YEAR C: HOMILY FOR PENTECOST SUNDAY
HOMILY THEME: “Jesus said to his disciples, ‘As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’” (John 20:21)
BY: Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC
HOMILY: John 20:19-23
It’s Pentecost and drama marks the scriptural account of the event we celebrate today. Winds blow, fire erupts and, as we read in the Acts of the Apostles, “All of the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.” (Acts 2:4) The drama of Pentecost has continued in individual lives and in communities down through the ages, giving living witness to the presence of the Holy Spirit dwelling within those who believe. Indeed, winds still blow; fire yet erupts; people find themselves speaking in languages that amaze and inspire. Consider whatever might have gotten into Ben Valentine when he was moved to compose a letter.
That June some forty years ago, Benjamin Valentine, Principal of Chestnut Street Middle School in West Hempstead, New York, wrote a letter to each of his students. Addressing and signing each letter personally, Ben would surely have been censured by today’s standards for what he wrote to the student body of this public school that he’d served so faithfully. Ben wrote: “During the time we have known each other, you have received countless notes and letters from me: notes to trick you on April Fool’s Day; notes about safety on the playground; notes about everything under the sun! But I want this letter to be the most sincere I ever wrote you. Because, after all, there’s something special about the last letter you write to someone you love very much. “When I was your age, I used to study from a book which had a very interesting way of teaching. It would ask a question and then underneath it would give the answer. For instance, on page one it asked, ‘What is man?’ I don't know how you would handle that one, but I loved the answer it gave: ‘Man is a creature, composed of body and soul, and made in the image and likeness of God.’
“When I realized what that really meant, that a human being is an image of God and therefore the most important thing on the face of the earth, I decided to be a teacher and thus work my whole life with nature’s greatest creation. “Some of my friends went in for working with diamonds or Cadillacs or furs or stocks or other such second-rate products. Me, I’ve spent my life working with images of God: all of you. “And now that I have to stop, I find it very hard. Especially when one of you said to me: ‘Why are you retiring? Don’t you like your job anymore?’ That’s why I’m writing this letter, to answer that question. Let me explain.
“It’s because I love teaching so much and think it is such an important job: that’s why I’m leaving. To put it right on the line to you people who are so young: I’m growing old. Oh, I’m not sad about that. There’s plenty of use in this wonderful world for old things. The sun and the moon are a little old, eh? And the mountains and the rivers. Old, but oh so useful!
“So I say goodbye. My old study book said that human beings are the images of God. My, you surely have been!”
Each letter concluded with a hand-written, heartfelt “cordially,” under which this amazing man signed his full name, Benjamin J. Valentine. On this Pentecost Day, we hear in the gospel passage Jesus sending forth his disciples to preach by word and deed that God remains with his people. “Jesus said to his disciples, ‘As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’” (John 20:21) Ben knew by faith that he’d been sent to Chestnut Street School with a holy mission. Now, the limitations of age gaining on him, he was handing over that mission to others, confident that, though he could no longer be with those he loved, without a doubt God was.