The SLUH community gathered for the Mass of the Holy Spirit, celebrated by Fr. Joseph Hill, SJ, in the Si Commons on August 27. Mass of the Holy Spirit is a tradition at Jesuit schools as they celebrate the start of the new academic year. These celebrations date back to 1548, when the initial Mass was celebrated at the first Jesuit school in Messina, Sicily.
Following are photos by John Hilker '20 and the Mass homily by Fr. Hill in which he discusses the "fire of God's love."
Homily by Fr. Joseph Hill, SJ
“The love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
I have learned over my years of study that summer reading is not always tedious. Like a homily at Mass, if you stick with it, you can take something valuable from it. To prepare for a fall class one summer in grad school I dragged myself away from …. To read a book by a famous French mathematician and philosopher, Blaise Pascal, perhaps not famous enough to make it on the wall of one of the math classrooms, but still up there. As a good student I actually read the introduction, which gave a short biography of the author that included a quote from a journal entry found after his death. As I read the words of that entry I was struck very deeply by their meaning. They took hold of my imagination. I pondered them for a long time, and even now they still come to my mind. They speak of something that cuts through so many of the other words that I have read over the years, and so many of the class discussions I have had, and assignments that I have had to complete. He wrote,
“FIRE. God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, not of the philosophers and of the learned. Certitude. Certitude. Feeling. Joy. Peace. God of Jesus Christ. My God and your God. Your God will be my God. Forgetfulness of the world and of everything, except God. He is only found by the ways taught in the Gospel. Grandeur of the human soul. Righteous Father, the world has not known you, but I have known you. Joy, joy, joy, tears of joy.”
These words attempt to describe an encounter with the living God that Pascal had one November night in 1654. Pascal, the brilliant mathematician and scientist, discovered, beyond all his study and all his intelligence, the fundamental truth of human existence, the reason for existence itself, the FIRE of God’s love. FIRE. There is nothing more important to learn in the whole world, in any subject, in all your time at SLUH, than the overwhelming knowledge, planted in the depths of your heart, of God’s personal love for you. That is what truly changes the world. That is what Jesus came to reveal, so that we might be transformed by it and saved through it. That is what the Holy Spirit gives to us, the Fire of God’s love. That is what this Mass is about, the fundamental truth: God loves you.
Now some of you may be thinking that this is pious drivel, the ramblings of a religious nut. Well, I am certain that some of you, at least, know what I am talking about. I was on Kairos retreat last May, and seemingly out of nowhere, on the last night, the Holy Spirit showed up in the chapel during adoration and filled students with God’s love, students sitting right here, in this senior section, and they spoke words similar to Pascal’s, FIRE of love. Joy. Peace. And I have seen similar moments on junior retreats, and on the summer pilgrimages, and elsewhere, the Holy Spirit touching hearts with a force and an energy more dynamic than any exercise in the speed and explosion room. (Maybe these students should tell their friends about those moments, and share the graces.)
If this love is so wonderful, and its importance so fundamental, then why is it that so few humans actually believe in it, and even fewer know it from a personal experience like Pascal’s? Perhaps too many people are distracted by stories of infinity stones and super powers to pay attention to God. But in fact the answer to that question is much deeper, is rather paradoxical, like SLUH’s dress code. The stupefying truth is that we humans don’t actually want God’s love. We reject it. Jesus wept over Jerusalem because his own people, the ones he loved and came to save, did not receive him. We don’t want Jesus to save us either; we want to save ourselves. like the Avengers from Thanos. We don’t want the unconditional love of God because we can’t earn it.
We want to be smart, successful, high achieving, winners, good-looking, popular, stellar athletes, or whatever else it is that will prove to somebody somewhere that we are worth something. But we know deep down inside that such thoughts are nonsense. Did getting that 100 on the test satisfy you? Did being invited to that party really bring you happiness? Did getting with that girl give you peace? Are state championships what make you valuable? We know that those things don’t solve the problem. They offer some false consolation, perhaps, but it is short-lived. If we make our lives about such things, human things, we labor under a curse, the curse of worshiping man-made objects, idols of silver and gold, that are not as valuable as we are, not as precious. What we really need, what will show us our fundamental worth, is the love that God has for us.
That is what Jesus does, he loves us. St. Paul states, “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Not, indeed, because we are smart or good-looking or popular or successful. Jesus died for us because he loves us, and He loves us because he is God. He sees into our very person the overwhelming beauty of our fundamental dignity. We are not the some of our weaknesses and failings, or even of our strengths and achievements. We are the some of the Father’s love for us, and our real capacity to become the image of His son.
Jesus proves the Father’s love for us, and the Holy Spirit is the Father’s love for us, poured into our hearts, if we are ready to receive it. Pascal, evidently, was ready to receive that love, and so he did one night. Some students here were open to receive it as well, and so did. Is your heart open? Are you able to receive this FIRE? That is my hope for all of you this year, that the love of God be poured into your heart by the Holy Spirit. The key to receiving it is very simple: ask for it. Turn to the Lord and pray that the love of God be poured into your heart by the Holy Spirit. Jesus is ready to give it to you. The Father desires to show you his love. Go there. Do not be afraid. You don’t need to be accomplished, or successful, or perfect, to be loved by God. You just need the courage to let go, open your heart, and allow the love of God be poured into your heart by the Holy Spirit.