Sunday, May 24, 2015

Homily for Pentecost Sunday

Homily for the
Solemnity of Pentecost
May 24, 2015
Acts 2: 1-11
Gal 5: 16-25
John 15: 26-27; 16: 12-15
Holy Cross, Fairfield, Conn.

“When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together.  And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were.  Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them.  And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit…” (Acts 2: 1-3).

Coming of the Holy Spirit (source unknown)
As you know, our lectionary supplies us with a 3-year cycle of Scripture readings for  Sundays.  But on Pentecost we always read from Acts 2 for the 1st reading, which tells the dramatic story of the Spirit’s coming upon the disciples and converting them from “mere disciples,” i.e., those learning from Jesus (which is what “disciples” means), into apostles, those sent forth to proclaim Jesus to the world.  Then for each of the 3 years of the lectionary cycles we have different optional 2d readings and gospels, which we’ve used today.

Pentecost is also one of the 3 Sundays of the year when we have a sequence that follows the 2d reading.  The sequences were originally intended as hymns to accompany a long procession with the book of the gospels from the altar to the ambo.  Our processions usually aren’t very long any more, if there’s a procession at all.  The liturgy has preserved 3 sequences—for Easter, Pentecost, and Corpus Christi—which are magnificent poetically, musically, and theologically.

About the Spirit’s coming recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, we can note these points:

1st, the Spirit descends upon the entire Church gathered as one, i.e., upon the community.  There is no Spirit and no Church without community, without our gathering as one body of Jesus Christ.  We must come together to worship; we must believe together the one faith proclaimed in the Scriptures and taught to us by the apostles.

2d, the Spirit “rests on each one of them,” upon the 120 individuals gathered together in that upper room.  Altho the Spirit comes upon the group, the Spirit also infuses himself into the heart and mind and soul of each of them.  Each Christian, each baptized person, has a share of the Spirit and must do as this 1st body of Christians did:  go out and proclaim the Gospel of Jesus.  Each Christian is a public witness of the resurrection of Jesus and the eternal life that Jesus offers to us thru the forgiveness of our sins.  “You also testify, because you have been with me from the beginning,” Jesus says in the gospel (John 15:27).

3d, the Spirit is a force for unity.  Jesus prayed that all his disciples would be one, one with himself and the Father, one among themselves.  It’s the Spirit that draws us all together.  You were brought here by the Holy Spirit!  Filled with the Holy Spirit, the Church goes out to bring the whole world—represented by all the different nationalities evidenced in the reading—into union with God thru Jesus.  No one can be excluded from God’s redeeming love—not on account of ethnicity or language or color or gender or culture or place of birth.

In the reading from Galatians, St. Paul reminds the Christians of the Roman province of Galatia—in modern Turkey—that the Holy Spirit is opposed to sinful attitudes and behavior, what Paul calls “the flesh.”  The “flesh” means not just impurity and lust and gluttony and drunkenness, but all sorts of selfishness and idolatry; Paul provides a list in what we read, and he has other lists in other letters.

That famous phrase of Pope Francis, “Who am I to judge?” is usually quoted out of context.  The context—in that press conference on the plane returning from Rio—was, “If someone is truly trying to follow the Lord,” who am I to judge his failures?  Only the Lord knows the heart.  None of us knows any individual’s standing before God.  In fact, St. Paul tells the Corinthians that he doesn’t “even pass judgment on” himself (I, 4:3).  God alone can judge our attitudes, motivations, words, and actions.

And he will!  “The Spirit and the flesh are opposed to each other” (Gal 5:17), and “those who do the works of the flesh … will not inherit the kingdom of God,” Paul tells us (5:19,21), whereas “those who belong to Christ Jesus,” i.e., who “live by the Spirit” of Jesus, “have crucified their flesh with its passions and desires” (5:24).  The Spirit helps us to know right and wrong attitudes and behaviors, helps us correct the wrong ones, helps us live in accordance with the teaching of Jesus.

In fact, if we were to continue reading Acts 2, we’d hear St. Peter preaching to all those “devout Jews from every nation under heaven” who, hearing the roar of the Spirit’s “strong driving wind,” came running to the house where Jesus’ disciples were staying—Peter preaching that God had raised Jesus from the dead, and therefore they should “repent and be converted, that [their] sins may be wiped away” (2:15,19) and they be granted salvation.

We noted above that the Spirit is a spirit of unity.  Repentance, conversion, is necessary for unity.  If we continue in our selfishness, in the works of the flesh—be they sins of sexual immorality or of ethnic hatred or of financial greed or whatever else—we work against unity:  our unity with God’s goodness, our unity with the rest of humanity.  In some fashion we all sin against that unity, and the Gospel calls us to constant conversion.  The works of the flesh are evident in the mayhem of the Middle East, in the drug trade, in human trafficking, in racism and sexism, in abortion, in the porn industry, in the abuse of children, in adulterous and homosexual and non-committed relations, and in a whole lot of social ills.  Pope Francis would add gossip as a work of the flesh.  Here are a few things he’s said about that:

      It’s so rotten, gossip.  At the beginning it seems to be something enjoyable and fun, like a piece of candy.  But at the end, it fills the heart with bitterness and also poisons us.

      Those who live judging their neighbor, speaking ill of their neighbor, are hypocrites, because they lack the strength and the courage to look at their own shortcomings.

      I tell you the truth:  I am convinced that if each one of us would purposely avoid gossip, at the end, we would become a saint!  It’s a beautiful path![1]

When one is converted, then the works of the Spirit become evident; Paul list 9 of them, including peace, kindness, and faithfulness.

Speaking to the apostles at the Last Supper—which is where today’s gospel reading comes from—Jesus calls the Spirit “the Spirit of truth” (John 15:26) and promises that the Spirit “will guide you to all truth” (16:13).  The Spirit that descended upon the Church at Pentecost guides the Church in knowing and proclaiming the truth.  The Church has that mission:  to proclaim the goodness and mercy of God, to name sin and call us to conversion, as Peter did on the 1st Pentecost, as Paul did thruout his long career, as the Church has been doing for 20 centuries.  Every Christian is called to stick to the truth of the Gospel, to live it, to testify to it, to try to infuse it into society, e.g., thru respect for the dignity of every human being, thru forgiveness of those who injure us, thru generosity toward the needy, etc.

If we “follow the Spirit,” as Paul urges us, then we may be confident that the Spirit will (in the English translation of today’s Sequence) “give us virtue’s sure reward; give us his salvation, give us joys that never end.”  Our union with God and with all God’s people will be perfected in eternal friendship, eternal life, eternal joy.

        [1] Quoted in “The Tyranny of Talk,” America, Dec. 1, 2014, p. 5.

No comments: