HOMILY PENTECOST SUNDAY YEAR A 2023 ESSENDON
PEACE AND MISSION
Jn 20.19-23 AA 2.1-13 1Cor 12.3-7, 12-13
As 2023 races by, now near the end of May, we come again to Pentecost, the traditional feast for the arrival of the Holy Spirit, but is it as straightforward as that? Luke takes 50 days from the Resurrection, Matthew is not so specific, and John has it all happening on the same day, as in today’s Gospel.
In fact, for John, theologically, the Spirit was present, overshadowing all from the start, with the Word as God there in the darkness over the waters, from which Creation evolved and light and life emerged as we know it, however long it all took. It’s a sobering thought to reflect on the shortness of our own lifetimes, compared to the bigger picture of space and time in the universe!
At the same time, we have reached a critical point for the apostles and associated disciples, where Jesus is about to depart from them in physical reality, and promises the Spirit will guide them on in the mission he gives them to continue to proclaim, preach and live his Gospel as Good News in a complicated and unpredictable world, where the fruits of the Spirit are to be produced.
Whilst we celebrated the sacrament of Confirmation last week with our grade 6 students, it is not as if a magical moment occurred for them where all things became clearer and simpler. I recall my own Confirmation in 1962, when I experienced some disappointment at not being more enlightened after the event. There was the old slap or tap on the face from the bishop, which Sister Paula told us was a reminder of the challenges of facing up to the temptations and evils of the world out there, but it was all a bit overstated, with a bit of fear included in the message, particularly when it came to ‘Fear of the Lord’, preferably described as ‘awe’ and ‘reverence’ at the mystery of God these days.
The 7 gifts of the Spirit were well taught by rote (who remembers?), as ‘wisdom, understanding, counsel, knowledge, fortitude, piety’, culminating in ‘fear of the Lord’, but in reality, their meaning was confusing to me, as I felt none the wiser afterwards! Eventually, I realized it was all about continuing to keep trying to be a good and faithful follower of Jesus, but as a matter of free will choices, and not automatic pilot booster on the part of the Holy Spirit!
These days, I much prefer to talk about the more concrete realities, described by St Paul in Galatians as the fruits of the Spirit (colourfully portrayed in circles around Christ the Good Shepherd in the circular stained glass window of Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin ): ‘Love, peace, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control’, as these qualities, simple as they sound, represent the way in which we are called to reflect the effects of God’s Spirit on the way we live our lives day to day, in the midst of the often mundane routine we face. I have the first two – love and peace – depicted on my stole, surrounded by a heart, symbolic of the source of love in all its dimensions in our lives, and at the heart of Jesus’ message. No-one can deny it would be a far better world, if these virtues were lived out.
Peace directly flows from the heart of love, where we apply that love to the way we relate and reach out to others. Then it’s not to hard to see how there is a certain satisfaction and joy that comes from sharing the love and peace, with kindness, goodness, bringing out the best in ourselves and others, with fidelity to Jesus’ message, and facing up to our own demons and weaknesses, with self-control a constant decision we have to make, and where, if we’re honest, often enough we fall short or fail.
The good news is, however, that forgiveness is always there, as Jesus symbolically breathes the Spirit onto and into them, as they gather, first in fear, apprehension and uncertainty, then coming to a new found faith that he is truly risen and giving them the confidence and enthusiasm to get out there and spread the Spirit of Good News to a needy world, as it remains today!
So, Pentecost is not just a quaint historical story about Jesus saying goodbye from the launchpad, then leaving his followers adrift to fend for themselves, but where his gift of the Spirit is life-giving and energising for continuing his mission and forming growing Christian communities. Certainly, here are simple beginnings, with endless challenges ahead, for perseverance through opposition, misunderstanding, hostility and resistance to change.
Nevertheless, the game is on, and authority to proclaim and forgive is given from here. This isn’t to say there aren’t going to be moments of doubt and uncertainty, because that’s life and reflective of human nature. It’s Honest, not Doubting, Thomas who turns up after today’s event in John’s Gospel (as we’ve heard earlier), and it takes a personal physical encounter with Jesus for him to come to faith, along with the others, but he gets there in the end, and heads out, perhaps even further than the others, if the legends are true (that he got all the way to India)!
So how do we live out the call of the Spirit to produce the good fruits of faith, lived out in our own lives?
john hannon 28th May 2023
To quote again the insights of my friend Claude Mostowik MSC: “Jesus coming to the disciples and showing his wounds hardly looks like Pentecost. What a spoiler! There is no rush of a violent wind, no tongues of fire, speaking in other languages, and no-one intoxicated by the Spirit, except for a story about locked doors, fear, peace, a shared breath, being sent. What does Jesus want us to see? I think that the open wounds hold the obscenity of pain in our world. These wounds are the ones we have received and the ones we have inflicted on others. In Acts, the disciples, after encountering Jesus over a period of 40 days, spending 10 days in prayer, the Spirit of God shook them out of all inertia, prompting them to assume the work they are meant for. ‘Christ comes to us and does not conceal his wounds, but displays them in order to give us the courage to remove our armour, our masks and our makeup, and look not only at the wounds and scars that we conceal beneath them from others and often from ourselves, but also the wounds we have inflicted on others.’ (Tomas Halik, Touch the Wounds: On Suffering, Trust and Transformation.)”
Stained glass window at Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin, depicting the Fruit of the Holy Spirit along with role models representing them, i.e. the Good Shepherd representing love, an angel holding a scroll of Gloria in excelsis Deo representing joy and Jesus Christ, Job representing longsuffering, Jonathan faith, Ruth gentleness and goodness, Moses meekness, and John the Baptist temperance. Executed by Hardman & Co. in the 1870s.
By Andreas F. Borchert, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24579501