Holy Spirit, Monday, August 28, 2017
Ephesians 1: 31, 41, 13-19a. John 14:23–26
We are celebrating a votive Mass of the Holy Spirit today at the opening of the school year, imploring the descent of the Holy Spirit upon our hilltop to impart his wondrous gifts in all that we undertake in this new school year. But today is also the feast of St. Augustine, and how can we not remember him now on his day even if liturgically we are not celebrating his memorial at this Mass? St. Augustine is surely someone whose name will be heard many times in many contexts in the days, weeks, and months to come in this school. He is an absolute giant of the Catholic theological tradition, but it is not only in theology that his name will be invoked and his thought followed and grappled with, but we will hear of him also in our pursuit of philosophy, of the arts, of pastoral practice, of rhetoric, of spiritual growth. It is not a matter today of choosing between paying attention to Augustine or to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit produces the saints! Age after age and in every epoch the Holy Spirit produces the saints. And today the memory of St. Augustine can help us to see quite concretely what we are hoping for and praying for when we invoke the Holy Spirit to pour out his graces on us now as we begin this school year.
I am happy to think about St. Augustine today in my task of encouraging you all at the start of this school year. Augustine is the Holy Spirit’s “production,” and there are patterns and traits and styles in what the Spirit molds. I mean, thanks to the Holy Spirit, we need not think that between the great St. Augustine and the seminarians who are beginning a school year at Mount Angel Seminary today there is too vast a distance. OK— Augustine was a giant and a pivotal figure in Church history; and, yes, I would be worried if a seminarian told me he conceived of himself as another Augustine. But from a different angle, what the Holy Spirit found and molded in Augustine is the same basic “stuff and material” that exists in every human being— student, faculty, monk, employee, guest. I’m thinking of Augustine, the anxious seeker of truth, Augustine in dramatic conversion, Augustine scrupulously preparing for priesthood and then to be a bishop, Augustine the theologian because he was Augustine the pastor, Augustine the brilliant exegete, Augustine the mystic, Augustine the enthralling preacher. Are we to praise Augustine for all this? Not exactly. We are to praise the Holy Spirit for the gifts he poured out on this man for the sake of the Church, for the sake of the world. We pray to the Holy Spirit today for the same gifts.
Augustine’s Confessions are a model for how we might think about our lives in this monastery and seminary, at whatever level and in whichever tasks and parts of it all we are involved. He knew that Christian theology succeeds only when the believer sees that the story of creation and redemption coincides with the private story of the life of the individual believer. These are not two separate stories. My life makes sense only when I see that my story is the same story as the Bible’s story of creation and redemption. And to be sure that I see this, I use the Bible’s language to understand my life. That’s what Augustine’s Confessions do with his own life, and they are a model and pattern for us all. The Confessions are a massive effort on the part of Augustine to understand the action of God in his own life by means of the biblical language and patterns. And he undertook this effort and worked it through because he saw that he dare not undertake to be a bishop and preach and teach before he had worked it through. What he broke through to there gave him the peace and confidence he needed to be a pastor and to preach with confidence.
Something else that is striking about the Confessions is that from start to finish they are directly addressed to God. He is not addressing a reader. He is addressing God. And this is no literary pose for effect. It is totally authentic. It is not a recording of Augustine’s prayer. It is Augustine praying. This is how you would pray if you were praying by writing. And why did he pray by writing? Because the Bible is written. And he wanted to write the story of his own life with the very language of the Bible so that he could discover that the two stories are ultimately one and the same. Of course, in the end it not the writing that matters, neither in the Bible’s case nor in Augustine’s. What matters is what the writing is about, what the writing testifies to, what the writing reveals. In the Bible it is about the very creation itself, its meaning; and it is about the events of redemption and the rendering of them present still. In Augustine’s life, it is about the meaning of this same creation and redemption in his own life. It is ultimately about the meaning of any Christian’s life.
So, let’s turn to that biblical language for a moment now to understand what we are doing here at Mount Angel at the beginning of this new school year. The Bible’s language tells us what is happening now in our lives. We heard it proclaimed in the first reading and the gospel. I can use St. Paul’s very words in the passage we heard from his letter to the Ephesians to say again what I have just been explaining. He says, “In Christ you also have heard the word of truth, the Gospel of your salvation and believed in him.” I pause to underline the words “you also.” And the same sentence goes on to say, “You also… were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, which is the first installment of our inheritance…” So, our prayer for the Holy Spirit today is about awakening to a gift we have already received and been sealed with. Beautiful the image of the Holy Spirit as a first installment. It means there is more to come, more good stuff to come— ultimately, an infinite progress, an infinite expansion into the mystery of God’s life that can never exhaust itself.
St. Paul’s language applied to us also prays that the Father of Jesus will give to us “a spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in knowledge of him.” Well, now, there’s a wish for the beginning of a school year. That is a gift that we should expect and receive as a precious treasure: the Spirit that gives us knowledge of the Father of Jesus. (It’s getting Trinitarian!) And here is a further wish that lands effectively on us with biblical language about our own lives. St. Paul prays, “May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened that you may know… what is the surpassing greatness of his power in us who believe.” His power in us! What is it? It is the same power that the Father used in raising Christ from the dead. That power in us! May you be enlightened to know that. That is what this school year is about!
And Jesus, the Lord, the Master, is in our midst now speaking to us in the holy gospel. He says, “Whoever loves me will keep my word.” That’s why we’re all here. We love him. And we’re trying. And he reacts to our trying. He says, “My Father will love whoever loves me, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.” This is amazing! This is the promise of this school year. Take it seriously, Everybody! The Bible’s language is directed individually to each of you and reveals the meaning of your life and existence. Jesus says to you, “The Father and I will come to you and make our dwelling with you.”
But there is more. (Of course there is more because this is God.) There is also the Holy Spirit. Jesus says, “The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name— he will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.” These words too describe this school year. The Holy Spirit is the ultimate teacher. The Holy Spirit reminds us of Jesus, the absolute crucial center and object of our contemplation and study: Jesus, known by the Holy Spirit as the Word of the Father, the Word become flesh, crucified and risen and living within us as his dwelling place.
That same Holy Spirit effects and confects all of this now in the Holy Eucharist we are about to celebrate. The bread and wine of our lives are brought forward, prepared by the deacons and then placed by the priest on the altar. The priest’s prayer over the gifts of bread and wine is shaped by the Holy Spirit. The prayer “teaches and reminds” us of Jesus’ actions and words the night before his death. This reminding in the Spirit helps us to connect these words and actions to the body and blood of Jesus broken and poured out on the cross, and the Spirit aides us to believe and perceive that the body crucified has been raised up and we have communion in it here and now by eating this bread and drinking this cup. Here and now for us in this eucharistic mystery is fulfilled at an intensity and with a guarantee beyond all our imagining the words of Jesus reaching us through the biblical text: “My Father and I will come to him and make our dwelling in him.” Each one here. And all of us together. Mount Angel Abbey and Seminary. 2017. The Communion of the Saints and Life Everlasting.