The Breath of Christ in the World Today

Below is the text of a homily delivered in Saint Mary’s College Chapel on Pentecost Sunday. It was dedicated to Fr. John Morris, O.P., long-time member of the Theology and Religious Studies Department and chaplain to the Brothers of Saint Mary’s College, on the occasion of the Golden Jubilee of his priestly ordination

Homily for Pentecost on the Occasion of the Golden Jubilee of the Ordination of Father John Morris, O.P.


Brother Charles Hilken, F.S.C.

Father John Morris
Father John Morris, O. P.

At that time, the Lord said, “Peace be with you….As the Father has sent me, so I send you…. and he breathed on them (John 20:22).” Today we celebrate the birth of the Church. The late Dominican preacher, Fr. Lawrence Dewan, once likened the Pentecost moment to an atomic explosion, with a spiritual ripple effect still rushing forth to this day. The Risen Christ breathed on his disciples and we are still caught up in the rush of that breath       Fr. John has felt the pulse of that moment in his own vocation.

  • 60 years ago John became an engineer;
  • 50 years ago, Bishop Begin ordained him a priest at St. Augustine’s Church in Oakland;
  • 40 years ago John became a doctor of Theology;
  • 30 years ago he was director of the Dominican community of Saint Catherine of Siena Hall here at Saint Mary’s;
  • 20 years ago he accepted to serve as chaplain of the Alemany Community of Christian Brothers, and we’ve been blessed that he did.

The ripple effect of the breath of Christ has moved with regularity throughout his life. It moves still, now taking him out into the world as he begins his sabbatical.

The words of Sacred Scripture calling us to attend to Pentecost can be explored a bit more on this occasion by a dialogue between Fr. John and two saintly voices, Augustine of Hippo and Catherine of Siena. Saint Augustine, whose patronage gave both the setting for his ordination and the inspiration for the Holy Rule of the Dominicans, and Saint Catherine, not so much because of Siena Hall, but rather, because of the beauty of her teaching as a Doctor of the Church. The remarks of the homily will follow three points.

The first speaks of

Pentecost and Social Justice

Saint Catherine calls God the Sea of Peace. And this Eternal Sea of Peace speaks to her about Pentecost saying,

“Now it remains to say how one can tell that a soul has attained perfect love. The sign is the same as that given to the holy disciples after they have received the Holy Spirit. They left the house and fearlessly preached my message by proclaiming the teaching of the Word, my only-begotten Son. They had no fear of suffering…. It did not worry them to go before the tyrants of the world to proclaim the truth to them for the glory and praise of my name. So it is with the soul who has waited for me in self-knowledge: I come back to her with the fire of my charity (The Dialogue, #74).”

In this passage, Saint Catherine teaches us the nature of the Church born at Pentecost. It is nothing if not the community formed to be Jesus’ ministry still rushing forth into a world sorely in need. We are Christ’s body, hands, feet, and eyes in the world, as Teresa of Avila, another great doctor of the Church, tells us. And the fire of God’s charity is both the means and the reward that is ours for the work. Fr. John, in his ministry, has given testimony to the fearless preaching and teaching of the Word and to the fire of charity. He has helped proclaim the truth before the tyrants of the world in his tireless efforts on behalf of social justice. “Speaking truth to power,” already a hackneyed expression in our day, regains its strength when cast as the Church’s vocation to seek always the common good, which the Compendium of the Social Teaching of the Church tells us is The principle, stemming from the dignity, unity, and equality of all people, to which every aspect of social life must be related if it is to attain its fullest meaning. Let us hearken to the words of Scripture and Saint Catherine and the example of Fr. John’s life as we reflect on our own perfecting of love.

The second point speaks of

Pentecost and ecumenism

How wide and how inclusive is our community formed in the breath of Christ? Saint Paul in 1 Corinthians reminds us: “To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit…. one body, so also in Christ…. one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons…” Saint Augustine had something to teach about the universality of the Church: To quote him in his sermon for Pentecost,

“He therefore who possesses the Holy Spirit is in the Church, which speaks in the tongues of all nations. Whosoever is without this Church, has not the Holy Spirit. For this reason the Holy Spirit deigned to reveal Himself in the tongues of all nations, that each may understand, that he possesses the Holy Spirit who is nourished within the unity of the Church, which speaks in every tongue.”

Saint Augustine simply elaborates the message of Saint Paul, lest there be any doubt about the extension of the new community of the Church to all nations and every tongue.  Christ’s breath is healing balm for all. When we see through Christ’s eyes, no one is marginalized. But this isn’t the prevailing state of our society. And because of these days of division and strife, Pentecost isn’t a time to throw ourselves a birthday party, but rather an awakening to the holy urgency of Christ’s ministry. Again, we have in the example of Fr. John’s life, the preaching and teaching of the truths of the Gospel in their practical applications for the dignity, unity, and equality of all people, whether the economic disadvantaged, racial minorities, or laborers and union organizers. Do we carry with us in our daily work and actions the awareness of their impact on all people, especially those most in need of our solidarity?

The third and final point of today’s homily,

Pentecost and peace

We return to the Gospel to hear the Lord saying, “Peace be with you….As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

Do we give thanks daily in our thoughts and actions for the promise and the gift of peace here and now, and for the promise of the soul’s return to God, the Sea of Peace? Do we live in the sure knowledge of that Peace? Do we give our attention to God’s ministers of peace? Saint Catherine describes those charged with the ministry in her own day as gentle ministers. She says,

“These gentle ministers of mine (i miei dolci ministri)… They administer [the body and blood of Christ] both actually and spiritually by giving off within the mystic body of holy Church the brightness of supernatural learning, the color of a holy and honorable life in following the teaching of my Truth, and the warmth of blazing charity” (The Dialogue #119).

Saint Catherine adds in another passage that these same ministers are heralds of sorts, reminding us a little of the angels announcing the entry of the Prince of Peace into the world. She says, “This is the teaching given you in the mystic body of holy Church, borne in Holy Scripture, and brought to you by my trumpeters, the preachers whose duty it is to proclaim my word” (The Dialogue, #121). “Trumpeter” and “Gentle Minister” are Saint Catherine’s description of the preacher and priest. Sound familiar? Today we gather to celebrate one of God’s trumpeters, one of God’s Gentle Ministers on this the birthday of the Church. And Father John, we wish you God’s peace always, in your multiple ministries, in your sabbatical travels, all as a foretaste of those future conversations embraced by the Great Sea of Peace and in the company of Catherine and Augustine, and Dominic and Thomas, and all your fellow preachers. May we all here be filled with the rush of the breath of Pentecost, to be Church in and for the world. Peace be to this house. Amen.

Pentecost Scorzelli
Lello Scorzelli (1921-1997), Pentecost,
Vatican Museums

Photo credits: Photos by Brother Charles Hilken, F.S.C.

One thought on “The Breath of Christ in the World Today

  1. Brother Dominic says:

    Brother Charles, you have outdone yourself magnificently on this homily and kudos to Fr. John.
    A wonderful piece honoring Fr. John and a beautiful Pentecost message for all of us !!
    Brother Dominic Berardelli


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