May 27, 2012

HOMILY for Pentecost Sunday

Acts 2:1-11; Ps 103; Gal 5:16-25; John 15:26-27,16:12-15

The warm sunny days we’ve been enjoying are a beautiful gift, and the sunshine is a fitting image of the Holy Spirit. For the Spirit, who is God’s love, also draws us outdoors from our dark enclosed isolated rooms, that is, out of ourselves, into the wider world to seek others in friendship and love, to enjoy the beauty of God’s creation with thankful hearts, and above all, to be joyful. And this is the dynamic of those apostles who had gathered indoors in Jerusalem, but the Spirit of love and joy filled their hearts and minds, and sent them out into the streets where their excited praise of God was taken for drunkenness. These past few nights the Meadows have resounded with people singing, drumming, and the sounds of drunken revelry. That sound, it seems, is reminiscent of how the people of Jerusalem heard the apostles on Pentecost day! And in a sense we can say that the apostles were drunk or had too much sun… because they were filled with the Holy Spirit. St Catherine of Siena spoke of the knowledge of God’s love for us as a wine that intoxicates the soul, so that, drunk on God’s love, we become preachers of God’s love.

And that is why the Spirit of Pentecost filled the Church, descended on the apostles, and was especially given to each of us in our own Baptism and Confirmation. So that we, too, can drink the new wine of the Holy Spirit, and be drunk on God’s love as the apostles were. So that we can also bask in the Spirit’s sunshine. St Ephraem says: “As warmth brings summer again to the bosom of sleeping earth, so the Holy Spirit works upon the Church”. Like the summer sun, God’s Holy Spirit of love brings joy and energizes us. Love draws us out of ourselves and into the world to preach the Gospel. Not because we’re better than other people, or because we disdain them, but because we love all people. As the great Dominican preacher Vincent McNabb said: “The world is waiting for those who love it… If you don’t love men don’t preach to them – preach to yourself”! A great preacher and missionary like St Paul was thus motivated by great love, and his passion was to demonstrate to the world the Gospel of love and all the good that came from the Spirit who transformed and renewed his life. 

Hence the Spirit is sent from the Father and the Son into the world, into Christ’s Church, and into our hearts, to “renew the face of the earth”. In today’s readings we see two actions of the Holy Spirit that bring this about. In the first place, we see in Acts that the apostles “began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them”; so the Spirit gives them the gift of languages. Now, God does not give us gifts for no reason, so this gift of languages was not merely a spectacle. Rather, through this gift to the apostles and, thus, to the Church, God shows that the punishment of Babel is now overcome and redeemed so that humanity, who was once divided by languages, is now united through the communion of the Holy Spirit to become “one body, one spirit in Christ”. And to accomplish this global unity the gift of languages was given to the apostles so that they could preach this good news of unity, reconciliation and peace to “all nations” as Jesus had commanded (cf Mt 28:19). Hence, firstly, God’s Spirit is given to every Christian so that we can be preachers, telling the world in different languages and cultures, the truth in love concerning the whole Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

 However, we’re not just to proclaim the Gospel in words and teaching. Because, the second action of the Holy Spirit, which St Paul speaks of, is the action of God’s grace that transforms lives. As St Paul says: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control”. So the Spirit comes to enable us to preach the Gospel, not just in sermons, catechesis, study, and teaching but also through the kind of people we are, through our lives and our deeds. But notice that the two actions of the Spirit go together: lived witness and explicit preaching. For, together, the Spirit leads us into “all the truth”, the complete truth, as Jesus promised. 

Someone who has been led into complete truth, who shows integrity both in what he knows and says about the Truth of the Gospel, and how he lives out that Truth is deeply attractive. As St Paul put it, they “walk by the Spirit”. And so, their Spirit-led actions renew the world, and they draw people to Christ. The saints are Christ’s “witnesses” – they bear witness to him and to the transforming love of the Holy Spirit. And each of us are called to be such witnesses because we have been given the same power and resource that the saints had: the Holy Spirit.

This past week, a ‘sacred flame’ has been making its way through Britain where it’s been met with passing excitement at best or indifference at worst. Perhaps we sometimes react to the Holy Spirit, the true sacred flame of God, in a similar way. But that would mean not using the power, the gift, that God gives us. And this would be as frustrating and sad as having to stay indoors on a beautiful warm sunny day! 

If we allow the Holy Spirit to act in our lives, then he comes like fire to purify our thoughts and ideas so that we are led into all the truth. He comes to burn away our destructive habits, addictions and sins so that, as T. S. Eliot put it, we are “redeemed from fire by fire”. Just as a bushfire can make the soil more fertile, so the fire of the Spirit comes, not to destroy us but, to renew our lives, transform us, and make us fruitful. Often we can find it difficult to endure or understand this process of being refined by the fire. We may find it hard to trust Christ’s word in the Scriptures and in the Church’s teachings, difficult to let go of familiar sins and habits, and struggle with the trials and illnesses of life. 

But it’s precisely when things are hard and we struggle and fail that we need a Pentecost in our hearts. Just as we light a fire when it is dark and cold, so we should pray for the Spirit if we feel spiritually cold, or dark, or suffer from the spiritual equivalent of Seasonal Affective Disorder! For he is the sunshine of God’s grace that warms us with hope, sheds the light of faith, encourages us with love, and brings divine forgiveness, mercy, and joy. So, let us pray with confidence and patience as Our Lady and the apostles did in that Upper Room of Jerusalem: “Come Holy Spirit”!

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