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“Come, Father of the Poor”


by the Most Rev. Sławomir Szkredka
Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles
Baccalaureate Mass of the Holy Spirit
Commencement 2024
Thomas Aquinas College, California


This is our moment of thanksgiving, of gratitude for everything that has been accomplished this year on this campus. We thank God especially for our graduates, the faculty, their parents, for the work that has been done. And as we pray, we invoke the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Father of the Poor. Veni, Pater pauperem.

Bishop SzkredkaThe Gospel today, taken from the seventh chapter of the Gospel of John, takes us to that great Festival of Tabernacles during which Jesus stood and exclaimed, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink … Rivers of living water will flow from within him,” if anyone is thirsty. The Feast of Tabernacles is one of the great three festivals of the Jewish religion. In the Book of Leviticus, it says that, when it comes to the Feast of Tabernacles, two things need to happen: People need to dwell in tents, in booths, in tabernacles and makeshift provisional structures. They are to live in them for the whole week. And the second stipulation given in the Book of Leviticus is that they rejoice, rejoice while living in tents and tabernacles for a week.

And I ask myself, how can you find joy in living in a structure like that? At my age, it’s obvious those structures are vulnerable, can easily collapse. It’s a fall festival, so there is some rain in Jerusalem around that time, as well. And yet the Lord says rejoice. Why? Because, as we see in the Book of Exodus, the story behind this festival is the story of God’s loving care for His people as they journey through the desert. As they carry very little with them, as they live in tents and huts in their tabernacles, the Lord is looking after them. He supports them. He feeds them with bread from heaven, with manna. He gives them water from the rock to drink. The Festival of the Booths is the festival of human fragility that is supported, taken care of and looked after, by our God. It is during that festival that Jesus says, “Anyone who is thirsty, let him come to Me. He will receive My spirit.”

Come, Father of the Poor.

“I pray today for you, graduates of Thomas Aquinas College, that as you leave this school and go into this world, you remain thirsty and poor, open to the gift of the spirit, to the action of God in your heart.”

When the Spirit comes in the Gospel of John, it is depicted in two scenes. The first and very obvious scene is on the day of the Resurrection. Jesus stands in the midst of His disciples in the upper room. He greets them with the words, “peace be with you,” and then He breathes on them, saying “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Are they thirsty? I think they are. Right before, on the day of the Crucifixion, the Cross of Jesus did not just scandalize them, it crushed them. Some betrayed Jesus, some denied Jesus, all except John abandoned Jesus. Now they are in fear behind closed doors in the upper room. They are thirsty for His spirit, thirsty for His forgiveness, for His peace. “Peace be with you,” He says, and breathes on them, breathes new life into them.

Come, Father of the Poor.

But the Spirit comes even before. In the Gospel of John, at the moment of Jesus’s crucifixion, the Spirit is poured out because, as Jesus dies, as He breathes His last, John says, He delivered His spirit. To whom? The faithful women were there. The Mother of Jesus was there, and His beloved disciple. They are the faithful ones.

Yes, they did not betray, they did not abandon, but are they poor? I think they are. They are losing their loved one. The bridegroom is being taken away from them. They thirst for the Spirit.

Come, Father of the Poor.

This is, for the bishops here in in Los Angeles, confirmation season. So, I am very blessed to go to different parishes and give the gift of the Spirit to our youth. Deacon Chris, who accompanies me, can recite all my homilies. But he will tell you that, in almost every one of them, I speak about St. Thérèse of Lisieux, for many reasons. According to St. Pius X, she is the greatest saint of our modern times. Pope St. John Paul II called her the Doctor of the Church. Pope Benedict XVI said she was the greatest exegete of the last 200 years. Pope Francis wrote a letter on Saint Thérèse last October inviting all of us to look again at her again. And what do we see? We see someone who follows a little way, the way in which our weaknesses and limitations are accepted because they are that space into which God’s mercy and kindness can enter.

St. Thérèse famously said that she would like to go to Heaven emptyhanded so that God can surprise her with His generosity. She preferred not to see the fruits of her labors, worrying that, if she saw the fruits, she would appropriate them to herself. She saw herself as a little child trying to climb three steps, constantly trying and failing and trying, and yet confident that the Father will ultimately stoop down, lift her up, and take her up those three steps. In her poverty, she is the perfect saint, patron saint for those waiting for the gift of the Spirit because she is thirsty. She is poor, open to the gift from above.

Come, Father of the Poor.

In the Gospel we heard today, there is this delightful ambiguity. The underlying Greek text does not make it clear to whom this Scriptural reference is to refer. “Rivers of living water will flow from within him.” From within whom?

Is it about Jesus? Is it about the believer? Our translation that was used today seems to suggest that it is the believer, one who believes in Jesus, that from His heart, rivers of living water will flow. In the Eastern tradition, indeed, it was considered to relate to the believers. In the Western tradition among Western fathers, it was typically referred to Jesus.

He is the one from within Whom rivers of living water will flow. So, which one is it? And, of course, if I ask you good Catholics, you will say both, this and that. And you’re right. It’s both.

It’s definitely Jesus. He is the source of living water, and we see that at the scene of the Crucifixion, when His heart is pierced open and water flows out. Just as in the vision of the eschatological temple in Ezekiel — that fruitful place from which the whole earth is watered, is nourished — is the Cross, is the heart of Jesus. He delivers His spirit. But at the same time, looking especially at someone like St. Thérèse, we see that believers do nurture others. Seeing how she has inspired many and continues to inspire and nourish us with her spirituality, we see how rivers of living water flow from believers as well.

So, I pray today for you, graduates of Thomas Aquinas College, that as you leave this school and go into this world, you remain thirsty and poor, open to the gift of the spirit, to the action of God in your heart. And in this way, you bring living waters to those who need you — and that is to all of us. Amen.


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