Sunday, May 19, 2013

Homily for Pentecost

Homily for
May 19, 2013
John 14: 15-16, 23-26
Acts 2: 1-11
Rom 8: 8-17
Ursulines, Willow Dr., N.R.

“We will come to him and make our dwelling with him” (John 14: 23).

A few days ago Cardinal Schönborn of Vienna disclosed one of his perceptions about how the Holy Spirit guided the recent conclave in a very surprising direction.

As you know, in the days following Pope Benedict’s announcement of his resignation, numerous lists of papabili were drawn up.  Until the last couple of days before the actual conclave, none of those lists included Cardinal Bergoglio, and then only 1 or 2 did.  Those 1 or 2 may have been reflecting the movement of the Spirit that Cardinal Schönborn spoke of.

The Austrian cardinal recounted how he experienced the Spirit’s presence twice.  One, before the conclave, he could talk about; one, within, he couldn’t.  He said that shortly before before the conclave he met a couple from South America whom he knew, whom he knew to be prayerful people.  He asked whether they had any advice for him.  The woman whispered one word into his ear:  “Bergoglio.”  And, says the cardinal, he took this as a serious sign of the Spirit’s speaking.

Jesus promised to send an Advocate, one to speak for us and thru us.  He promised to dwell with us, he and the Father.  That indwelling is effected thru the Holy Spirit, our Advocate.

In the well-known story from Acts 2, we hear the 1st effects of that indwelling.  The apostles are filled with courage and rush out to begin preaching the Gospel.  They are filled with wisdom to find references to Jesus in the Scriptures and effective words to convince the crowd of the Scriptures’ fulfillment.  They are filled with a universal pastoral zeal that reaches to all nations, prophesied thru the multiplicity of tongues on display—tongues of fire and the spoken tongues of the Roman Empire.

Descent of the Holy Spirit, from a Book of Hours, ca. 1485
When we were very young and were studying the Baltimore Catechism, we learned that Baptism made us temples of the Holy Spirit.  We never saw any fiery tongues.  The only fire we witnessed probably originated with our parents, especially on those occasions when our middle names were invoked!  Maybe we heard some fire from our teachers; in my case it was more likely to be a ruler rapping my knuckles, but not only (I suppose that fire was more likely to befall mischievous boys than sugar-and-spice-and-everything-nice girls).  Such instances of course aren’t the fire kindled by the Spirit.

On the other hand, now and then it may be that some preacher has lit a fire in our hearts; or some missionary on a home visit, telling tales of foreign lands and foreign peoples; or some wise old religious narrating the lives of our predecessors and our early history.  At its best, good preaching, substantive conferences, and edifying conversation answers the prayer of Jesus:  “I’ve come to cast fire upon the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled” (Luke 12:49).  Our minds and hearts are opened up to the light and the warmth of the Spirit; we’re moved to respond, drawn more intimately toward Jesus, and filled with ardor to make him known to others—like the Twelve, the Virgin Mary, and other 100+ disciples in the Upper Room on Pentecost Sunday.  “The Spirit that proceeds from the Father, he will testify to me” and help us also to testify (John 15:26-27).

The indwelling Spirit will enable us to join Jesus in glorifying his Father, in praying thru the sacred liturgy and other forms of prayer.  St. Maximus of Turin, whose sermons I’ve been reading, speaks of the Pentecost experience in his Sermon 11:  “It is new wine that refreshes and inebriates the Christian, but that inebriation is sobering. . . .  The holy apostles, who were filled with this new wine…spoke the wondrous deeds of God in foreign tongues and appeared, as they did so, both drunk and sober at the same time.  For they were thought to be drunk because another tongue sounded in them in a preternatural way, but they were sober because they praised the Lord with spiritual devotion in an ordinary way.”[1]  St. Paul says today, “Those who are led by the Spirit of God” are God’s children and invoke him as “Abba” (Rom 8:14-15).

The indwelling Spirit will enable us to keep Jesus’ word (14:23), to keep his commandments (14:15).  When the Spirit governs our lives, we can’t do the works of the flesh, i.e., commit sin, as St. Paul says (Rom 8:8-13).  Rather, we imitate Jesus in our patience, kindness, mercy, chastity, faith, etc.

The indwelling Spirit will “teach you everything” (14:26)—which may mean discerning the proper moral response to contemporary social and economic issues, or discerning the best decisions for guiding our own lives, guiding a community, a school, a diocese—or the universal Church, as in Cardinal Schönborn’s experience.  That spiritual discernment depends on our submission to the Spirit, letting ourselves be “led by the Spirit of God” (Rom 8:15), as Paul says, and as the cardinal intimated because he knew that Latin American couple to be prayerful.

The indwelling of the Spirit also enables us “to suffer with Christ” (Rom 8:17).  Altho in Paul’s time that often meant the sufferings of violent persecution, none of us is exempt from suffering:  from physical pain, from emotional anguish, from worry, from misunderstandings, from hurts of various kinds.  The Spirit unites us with Christ in our sufferings, “so that we may also be glorified with him” (8:17).

In all things, then, the Spirit of Jesus and his Father “confirms our hearts” (Vigil Collect alt. form) so that with Jesus and his Father we might be “the unity of the Holy Spirit,” already now in the communion of the saints, and eternally as “joint heirs with Christ” (8:17).

      [1] The Sermons of St. Maximus of Turin, trans. Boniface Ramsey, OP (NY: Paulist, 1989), ACW vol. 50, p. 30.

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