Pentecost Homily - Enthusiasm, Diversity, Mission & Common Humanity

8 June 2019 | General Interest


Enthusiasm, Diversity, Mission & Common Humanity

Jn 14.15-26  AA 2.1-11  1Cor 12.3-13

Although the Spirit arrived a few weeks early last week, for our Year 6 Confirmation candidates, we formally celebrate the feast this weekend!! It’s not as if there is one magical moment which transforms everyone and everything, as it’s an evolving process through a life of faith, with the joy and hope of the Spirit compounded by the darkness and confusion of doubt and even despair, if we look at where Jesus is headed following this lengthy farewell discourse, commencing in concrete terms with the washing of the feet as the example and call to his followers to ongoing service.

Whilst Pentecost is described as a turning point in the Christian Tradition (also titled ‘Birthday of the Church’), there is a continuum here as we move into life in the early Church. The Pentecost experience is also said to be based on a Jewish agrarian pilgrimage festival of thanksgiving. And so, the early Christian event moves on from this, to give thanks and to reflect the inspiring presence of the Spirit, empowering those who respond in faith, word and action.

In Acts of the Apostles, Luke uses the forceful imagery of the elements of wind and fire to convey the power of the Spirit, now bringing enthusiasm (derived from the Greek meaning possessed by God within, or inspired) and enlightenment to those who believe. The wonderful unity in diversity of humanity is reflected in the many countries, regions, ethnic groups and languages described by Luke, all together in experiencing the influence of the Spirit. Doesn’t this remind us of the fundamental wrongs and evils of sectarianism, nationalism and ethnic divisions, which today so often characterize our divided world, rather than reflecting the call of the Spirit to recognize and rejoice in our common humanity and diversity, to be inclusive rather than exclusive, the latter the antithesis of the Gospel?

Nor is this a new Spirit, as we think of the Spirit of God hovering in the darkness and over the waters of chaos in Genesis, from which life emerges as the complex order of Creation evolves, working against the Second Law of Thermodynamics, that entropy, or disorder, always increases. (Although, life for all of us can feel a bit like that at times!)

Then we have Paul’s classic account of the different gifts of the Spirit we all bring, in order to constitute the reality of a living Church, based on Jesus’ teaching and ongoing presence through his Spirit. The gift of tongues is not key to me, as I’ve never quite understood the purpose of incomprehensibility, but it does echo the Pentecost experience of universality, and so Catholicity.

The lengthy chapter 14 of John’s Gospel, excerpts of which we hear from today, depicts a real mixture of the expressions of natural human emotions and thoughts of fear, anxiety and doubt, as Honest (aka pejoratively Doubting) Thomas asks the obvious question the others must be thinking, of how they are to know where Jesus is going, as he responds that he is the Way, the Truth and the Life. What does this mean to them at the time? They have generally faithfully followed him thus far, but where to next?

Jesus has set the pattern throughout his public life and ministry, in word and action, and now comes to the point where he commissions his followers, starting with the apostles, to continue that mission, but with the guarantee of not being left alone. It’s not a task to be taken on board solo, but together in community, but then to go out. The overarching tone is of continuity, not failure and fear, despite the ominous scenario facing them all, with Jesus about to enter the darkness on the way to betrayal and ultimate condemnation, rejection and death by the Temple Police of his day, a travesty of justice, disaster and tragedy in human terms!

Yet he promises the Spirit, as Advocate, to continue to guide and enlighten the minds of those who are believers. He speaks of the positive gifts of peace and joy, which will come, but also reminding them of the reality of future misunderstanding and persecution in times to come.

Of course, there is the need for ongoing repentance in our weakness, necessitating forgiveness and compassion for others, as well as ourselves. In John’s Gospel, the Risen Jesus appears in the closed room with the greeting of peace to the fearful disciples, and then breathing the Spirit upon them with the call to forgiveness and the associated power to forgive in his name.

Jesus’ words of encouragement are not to let our hearts be troubled or afraid, which certainly sounds easier than the reality we experience, but we often are troubled or afraid or both, and will continue to be. The words are often enough used at funerals, but that’s not to deny the grief, sorrow and sense of loss either, at the death of a loved one, whose presence has made such an impact on the lives of others, in particular, loving family and friends. And then there’s the reassurance of and the call to faith, behind it all, sustained by happy memories.

Christian initiation in our Catholic tradition is also an evolving process, from Baptism. In talking to our Year 6 after being confirmed, and Year 4 students, now preparing for First Eucharist, over the last few weeks, I used a simple story “The Three Questions”, based on one of the deeply Christian Russian author, Leo Tolstoy’s 1885 parable, titled “What Men Live By”, adapted by Jon Muth in 2005. The themes of wisdom, knowledge, awareness, kindness and acceptance emerge, as young Nikolai reflects with his friends the heron, monkey and dog, on the fundamental issues of: “When is the best time to act? Who is the most important person? What is the most important thing to do?” In responding to the needs of those he encounters, he answers his questions without even realizing it, until enlightened by Leo, the wise old Turtle.

Nikolai learns, as he went along responding to the needs of those around him, that the most important time is now, the most important person is the one by your side (and beyond), and the most important thing to do is to help and do good for the one you are with (and beyond). This is a simple conclusion, but practical and pastoral, according to Gospel norms, guided by the Spirit. And so for all of us!! As Leo the Turtle sums up: “That is why we are here.”

Winter Solstice only 13 days off, as the days get shorter, and then longer!! 

john hannon                                    8th  June 2019


To read more of  John's Homilies click here