Catholic Women’s League Convention Mass-May 15, 2016:Archbishop O’Brien

Homily by Archbishop Brendan O’Brien

Catholic Women’s League Convention Closing Mass

St. Mary’s Cathedral

May 15, 2016


Today, on the feast of Pentecost, we bring to a close the Easter season as we celebrate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the apostles.  This feast reminds us that, as Christians, we are not just a people who follow a certain code of ethics – although we do.  We are not just a people who hold Jesus in high esteem as a teacher – although this is no doubt the case.  Nor are we simply a people with a particular way of worshipping God – although that is also true.  The feast of Pentecost reminds us that we are people who have received the gift of God’s Spirit.  This is what makes us distinctive.  But what does this mean?


In the second reading today, Paul gives us some hints.  He speaks of life according to the flesh and contrasts it with life according to the spirit.  He uses these terms in a particular way.  The difference between living in the flesh and living in the spirit is not the distinction between soul and body or between the spiritual and the material.  Christianity has a deep respect both for the spiritual and for the body and the material world as we read in Genesis:  “God looked at everything he had made and he found it very good.”  (Genesis 1:31)


The distinction between flesh and spirit in St. Paul’s writings refers to something else.  For Paul, to be ‘in the flesh’ means to live our lives subservient to one’s own appetites and instincts.  He is speaking about human nature with all its limitations that has a tendency to incline us away from God.  In this passage from Romans, he outlines the rather disastrous results of this way of life.  I think we know that he is right.  We have just to look through the newspapers and see how one tragic situation after another is brought about by jealousy, anger, greed, or lust.  Living according to these and other desires and passions results in people being ‘out of control’ as they wreck their own lives as well as the lives of others.


In contrast to this, Paul speaks of life in the spirit.  It is a life attuned to God – a form of union with God where we seek what God seeks; where there is a thirst for truth and love, for freedom and justice, for community and sharing.  We, of course, continue to have feelings and instincts, but they are integrated into a new vision of life which does not leave us imprisoned in our desires and instincts.


At Pentecost, we celebrate the gift that the apostles received – the gift of the Holy Spirit, which makes life in the spirit possible.  The day of Pentecost is described very dramatically in the first reading.  The rest of the Acts of the Apostles recount the effects of this gift of the Holy Spirit – how the apostles were changed from being those whom the gospels portray as being kind of slow to understand what Jesus was all about; how they were changed from being that fearful cowardly bunch who fled and hid at the time of Jesus’s death; how, after Pentecost, they became the great evangelizers and missionaries who brought the message of Christ to the nations.


The gift of the Spirit, however, is meant for every Christian and for every age of the Church.  It is perhaps delivered in a less dramatic way, but that is what happens in Baptism and Confirmation – the sacramental bestowal of the gift of the Holy Spirit.  It is given so that each one of us can move from life according to the flesh to life according to the spirit, as Paul describes it.



The gift of the Spirit, like any gift, has to be received – has to be opened up.  We have to be aware that it is there, and, in some cases, we need to cultivate that gift.  If, for example, someone has a beautiful singing voice but they very seldom use it or have not learnt how to develop that musical talent, it is not going to be all that it could be.  And, unfortunately, that is what sometimes happens with the gift of the Spirit.  It is given to us in the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation, but it is perhaps not fully received.


It is like the seed of God’s Word, in the Parable of the Sower – the seed that falls upon the foot path where the soil is sparse, or on ground where there are rocks or thorns, which prevent it from taking root.  So it is with life in the spirit – the Spirit has to fall upon good soil that is receptive in order for the Spirit to transform a person from living life in the flesh to life in the spirit.  But when the Spirit is received, when it finds a receptive heart, the Spirit is able to accomplish what the Spirit is meant to bring about.  And what is that?


Firstly, as you heard in the gospel, Jesus says that, “if you will keep my commandments, I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever.”  The next line, which is omitted in today’s reading, goes on to say, “This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive because it neither sees him nor knows him.  You know him because he abides with you and in you.”


Certainly, the first result of life in the spirit is the awareness that God is with us – is in us through the gift of the Holy Spirit.  And, when we are aware of the Spirit’s presence in our lives, then we recognize that the Church is not just another organization, floundering around on its own, but, along with its human imperfections, it has the guidance of the Spirit so that it can accomplish the mission entrusted to it by Christ, to make his name known throughout the world.


The expectations put on us as individual Christians and as a community of believers may seem excessive and nearly impossible, but that is only if we forget Pentecost – if we forget the force and the power that is with us, that is in us.  However, as I said at the beginning of this homily, if we recognize this great gift of the Spirit which we have been given, and if we open our hearts to the Spirit’s promptings, we will not be discouraged.  We will have the strength.


As an organization of Catholic women, the CWL can and does do much to strengthen this true sense of Christian identity, which is life according to the Spirit, with its awareness of God’s presence in our lives and of the mission which is ours of making Christ known and  furthering his work.


Let us then pray often the invocation:


“Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love.  Send forth your Spirit, O Lord, and renew the face of the earth.”

The Chief medical Health Officer of Kingston has ordered that Masks must be worn at all places we gather indoors. That includes us here at the cathedral. We can’t supply everyone with a mask so please come with one. We would have a limited supply available for a loonie at the entrance of the cathedral.
Please read and observe the six key principles outlined below.

1) The key principle is that we come to Mass to worship God. Out of justice and exercising the virtue of religion we must give God what is God’s due. That quite simply is worship, adoration and praise. Thus, the absolute essentials of Mass will be included so that the Sacramental praise of God will take place and we will be exposed to one another for as brief a time as possible.

2) The second key principle is that the health and safety of parishioners, staff and clergy here at St. Mary’s are essential and require our utmost concern and attention. Therefore, the dispensation from the obligation to come to Sunday Mass by Archbishop Mulhall continues to be in effect. Those who are sick, elderly or have other critical health concerns should not come at this time. However, that is left to your discretion. Should you make the choice to come, knowing the risks, you are most welcome.

3) The underlying principle of all of our restrictions in isolating, physically distancing, wearing masks etc. is the common good as we live out the Lord’s commission to “love one another.” We are to care for each other and at this time we are called to be as prudent and careful as we can to protect the health of everyone else and ourselves.
4) The principle for the next few weeks will be brevity. The received scientific wisdom is that the virus spreads within groups who spend a prolonged period of time together. Therefore, we will be reducing the Mass to the bare essentials.
5) Singing is considered more dangerous than speaking so you are asked to please not sing at all throughout the Mass. I will not be singing either.
6) If you have any sickness, are elderly or have a critical illness you should remain at home. The dispensation from the obligation to come to Mass continues through this time of 30% capacity. Of course, if you choose to come you will not be turned away. We will continue to live- stream the Masses until we are back to a more normal arrangement.

The Chief medical Health Officer has ordered that Masks must be worn at all places we gather indoors. That includes us here at the cathedral. We can’t supply everyone with a mask so please come with one. We would have a limited supply available for a loonie at the entrance of the cathedral.
We will pray a shorter Penitential Rite.
The Gloria will be said not sung. There is to be no singing by the congregation during the Mass. Only by a cantor or as we have today a physically distanced choir in the choir loft…3 metres apart.
We will only have one reading followed by the Psalm
The second reading will be omitted.
The choir will sing the Alleluia on Sundays. During the week it will be omitted. Please do not join in.
The Gospel.
A very brief (3-4 minute) homily will follow.
The Creed will not be prayed.
There will be no petitions. Please prepare your own petitions and offer them in your heart during the Mass.
There will be no procession of the gifts.
There will be no regular collections at this time in the Masses. It will happen later. Ushers will be at the doors to receive your offering as you leave.
The Eucharistic Prayer will be prayed. This is the Most Important Part of the Mass.
The Our Father
Sign of Peace. This is a time when we won’t shake hands. Please do not wave to each other or give the two finger sign of peace. Neither of these reflect what is the intention here…You are recognizing the presence of God in the other person and praying they know God’s peace. The most appropriate gesture is a slight bow or nod of the head to the other person. You have seen me do this at the sign of peace to all of you at every Sunday Liturgy.
Please be seated.
Then the ushers will direct you to the place where you will receive Holy Communion. Please do not leave your pew until an usher has indicated you should do so.
Another usher will be close to the Communion Station to receive your Sunday Offering.
When it is your turn to receive Holy Communion. You will stand 6 feet away on the red line. The person distributing Holy Communion will say “The Body of Christ”. You will say “Amen”. Then move forward within arms length and receive the Host. Once you have received go straight out the nearest exit and make your Thanksgiving on your way home.
Aisles 1 & 5 will come forward to receive Holy Communion and leave by the side doors.
Aisles 2, 3 & 4 will go to the back to receive Holy Communion.
Aisle 2 will exit by the exit closest to the rectory.
Aisle 3 will exit out the centre door which you came in
Aisle 4 will exit out the door by the washrooms.
You are strongly encouraged to receive Holy Communion in the hand. Receiving on the tongue endangers the person giving Holy Communion and yourself, the person receiving Holy Communion. If you wish to insist on receiving on the tongue please wait until the very end as the person giving Holy Communion should sanitize their hands after each communicant. The usher will pass you by and will come back to you after everyone else has received. Please don’t leave your pew until that has taken place.