Homily for Pentecost
May 27, 2012
Acts 2: 1-11
Gal 5: 16-25
John 15: 26-27; 16: 12-15
St. Vincent’s Hospital, Harrison, N.Y.
“Fill now once more the hearts of believers” (Collect).
We pray to the heavenly Father today that he “pour out the gifts of the Holy Spirit” so that, by divine power, by divine favor, the same great things might be done today “across the face of the earth” as were done in the earliest days of the Church.
|Pentecost: St. John Bosco Church, Castelnuovo Don Bosco|
In our 1st reading we heard about a wondrous occurrence from those “earliest days”: Jews on pilgrimage in Jerusalem from all over the Roman Empire understood what the apostles were preaching, regardless of the pilgrims’ own native languages. Having just been at an international meeting of editors of the Salesian Bulletin—the native tongues of the editors included Spanish, English, French, Italian, Portuguese, German, Polish, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Tagalog, Slovak, Slovenian, Hindi, and Telegu—I can appreciate the blessing of understanding a foreign language and the difficulties of not understanding.
That, however, isn’t the kind of gifts and divine grace we’re praying for.
The gospel reading points to one “divine grace that was at work when the Gospel was first proclaimed,” viz. truth: “the Spirit of truth will guide you to all truth” (John 16:13).
The 2d reading points to another divine grace: “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified their flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit” (Gal 5:24-25).
Finally, there’s a grace mentioned in the gospel and demonstrated in the 1st reading. Jesus tells his apostles, “You also testify” to the truth (John 15:27), and after the Spirit comes upon them the apostles begin that “first proclamation” of the Gospel: “We hear them speaking … of the mighty acts of God” (Act 2:11).
Truth. The Holy Spirit guides the disciples of Jesus toward the truth. That means toward God. It means toward knowing that God has made the universe, he’s in charge of the universe, he loves us, he wants us—his children—to be with him, he wants all of us to love one another. We pray the Holy Spirit to enlighten us with divine truth.
Follow the Spirit. Paul lists various moral weaknesses that can keep us out of the kingdom of God (Gal 5:19-21), weaknesses we’re all familiar with in some fashion—not with everything in that catalog, but all of us are very familiar with 1, 2, or 3 of them, no?—weaknesses that lead us to sin and, indeed, testify against the truths of God’s lordship and universal love. But, in the face of our weaknesses, we also have the power of the Spirit at hand to strengthen us with his gifts, including forgiveness, reconciliation, and positive virtues like joy, patience, generosity, self-control (Gal 5:22-23). This is where the Spirit leads “those who belong to Christ Jesus”—to a moral way of living the truth, to a consistency between what one believes in his heart and how one actually behaves. We pray the Holy Spirit to pour out his gifts upon us.
Testify to the truth. Believing what is true, believing God our Creator and Jesus Christ our Savior, is where we start. That leads to our conversion in the way we live. Those who belong to Jesus and follow the Spirit must do one more thing: they must be public witnesses of the truth. So in the reading from the Acts of the Apostles, those on whom the Spirit has descended are set on fire—notice those “tongues as of fire, which … came to rest on each one of them” (2:3)—and they go out and start preaching Jesus Christ. Later in Acts, the apostles suffer persecution because of their preaching. Thruout the ages the Church in general and individual Christians in particular have been harassed, imprisoned, and put to death because of the faith, because in their words and their actions they testified to the truth. They refused to burn incense to the pagan gods. They refused to convert to Islam. They refused to recognize Henry VIII’s travesty of marriage. They hid Jews from the Nazis. Harassment, imprisonment, and execution still happen today in China, in Pakistan, and in other places. Christians may also be persecuted and killed for defending specific truths, such as the rights of native peoples in Brazil or the rights of children in India, or the evils of the drug trade in Latin America. In our country there’s unrelenting pressure from politicians, the media, and other social trendsetters—people who falsely, not “in truth,” think they’re “progressive”—pressure for the Church to shut up about abortion and marriage.
But if we follow Jesus, we must speak like the apostles. We must testify to God’s love and God’s lordship over our lives and God’s intentions for our lives, both publicly and privately—in what we teach our children, which for most of us is the 1st and most important way that we testify to the truth; in what we speak to one another, in how we act, in how we vote, perhaps in what we write to the newspaper or to an elected official. We pray the Holy Spirit to empower us to testify to the truth.
When the Holy Spirit “once more fills the hearts of believers,” believers will act to make themselves better persons, to make their families happier and more virtuous, to make our society more evidently just and fair in how it treats everyone, born or unborn, white or black, male or female, young or old, native or immigrant, etc.