Pentecost Sunday - Homily 2

Homily 2 - 2009

In today's First Reading, Luke connected the coming of the Spirit with Pentecost. In the Gospel, John connected it with Easter.

We can resolve the difference if we view each of them as we would an icon (a theology lesson in shapes and colours), rather than as a photographic record.

The Gospel conveyed wonderfully the Beloved Disciple's sense of the appearance and impact of the risen Jesus on the lives of the disciples.

Graphically, he described the risen Jesus breathing on them, just as the creating God, at the dawn of creation, had breathed into the clay of the earth the breath of life. We're dealing with the re-creation, re-fashioning, re-newal of humanity.

To make the point even more clearly, the Gospel put it in words. Jesus said: Receive the Holy Spirit - the Spirit that the Gospel had earlier described as the personalisation of the love of Father for Son, and of Son for Father.

And to clarify even further the wonderfully liberating impact of that Spirit of God on unredeemed humanity, he went on to add: Whose sins you forgive, are forgiven; whose sins you retain are retained.

The role of the Spirit is to make real Christ's overcoming of the world's sin.

It is instructive to observe how St Paul, in today's Second Reading, summed up the difference that the Spirit can make to our world.

Firstly, he described unredeemed humanity under fifteen headings. (We know what he was talking about only too well! not only “out there” but also still lingering on in ourselves)

He first named fornication, indecency and sexual irresponsibility. They were rife in Paul's world! Essentially, they can express the human need to possess, to exploit, to homogenise, and to relate to persons as things. They can be the responses of people unable truly to engage as persons, fearful to love, or to relate to others respecting their uniqueness and difference.

Paul then mentioned idolatry and sorcery - idolatry of the “small g” gods that saturate our culture - our unrecognised addictions to the myriad “must haves”, both as individuals and as societies: the national interest, the market, jobs above all else. And sorcery – the compulsive need to control the future, to “must know” - the fear of trusting.

Paul extended his list by describing what happens when people cannot relate as persons, when they cannot control their fears and their desires. His list is long: feuds and wrangling, jealousy, bad temper and quarrels, disagreements, factions, envy.

And finally, he listed drunkenness and orgies (perhaps he could have added “recreational drugs”) that so often seem to be society's way to avoid, to cover up and to distract from, the emptiness and the meaninglessness of life.

If that, to some extent, sums up the sin of the world, how on earth are disciples to engage with it?

We'll get back the Gospel.

Before commissioning them – us – to meet the world's sin, Jesus breathed into them – into us – the Spirit: the divine energy of love.

There is only one way to face the world's sin - (both out there, and within ourselves), and that is to love the world, to love people, to love, even, as Jesus said, our enemies.


Perhaps, it might just be better to cut our losses and to rely on America - its formidable armaments, and its hundreds of nuclear warheads - and to stay on top.

Personally, I prefer the experience of what Paul listed as what we can expect when we are led by the Spirit of Jesus: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self-control. Without them, it's just business as usual, and business as usual has been going for too many centuries.

Are we Catholics particularly good at loving? Are we known for it in the broader community? It hasn't always been because we have not tried. Some of us have tried really hard to love. But we don't consistently succeed - and I think it is because we start at the wrong place.

We lack the energy, the ability, to stick at it consistently, because we have not firstly plugged into the love energy abroad in the world - the love of God, the Spirit of God.

Jesus said first: Receive the Holy Spirit. Until we receive it - are fascinated by it, bewildered by it, bowled over by it, we're powerless.

God's love, God's Spirit, needs to flood our lives: all that stuff that we carry from our past, and that we reckon we have already dealt with. It has to be soaked in God's love, God's Spirit. Then, we can begin to love - it flows out of us.

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and kindle in us the fire of your love.