It Was the Holy Ghost

(Homily for Pentecost Sunday - Year A)

Bottom line: The life of Mother Cabrini shows what can happen when a person opens to the power of the Holy Spirit. Like her we want to say, "I know it was the Holy Ghost."

Today - Pentecost Sunday - we celebrate the gift of the Holy Ghost. When Jesus rose from the dead, he poured out the Holy Spirit - his first gift, the greatest gift, the gift that contains all other gifts: God Himself, the Third Person of the Holy Trinity.

He is called the Holy Ghost - or the Holy Spirit - because like the wind you cannot predict where He will move. I'd like to give an example from the life of an amazing person:

She was born in the middle of the nineteenth century. It was difficult time for the Church. Philosophers like Charles Darwin and Karl Marx were proposing new theories in the name of "science." If you have read them, you know they are persuasive - even elegant - writers. They tended, however, to reduce human beings to the level of animals, even machines.

In addition to this philosophical milieu, the world faced an economic upheaval that caused millions to migrate. Here in America many immigrants lost their faith.

The Holy Spirit did something unexpected. He touched the heart of girl in Northern Italy. Little Francesca told her older sister, Rosa, that she was going be a missionary. Rosa laughed, but Francesca said, "The moment I was being anointed with chrism" (in confirmation) "I cannot say what I felt, but I know it was the Holy Ghost."*

Francesca applied to two different religious orders but they turned her down because of her poor health. Francesca kept at it and eventually a priest asked her to care for some orphans. Weak as she was, Francesca had a way of inspiring other young women. Soon they formed a religious order and they began making plans to go to China. When she met with the pope, he told her, "No. Go to America. The immigrants need you."

The rest is history. In 1889 Mother Frances ("Francesca") Cabrini arrived in New York with her small band of sisters. With practically no resources they build orphanages, school and hospitals: first in New York, then Chicago, then other cities, including Seattle. How did they do it?

It was the Holy Ghost. When asked for an explanation, Mother Cabrini said she did not consider herself so much an instrument of God as a "spectator" of His works.** In Seattle, for instance, she was looking for a site for an orphanage. She found the perfect spot on the shore of Lake Washington in what is today the Laurelhurst district. She approached a real estate magnate named Henry Broderick. She was a bit nervous because she had little funds to purchase the property and the large house on it. Well, he wound up selling it to her for one rosary! It was the Holy Ghost.

Henry Broderick kept that glass-bead rosary on the wall of his office. God evidently blessed him: He lived and prospered for another sixty-five years. Although he and his wife had no children of their own, they used their substantial fortune to help many children get a good education.***

Mother Cabrini gave the Broderick's a channel for their stewardship. She used that generosity to help people in distress. In my last parish, I got to know an elderly lady who had spent her childhood in the Seattle orphanage. She speaks warmly of the experience and admits that it made all the difference in her life. That lady was one of thousands - boys as well as girls - whose lives were changed by Mother Cabriniís openness to the Holy Spirit. It all began when - as a small girl - she recognized, "It was the Holy Ghost."

Mother Cabrini's life shows that we do not know how or when the Holy Spirit will act. He enabled her to confront what seemed like insurmountable obstacles, starting with her own poor health. When things went badly, she saw it as a sign of blessing: "Difficulties! Difficulties!" she would say, "They are merely scarecrows to frighten children."

Once Mother Cabrini wrote to one of her sisters who was fighting depression. "Why, dearest daughter, do you waste time in sadness when time is so precious for the salvation of souls?" Then she added, "Get rid of your melancholy immediately. Do not think any more about yourself." Perhaps Mother Cabrini also battled the demon of depression, but the Holy Spirit gave her a firm will - a will that enabled her to focus on others with a joyful heart.

A young local priest, Fr. Jim Northrop, speaks about starting each day by asking for the Holy Spirit. Come, Holy Ghost. He can do the unexpected. You might have things planned, but the Holy Spirit will surprise you.

The life of Mother Cabrini shows what can happen when a person opens to the power of the Holy Spirit. Like her we want to say, "I know it was the Holy Ghost."


*From "Doing What Needs to Be Done - The Life of Mother Cabrini" by Ann Bottenhorn (Word Among Us, June 2011)

**Here is more complete quote: "Lord, you are the one who acts. I am not even an instrument in your hands, as others say. You alone are the one who does all, and I am nothing more than a spectator of the great and wonderful works that you know how to accomplish." (see Voices of the Saints by Bert Ghezzi, p. 229)

***Broderick was known as a man of integrity:

"Early in his career Henry Broderick became known for his refusal to discriminate against Jews. About 1904, while still employed by John Davis and Company, Broderick gave up a contract to manage the Olympian Apartments, a large facility at 1605 E. Madison, rather than accommodate the owner's stipulation that he not rent to anyone who was Jewish. As a result of this stand, Broderick's own firm attracted many Jewish clients. The firm also refused to sell houses into which Jews were excluded from moving, either by covenant or informal understanding."

Spanish Version

From the Archives:

Pentecost 2014: Practical Sign of Hope
2013: Even Greater Things
2012: Our First, Most Cherished Liberty
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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