Homily for Mass of the Holy Spirit

Rev. Philip L. Boroughs, S.J.
September 13, 2020
Exaltation of the Holy Cross

We have gathered as a community, a few in person, but mostly virtual, to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit as we begin a new academic year. This year, we coincidentally celebrate the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, our titular feast.  For most of us, when we reference Holy Cross, we think of the College, the beauty of our Mount St. James campus, the education we value, the friends, faculty and staff who have blessed our lives, and the life that our education makes possible.  But today, as people of Faith, we are celebrating something much bigger than the College which bears this name. We are celebrating the immeasurable love of Jesus for us, a love which moved him to become one of us, to accept all the joys and sorrows of human life, and, most particularly, to suffer and die out of love for us, and to share with us the power of his resurrection. Jesus’ love transforms a sign of a brutal death reserved for heinous criminals into something sacred, a sign of selfless compassion, profound faith and radical hope. The sign of the condemned is now a sign that we proudly wear, that marks Christian churches, homes and offices, and since 1843 has proudly been the name of this College, a Jesuit and Catholic institution which proudly proclaims Jesus’ love in who we are, what we teach and how we engage the world.

I often wonder what our students, particularly our international students, and our faculty and staff who are not Christians, think about our institution’s name. Do they detect in us and the way we live a vibrant relationship with Jesus that is embodied in the way we support and serve them? Beyond the crosses which mark all of our buildings and classrooms, beyond the imposing façade of St. Joseph’s chapel at the center of our campus, beyond the Jesuit cemetery and Campion House nearby, and beyond the statues and paintings of saints, prophets and Jesuits which dot our grounds and buildings, does a living faith within this community witness Jesus’ compassion, humility and selfless love in the way we care for each other and the vulnerable in our city and world? In the ways we speak about and to each other, the support we offer one another, the commitments we make for the transformation of our world and respect for our common home, can others sense that these ways of acting and living are our ways of expressing Jesus’ love?  Even in the simple acts of wearing masks, observing social distancing and following other appropriate pandemic protocols, we can demonstrate a generous Christian love for one another.

In this year of pandemic, recession, racial violence and serious political divisions, let us ask the Holy Spirit to help us to rise above our exhaustion, lack of energy and patience, our fears and anger, our resentments and frustrations. Let us ask the Holy Spirit to enliven our creativity, our cooperation, our selfless concern for one another and our neighbors here in Worcester.  Let us ask the Holy Spirit to increase our discipline, our commitment to study and teach with passion, our desire to share the many gifts we enjoy with others, and our active support of those especially affected by multiple tragedies and issues which confront our country and beyond. Let us ask the Holy Spirit for greater understanding of the burdens others carry, the everyday violence that marks their lives, and the privileges which shelter us from similar suffering. And let us ask the Holy Spirit to help us listen and learn, to reflect and react, to engage and endure the challenges of making a real difference.   
Since the 12th century, Catholic educational institutions have begun the academic year with a Mass of the Holy Spirit because we know that we can’t live up to our expectations without God’s help. It is too easy to simply remain in the world of ideas without connecting them to the world they influence. It is too easy to use our education to support a lifestyle that favors some and neglects the common good. It is too easy to seek personal security and comfort and ignore those whose suffering makes it possible. As disciples of Jesus, we know that to become more faithful, and to live justly, generously and freely, we are dependent on God’s grace received and lived in a community of believers. And so, as we are loved, let us love. And may Jesus’ humble and generous self-gift, strengthen us to live with hope and courage this year. Amen.


Numbers 21:4B-9

With their patience worn out by the journey, the people complained against God and Moses, “Why have you brought us up from Egypt to die in this desert, where there is no food or water? We are disgusted with this wretched food!” In punishment the LORD sent among the people saraph serpents, which bit the people so that many of them died. Then the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned in complaining against the LORD and you. Pray the LORD to take the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people, and the LORD said to Moses, “Make a saraph and mount it on a pole, and if any who have been bitten look at it, they will live.” Moses accordingly made a bronze serpent and mounted it on a pole, and whenever anyone who had been bitten by a serpent looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.

Philippians 2: 6-11

Brothers and sisters: Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

John 3: 13-17

Jesus said to Nicodemus: “No one has gone up to heaven except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.