The Greatest Unused Power

(Homily for Pentecost Sunday)

Once an American had a visitor from England. He wanted to show his guest the marvels of our country, so he took him to Niagara Falls. “Come,” he said, “I will show you the greatest unused power in the world.” From above they could appreciate the expanse of the Falls, as they looked from the U.S. to the Canadian side. Then they went below where the water made a deafening noise. The American explained about the enormous quantity of water and its great force. He had to practically shout into his friends ear as he concluded, “There is the greatest unused power in the world.”

The visitor was duly impressed; he had seen nothing like it in his own country. But then, like a good Englishman, he started to think a little deeper. “Yes,” he said to his American host, “the power here is great, but there is something much greater. The greatest unused power in the world is the Holy Spirit of the Living God.” The man has a point. Today we are celebrating the Feast of the Holy Spirit, Pentecost Sunday. It reminds us of a power we have barely tapped into. In the readings we see some of the things which the Holy Spirit makes possible:

  • Communication in a language deeper than words.

  • Inner peace.

  • Forgiveness of sins.

  • Unity of people who were formerly enemies.

  • Every worthwhile gift.

  • Renewal of the earth.

    This Sunday you and I wish to tap into the power of the Holy Spirit. How our world would change if we permitted him to enter our hearts! In my years as a priest many people have told me that they wish their lives could be different. They would like to have more energy, more enthusiasm. They want interior tranquility and a sense of purpose. Those things come from the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit can energize us, give us a new life.

    Every person in every age needs the Holy Spirit, but the need is particularly evident now. One of our biggest problems today is boredom.* An ennui has descended on our culture. I remember a man showing me his new wide screen TV. He proudly demonstrated how it could receive over 200 channels. After he explained all his options, I asked him what he was going to watch. “I don’t know,” the man replied, “there is nothing good on.” We have all kinds of entertainment, we are busier than ever, but people feel bored. Ironically our young people are the ones most affected by the tiredness of our society. They sometimes talk about having experiences which they describe as amazing, incredible and awesome, but the happenings seem manufactured (like episodes of Reality TV) and they quickly fade.

    On the other hand, the person who opens himself to the power of the Holy Spirit can find joy in things which are quite small. A great example for us is St. John Neumann. Son of a German father and Czech mother, he came to America to serve immigrants as a priest. Besides the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, he made a personal vow to never waste a single moment of time.** I admit I have not made such a vow - I have enough trouble with the first three. Still, I do admire a man like St. John Neumann. Now, if he were alive today I don’t think he would be multi-tasking, like the guy walking around with a cell phone to his ear. St. John did not indulge in frenetic activity, but rather opened himself to the grace of each moment. As a young priest he ministered to a far flung parish of miners. It involved a lot of traveling during which he engaged in prayer and studying languages. Besides German, Czech and English, he learned Spanish, French, Italian, and Dutch so he could hear confessions of his diverse parishioners. When Irish immigration started, he learned Gaelic so well that one Irish woman remarked, "Isn't it grand that we have an Irish bishop!"

    Later as Archbishop of Philadelphia he was instrumental in setting up the Catholic School system which quickly spread throughout the country. St. John did not live a long life - he died in his late forties. Nonetheless, his accomplishments endure because he was in touch with the future, that is, he placed every moment under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. In spite of many troubles – and much opposition – he maintained an inner calm. People commented on how he could find joy in little things such as seeing a flower or a child.

    Like St. John, we have available a great unused power - the same Holy Spirit that gave him joy in small things. We only need to step away from stagnant, muddy ponds - and approach the Niagara Falls of grace. Say this prayer: Come, Holy Spirit. Yes, Holy Spirit, come, fill the hearts of your faithful and enkindle in us the fire of our love. Dear Father, send out your Holy Spirit, the Spirit of your Son Jesus and renew the face of the earth.


    *Boredom leads people to fall into vices. The vices (greed, lust, gluttony, anger, etc.) do not bring happiness, but rather become ways of keeping God at arm’s length. The pattern of falling into a vicious habit is drearily predictable. Feeling bored, a person decides, for example, to turn on the TV or surf the Internet. Satan is at hand to help with the mouse or the remote. The person may not be indulging in something so terrible; he merely wants a bit of distraction. Still, he does not come away refreshed. Instead, he feels depressed. The enemy then suggests that he needs stronger “medication.” It momentarily relieves the tension, but quickly brings more craving. Irritability grows and soon he takes it out on someone, anyone. Thus, a man finds himself on a downward spiral which leads to bitterness, self-justification and, finally, complete separation from God. Given our human weakness, the power of the dominant culture and the subtlety of the devil, the odds against us seem insurmountable. Indeed they are - unless we turn to Jesus and rely on his Holy Spirit.

    **This is not an invitation to become a "workaholic." As I pointed out in a previous homily workaholism masks a deeper laziness. A man sometimes spends fourteen hours at the office because he fears the effort involved in the relationship with his wife, children - and with God.

    Spanish Version

    From the Archives:

    Pentecost 2011: It Was the Holy Ghost
    2010: The Power of the Holy Spirit
    2009: The Soul's Most Welcome Guest
    2008: Double Gift
    2007: With You Always
    2006: He Testifies to the Truth
    2005: The Greatest Unused Power
    2004: A Man Open to the Holy Spirit
    2003: To Drink of One Spirit
    2002: Healing of Memories
    2001: Hateful Comparisons & Precious Gifts
    2000: The Spirit & The Flesh
    1999: Each in His Native Language
    1998: Empty Rites?

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