Readings: Acts 2:1-11; 1 Corinthians 12:3-7, 12-13; John 20:19-23
Theme: ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’ (Jn 20:22)
Today, Pentecost Sunday, we come to the climax of our Easter celebrations. It is often referred to as the birthday of the Church. It is certainly the birthday of the Church’s mission, the birthday of the Church as a Spirit-filled community sent into the world to witness to Christ and his gospel of love and forgiveness. The readings today remind us of three important truths about the Church and its mission: first, that the Church is essentially missionary; second, that the Holy Spirit is the principal agent of Mission; and third, that the goal of mission is to create a unity that embraces diversity. A few brief words on each of these points.
The Church is, as The Second Vatican tells, “missionary by its very nature” (AG, no. 9). All its members, all who are baptised in the Spirit are consecrated as missionary disciples of Jesus and called to take responsibility for the evangelisation of the world. A Church that turns in on itself and stops being missionary is no longer the Church of Christ but simply a sodality, a group of like-minded people who simply enjoy each other’s company. Pope Francis, in his first Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel, urges the Church to be true to its missionary calling. He wants the church to reach out towards those on the margins, and bring healing and hope to the wounded of this world. He states: “I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security” (EG 49). We need, he insists, a church ‘that knows how to open her arms and welcome everyone’.
The second truth that our readings bring out is that the Holy Spirit is the principal agent of the Church’s mission. Corrie ten Boom, the well-know Dutch writer, who helped many Jews escape the Nazi Holocaust during World War II, uses the striking image of the hand in the glove to convey this truth. She says: ‘I have a glove here in my hand. The glove cannot do anything by itself, but when my hand is in it, it can do many things. True, it is not the glove, but my had in the glove that acts. We are gloves. It is the Holy Spirit in us which is the hand, who does the job. We have to make rood for the hand so that every finger is filled. The question on Pentecost is not whether God is blessing our own plans and programmes but whether we are open to the great opportunities to which his Spirit is calling us.’
Catholics have been accused of sometimes paying mere token respect to the role of the Holy Spirit in the Church. So we should ask ourselves: Do we put more trust in our resources and our expertise than in the action of God’s Spirit in our lives and in the lives of those among whom we work? Do we leave enough room in our various ministries for the Spirit, the ‘God of surprises’, the God who chooses the weak to confound the strong, the God whose light invariably enters through the cracks in our lives rather than through our successes and achievements?
Finally, the goal of Mission is to create a unity that respects diversity. Pentecost reverses the confusion of Babel (cf. Gen. 11: 1-9) On the day of Pentecost, as the first reading tells us, people of different linguistic and cultural backgrounds (Persians, Asians, Romans, Egyptians, Libyans, Cretans and Arabs) came together for this major Jewish feast but were unable to communicate with one another. However, through the gift of the Sprit, they were all able to understand the message of the apostles. ‘Surely, they said, all these men speaking are Galileans? How does it happen that each of us hears them in his own language?’ (Acts 2:7-8). The miracle of Pentecost was a miracle of mutual understanding, a restoration of the unity that humanity lost at Babel.
Today we might ask what gift of the Spirit, what language do we need so that everybody can understand no matter what their ethnic or linguistic background? Yes, there is such a gift, such a language. It is the language of Love. This is a language that all people understand. For example, everybody understands when you smile. Love is the language of the Spirit. In the words of Teilhard de Chardin, ‘Love is the only force that can make things one without destroying them’. It the only language capable of creating a unity that respects diversity – the kind of unity our divided Church and broken world sorely needs.
I will end with a lovely poem from the pen of Macolm Guite that, for me, captures the meaning of Pentecost.
Today we feel the wind beneath our wings
Today the hidden fountain flows and plays
Today the church draws breath at last and sings
As every flame becomes a Tongue of praise.
This is the feast of fire, air, and water
Poured out and breathed and kindled into earth.
The earth herself awakens to her maker
And is translated out of death to birth.
The right words come today in their right order
And every word spells freedom and release
Today the gospel crosses every border
All tongues are loosened by the Prince of Peace
Today the lost are found in His translation.
Whose mother-tongue is Love, in every nation.
Michael McCabe SMA
To listen to an alternative Homily for this Sunday, from Fr Tom Casey of the SMA Media Centre, Ndola, Zambia please click on the play button below.