Sunday, 15 May 2016

PENTECOST

Readings: Acts 2:1-11; Psalm 104; 1 Corinthians 12:3b-7,12-13 / Romans 8:8-17; John 20:19-23 / John 14:15-16,23b-26

The Spirit is about speech as we see from today's first reading. The disciples receive the gift of speech, each person present hears them speaking in his own language, telling the mighty works of God. In the Old Testament the Spirit came, or even fell, on the prophets giving them speech, making them to say things in the name of the Lord. In the Creed it is one of the first things we say about the Holy Spirit: 'he has spoken through the prophets'. Jesus teaches us that we are not to worry about what we are to say if we are dragged before tribunals for our faith because the Spirit will give us words and tells us what it is we ought to say.

The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of words but is also the Spirit of the Word, the Spirit of Jesus. Jesus is the Spirit-filled or anointed one, the Messiah, 'the breath of our life' (Lamentations 4:20). Jesus is the Word that breathes Love, words needing breath if they are to live and breath needing words if it is to have form and meaning.

The Spirit is also about depth. The Spirit is radical. Paul tells us that the spirit searches the depths of everything, the spirit of a human being searching the depths of that human being, the Spirit of God searching the depths of God. In Psalm 18 we read that 'the foundations of the world were laid bare at the blast of the breath of your nostrils'. We would like - or would we? - for the Spirit to lay bare for us the foundations of our world, the depths of ourselves. In fact it is the ministry entrusted to the apostles by Jesus when he breathed the Spirit on them and said 'whose sins you forgive are forgiven, whose sins you retain are retained'. What is more intimate, or deeper, in a person than his or her sins? But the Spirit reaches there, to bring to light and to heal.

It is from within, Jesus says, from the heart and soul of a person, that words originate. They are conceived in our desires, born as motivations and plans, come to birth in our intentions and our actions. This is the spirit of a human being, his intellectual and free nature, the originating place within where there are thoughts for which we have not yet found the words, words that have not yet been expressed in actions or omissions. And what lies deeper than thoughts? When we do not know how to pray as we ought - do not have access to our thoughts and desires - then the Spirit himself prays in us and for us, with sighs too deep for words.

We are given the Spirit to drink. Plunged into the depths of the baptismal font, we are immersed in the Spirit. We absorb Him into ourselves, drinking Him in, but we are also absorbed by the Spirit, enfolded in the fire of His love which has been poured into our hearts.

The Spirit is about speech, and is about depth. And the Spirit also builds a new community. Communities are established through language. It is because we are linguistic animals that we are political animals, Aristotle says. Thomas Aquinas summarises it: 'communicatio facit civitatem', communication builds the city. There is unity and reconciliation where people can find a formula on which they agree, find a form of words to sign together, an agreed statement, a treaty, words to which all can be committed. The Spirit works in human beings to articulate laws to structure a society, to protect justice and the rights of each one who is part of it. The disunity of Babel, the anarchy and chaos that ensue from the multiplication of languages, is undone by the unity of Pentecost. The gift of speech sounds the depths of human need and articulates the heights of human destiny. The gift of speech binds into one the diverse peoples of the earth.

At Pentecost we celebrate the birth of a new community that is centred on the Word that breathes Love, that lives by the new law which is the Holy Spirit dwelling in human hearts, and that is apostolic and missionary, sent to evangelize as Jesus was sent by the Father to show the world the extent to which it is loved by God.

You will find other homilies for Pentecost Sunday here and here.

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