Solemnity of Pentecost
[Scripture Readings: Acts 2:1-11; 1 Cor 12:3b-7, 12-13; Jn 20:19-23]
The first Christian Pentecost was nearly 2,000 years ago. That's a long time and though the Spirit abides in the Church and the world always, always young and never old, the Holy Spirit is usually overlooked, even by Christians, like the gasp of a dying man unrecognized and forgotten, and the Church itself sometimes appears to be that dying man.
Today is not only Pentecost for Christians. Today is also the Jewish holiday Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks. Israel celebrates the 50th day after the Passover as the feast of Sinai, the feast of the Covenant. For Saint Luke and the early church, then, most of whom were devout Jews, the event of Pentecost represented a new Sinai, the gift of a new Covenant in which the Covenant with Israel was extended to all the peoples of the earth, in which all the barriers fall from the old Law, and its heart is shown to be love that the Holy Spirit itself communicates and spreads, a love that embraces all things. At the same time the Law is expanded, it is opened, and it becomes simpler: it is the New Covenant that the Spirit "writes" in the hearts of all who believe in Christ. The extension of the Covenant to all the peoples of the earth is represented by Saint Luke with that very long list of the peoples of the Levant. With this list of nations and cultures and languages, we are told something most important: that the Church was catholic from the very outset, that her universality is not the result of the later inclusion of various communities. From the first moment the Holy Spirit created her as the Church of all peoples; the church's mission is to embrace the whole world, surmount all distinctions of race, class, and nation; tear down all barriers, and bring people together in the profession of the triune God. Since the beginning the Church has been one, catholic and apostolic: this is her true nature. She is not holy because of her members' ability but because God himself, with his Spirit, never ceases to create her, purify her, and sanctify her.
In our responsorial Psalm we sang, "Send forth your Spirit, O Lord, and renew of the face of the earth." We are reminded of Jesus' commission to his disciples that we heard last Sunday, the Solemnity of the Ascension: "Go out to the whole world and proclaim the Good News to every creature." Just as the man Jesus is the incarnation of the Son of God, we can say that the proclamation of the Gospel is the inverbalization of the Holy Spirit: the preaching of the Good News is the Holy Spirit made word. It is the word, in open and truthful conversation, that has the power to convert minds and hearts and to renew the face of the earth.
In our second reading Saint Paul in his typical ironic way contrasts mute idols with the eloquent Spirit of God who alone causes us to say, "Jesus is Lord." In our first reading, the Spirit, at first a deafening noise, quickly becomes eloquence, plain human language understandable to all, provoking the excitement and wonder and hope that everything new and good and true provokes among people disappointed and discouraged by the promises and platitudes of agenda-driven propaganda. At the same time Jesus breathes the Spirit upon his disciples, he sends them out bearing his message of Peace and his word of forgiveness. Peace and forgiveness are spirit-bearing words, the Gospel condensed to its simplest terms. Peace and forgiveness constitute the mission of the Church today, the mission of every Christian, of every Catholic, who each day wherever she is awakens in mission territory. To perform the works of peace and to ask for and grant forgiveness, is the proclamation of the Gospel today, it is saying in other words, "Jesus is Lord"; in the form of forgiveness and peace, the proclamation of the Gospel easily overcomes barriers of culture and language, orientation and prejudice.
"We woke up today to a new Ireland." That is what someone said at the overwhelming success of the same-sex marriage referendum in that country yesterday. But that is language describing to the work of the Spirit: "renewing the face of the earth." "That 'Yes' is heard loudly across the world," said the prime minister, but that is the language of Pentecost, when "they were all astounded each hearing them in his own native tongue." "It is a revolution," said the Catholic archbishop of Dublin about the outcome of the vote, but that is what Pentecost was experienced as, as the early Church spread from Palestine into all the known world proclaiming the revolutionary and subversive slogan, "Jesus is Lord." "It's very clear," the Archbishop continues, "that if this referendum is an affirmation of the views of young people, then the Church has a huge task ahead of it. The Church needs to do a reality check."
The reality is in our tradition itself, in the spiritual words of scripture: "It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life," a word of Jesus echoed by Paul, who knew that Christians are "those who live according to the spirit," and whose "concern is life and peace." The recurring feast of Pentecost is the recurring recall of the Church to its spiritual center, the recall of each Christian to the revolution that has taken place in our own hearts: God's Yes to us through his love poured into our hearts, the Spirit of his son crying within us, Abba, Father.
The Spirit, like the wind, "blows where it wills,
you can hear the sound it makes,
but you do not know where it comes from
or where it goes."
It is the spirit that gives life,
even to a sleeping Church,
awakening it to its true heart and mission,
peace and forgiveness through humble and open conversation
with those who are different or even hostile.
Dialogue and conversation is the right form of proclamation
in today's world.
Christians, and the Church as a whole, have nothing to fear:
We are not holy because of our ability
but because God himself, with God's Spirit,
never ceases to create us, purify, and sanctify us.
Solemnity of Pentecost
[Scripture Readings: Acts 2:1-11; 1 Cor 12:3b-7, 12-13; Jn 20:19-33]
Our community here at New Melleray is engaged in the process of drawing up a house report for the General Chapter to be held next October. This is a one page report that each Cistercian monastery is required to send to our Generalate in Rome every three years. These reports are then read when all the superiors assemble for a general meeting. The report is meant to describe the present situation of the community and we are told in drawing up the report to remain grounded in the concrete lived experience of the community and avoid more abstract reflections.
I take this to mean to begin with the facts. Hw many monks, average age, how many in formation, the state of the economy etc. But is that all? Anyone’s life is made up of much more than a bunch of facts.
Let’s broaden the question a bit and apply it to your own life. What if you had to draw up a one page report on your life. What would you say? What is your lived experience? What is your truth?
Today we are celebrating the feast of Pentecost. Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Truth, “…whom the world can never accept since it neither sees nor knows him, but you know him because he is with you, he is in you,”
Each of us can describe our lived experience beginning with the accidentals and going on to the essentials. The accidentals of our lifeour skin color, our age, our state of health; these are important but there is so much moreour attitude, our beliefs, our values, our motivations, our passion for life, our dedication, our identity as a person, our desires and dreams. All these we can observe and express. But what about our truth? The Spirit of Truth that is with us and in us. Has your own truth met the Spirit of Truth?
In this life we have no direct knowledge of God. We can reason back from how we act to find God. We are told that such a simple thing as giving a cup of cold water to someone in need is inspired in us by God; that we cannot even say “Jesus is Lord” without that utterance coming from us through the movement of the Holy Spirit within us. Any good we do comes from the source of goodness within us. Reason back from your good actions to your thoughts to the source of your thoughts to the inspiration of your good thoughts and you will meet the Spirit of Truth.
In drawing up your own house report you will, no doubt, notice that more space is taken describing what happens to you rather that what you make happen. “Myself is given to me far more that it is formed by me,”. So much of life is out of our control. We cannot control if someone loves us or doesn’t love us; we cannot control even our own state of mind, or the health of our body. Things happen to us that are hard to accept. The ebb and flow of our life can seem so impersonal. Yet our faith teaches that for those who love God everything works together for our good. Divine Providence not happenstance directs our life. Everything about us is guided by the Spirit of Truth. We may be blind to it now but someday it will be revealed to us how the Spirit was with us and in us as we journeyed through life. Right now we see with the eyes of faithfaith will someday give way to vision.
The day St. Benedict died two of his monks received a revelation. “They both saw a magnificent road covered with rich carpeting and glittering with thousands of lights. From the monastery it stretched eastward in a straight line until it reached up into heaven. And there in the brightness stood a man of majestic appearance who asked them, ‘Do you know who passed this way?’ ‘No,’ they replied. ‘This,’ he told them, ‘is the road taken by blessed Benedict when he went to heaven,'”.
When Benedict walked that road it did not shine with brilliant lights. It was just an ordinary road that we all must travel. It was only after he died that he saw how beautiful it really was. We are traveling that same road and the Spirit of Truth who is with us and in us is guiding and lighting our way. We are not alone.