June 8, 2014

Homily for Pentecost, 2014, Year A

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Director, La Salette Shrine
Enfield, NH

Has it ever struck you as strange that the disciples were gathered “when the time for Pentecost was fulfilled,” i.e., on a Christian feast,? There couldn’t have been any Christian feasts yet, so soon after the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus. The explanation is simple. The feast we celebrate today already existed long before the time of Jesus. It was not unlike our Thanksgiving, a harvest celebration, celebrated fifty days (seven weeks) after Passover. In the Old Testament it is called the Feast of Weeks.

Be that as it may, for us Pentecost means only one thing: the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, the Spirit of the Lord.

The Spirit’s first appearance in the Bible is in the second verse of the the first book: “The earth was formless and void... and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” The Spirit’s last appearance in the Bible is in Revelation 22:17, “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come!’” The Bible ends four verses later. In between those two, there are dozens and dozens more. So we can safely say that the Spirit is really important.

In today’s first reading the Spirit is manifested in tongues—in two senses of the word: tongues of fire, referring to a tongue-like shape, and “tongues,” meaning languages. The Apostles apparently learned new languages instantaneously, without boring grammar drills and vocabulary lists. (This is not to be confused with the charismatic gift of speaking in tongues. But that’s another homily.)

Believe it or not, that original gift of languages still exists today, but in a less spectacular form. Where? In the Church, which proclaims the Gospel in every language!

So… what else does the Holy Spirit do exactly, besides giving language? Well, let’s see. In the Creed we read that he “has spoken through the prophets,” that, in other words, he took possession of them, much as we read in the Acts of the Apostles, “enabling” them to proclaim God’s word.

In the Creed the Spirit is also called “Giver of life,” the One who stirs everything to life. We see this in a broad sense in the sacraments. At Mass, just before the Consecration, the priest extends his hands over the bread and wine and asks the Father to send the Holy Spirit upon them, so that they will become the Body and Blood of Christ. The same “imposition of hands” and calling down the Spirit occurs at Ordination and at Confirmation. In the Anointing of the Sick, the gesture stands on its own, wordlessly invoking the Spirit to descend with gifts of hope, patience, courage, acceptance.

Today’s Gospel associates the Spirit with the Sacrament of reconciliation. “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them.”

The second reading goes beyond the Sacraments to many manifestations of the Spirit, described as different… different… different. It appears that there is nothing the Spirit can’t do, while remaining unpredictable. As we read elsewhere in St. John’s Gospel: “The wind (exactly the same word as Spirit) blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.”

So many “different” gifts are attributed to the Spirit, that we might be tempted to ask, “What does God really want?” Words or silence? Action or contemplation? Does he want one thing today and something else tomorrow, one thing here and something else in another place? And especially, who does he give the gifts to?

Well, to you, of course! Whether you realize it or not, you have a gift of the Spirit, and probably more than one. You and I can bear the “fruits of the Spirit” listed in Galatians 5: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control,” because the Spirit penetrates the very fiber of our being. The Spirit is the great enabler!

We don’t get to pick and choose the gifts we want, but we can discover over time what gifts we have received. After that we do get to choose if, when and how we will use them in the Church and the world or, as St. Paul writes, “for some benefit.”

The gifts of the Spirit are given in proportion to our willingness to receive them, which invites the question: Do I really want them?

And they are given in proportion to our desire to deserve them, which invites a second question: Am I really ready to live in the Spirit?

The answer is by no means automatic.

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