Growing up as the 4th of 6 kids, I don’t know if I always felt I had an identity on my own. I was Fred’s or Joe’s or Denny’s little brother. I wore their hand me downs. Growing up in a neighborhood crowded with kids, we even shared the same friends. I grew up in the comfortable world of being ‘one of the Kempf boys.” That was a good thing, don’t get me wrong. I loved that identity. But I could hide in that identity. I could disappear in that identity. He’s just a Kempf boy. No need to expect something different.
But there came a time when I realized that I was meant to be more than being just one of the Kempf boys. Like many college/grad students, it happened on a service trip – mine was in Northern Ireland.
On the eve of the feast of the Assumption, the Catholics have their summer bonfires in retaliation for the Protestant bonfires in July. Remaining neutral, the volunteers stay indoors and have our own little party. So we played guitar and sang songs and had conversations and quaffed a few pints. That final year, more than a few of the volunteers smoked, so I went outside to clear my head between guitar playing sessions. I became aware of a man named Jackie O’Neill, walking the grounds to make sure we were safe. So we chatted for a while, above the soccer pitch across from the low income Catholic housing projects that were just across the street from the field. And then he stopped, cocked his head and said something I won’t repeat. “It’s started. They’re shooting plastic bullets.” There. There. There again. With a growing horror in my stomach, I could pick out the noise amidst the din floating from the middle of those apartment-like buildings. And I realized there was the closest thing I’d experienced to a war going on less than a half mile from where I was standing. Just then the door opened from the school behind me, where the student volunteers were gathered, and they were singing. And the words of “Puff, the magic dragon” wafted across the night air. And I froze, literally between two completely different worlds. In front of me, one country, two different religions, and too much history seemingly to let go of, to find a path to peace. Behind me – 7 countries, about 4 religions plus a few agnostics and atheists, yet there we were, celebrating those differences instead of letting them drive a wedge between us. And then came, as if it were a voice, clear as day inside my head, a simple thought. “Both of these worlds were created by the choices that people make. And which world will you create with your life?”
Suddenly, I was no longer ‘just one of the Kempf boys.’ On that hillside, I knew that all the choices of my days and nights, all the conversations I have, all the interactions I am a part of – they make a difference in this world of ours. They either create the world of the kingdom, or they tear it down. That was my Pentecost moment – and that has been my Pentecost question ever since: “Which world am I creating with my life
How about you? What was/is your Pentecost moment? When did you realize that you mattered? When did you come to know that your contribution to the world was so important? So crucial?
• Perhaps it was when someone told you they were in love with you that it clicked.
• Maybe it was when you completed your Eagle Scout project.
• On a weekend when many of the Newman Center students “walked”, maybe it was your graduation from HS or College.
• Or when you walked down the aisle at your wedding or waited for your fiancé to walk down the aisle.
• Or the first time you held your son or daughter, niece or nephew…
There comes a time when we know in our guts that WE MATTER. And what we do matters. There comes a moment when we realize there is no such thing as a small gift in this world. Pentecost never allows us to say: “It’s not worth it – the giving of what I have in this sea of troubles.” If I don’t play my role, then our world is shortchanged, and the task that is mine to do does not get done and now someone else has not only to pick up the slack, but to undo the damage I have done in my negligence.
So, though you may never have stood on a hillside overlooking a soccer pitch in Northern Ireland, we each have stood before this altar and approached the throne of grace. And each time, it is a little Pentecost moment, a Pentecost reminder: “And you, what world are you creating with your life?”