[Feast of Pentecost. ADDU Live-streamed Mass, May 31, 2020]
Today’s solemnity recalls the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles. It is described graphically in our First Reading from the Acts of the Apostles. “They were all in one place together. And suddenly there came from a sky a noise like a driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then, there appeared to them tongues as of fire and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim” (Acts 2: 2-4)
The Birth of the Church
This was the birth of the Church. The fire of the Holy Spirit filled them. Then they began to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ.
The powerful wind and the tongues of fire were, I think, outward signs of an interior event. An interior filling up to fullness. An interior gathering of a multiplicity and diversity of believers into a shared oneness. This was the birthing of the Church, the com-unity, the coming into oneness of the disciples of Jesus. It began as an interior fullness of the Spirit that could not remain interior, but in its fullness burst into outward sharing, into outward proclamation. That birthing of the Church is not a past event, finished and completed. But it is an ongoing intervention of God’s Spirit into our lives and our history, enkindling the fire of divine love, reminding people of the Father’s Love we experienced in Jesus Christ, Love that shines in the Light of the Father’s Face, Love that conquers death to bring Life, Life that transforms us and renews the face of the earth.
The fire of divine Love, the Father’s Love, the Light in the Father’s Face of compassion, the Love that conquers death to bring Life, the Life that transforms and renews, this is all Spirit. This is so rich, all the images flash and pale in the truth of the Spirit. We recall the powerful images used by the Prophet Ezekiel: “The Lord made me walk in a field filled with dry bones in every direction… How dry they were! The Lord said, ‘son of man, can these dead bones come to life?’ …Then he said to me, “Prophecy over these dry bones: [Say to the dry bones:] See I will bring spirit into you, that you may come to life!” (cf Ezek 37:1-6). As the dead bones and dead flesh started coming together, the Lord said, “Prophecy, O son of man and say to the spirit: Thus says the Lord God, from the four winds, come, O spirit, and breath into this slain that they may come to life…” (Ezek 37:9). Later he says to the dead in their graves, “I will put my spirit in you that you may have life…” (cf. Ex 37:11-14). On Pentecost, from the four winds, the Spirit comes to bring life, not the life the brings people inevitably to their graves, but the New Life won in the Resurrection that brings dead bones from graves to Life Eternal.
The Holy Spirit is Within
Spirit is spirit. It is interiority. It is within. It is the interiority of God. It is not easy to use images to speak of the interiority of divine Love before all creation, to speak of divine love turned to all of us, but before all of us, truly to each one of us individually and intimately, to speak of divine Love touching us, transforming us from dead bones into women and men alive only in God, in love with God, in love with those whom God loves, into women and men – as the Spirit of God is – for others. But that is what the Holy Spirit is. It is in the driving wind, in the quaking earth, and in the burning fire. But it is also the gentle breeze within (Cf. 1 Kings 19:10-13).
Here, I would like to suggest an image that we contemplated in this Easter Season: Spirit is our home within. When we come home, we come not to a physical house, no matter how simple, no matter how ornate, but to a special space of enduring welcome, of love and of ease in love. The difference between a house and a home is spirit. It’s the spirit of love within the home, love that creates the life of the family, the caring for each, the joy of welcome, the pain in goodbyes, even the pain in the quarrels and the differences, but the determination to overcome all in love. The spirit of a person is shaped or deformed by home. With this experience, when I say I am at home with myself, that too is spirit. It means I accept myself with all my strengths and weaknesses, my possibilities, and projects, just as I have experienced my mother, my brothers and sisters, my loved ones have accepted me at home.
The Spirit is within. In John’s Gospel Jesus says, “If you love me, keep my commandments, and I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Helper, that he may live within you forever – the Spirit of Truth whom the world cannot receive.” (Jn 14: 17a). Jesus further says: “If anyone loves me he will keep my word. My Father will love him and we will come to make our home with him. (Jn 14:23). I am always moved when I think of this, and always convinced I have not yet begun to fathom its meaning. The Spirit lives within us. The Father and the Son make their home within us. And of the Spirit, Jesus says, “He will guide us to all truth” (Jn 16:13). He will tell us all he has heard from the Son. The Spirit leads us to understand this incredible relationship with the Father within whose Spirit it was to love us from before the creation of the world and to express his love in the Son redeeming us from our sin and from within lifting us up to the Father.
When the Spirit is sent and received – today Jesus says, “Receive the Holy Spirit!” (Jn 20:22) – the Spirit is being at home with the Father, the Son, and the Spirit making their home with us within. The Spirit is being at home with the God within whose glory it is to stoop down to wash the feet of his disciples, to wash your feet, and not to consider being God something to be grasped at, but empties himself in obedience to the Father’s love that we may be lifted up, and come home to our God and Creator.
It is from being at home with the glory of God within that the Spirit gives us the gift of wisdom, always to be sensitive to the divine from our hearth within, the gift of understanding, always to understand things from their supernatural purpose, the gift of knowledge, always to see things from the perspective of God, and the gift of fear of the Lord, that is, the gift of wonder and awe at the glory and majesty of God.
The Holy Spirit is Outwardly Manifest
And if the Spirit is truly within, as the Father and the Son are at home within, it cannot help but manifest itself exteriorly, in sharing, in action, in good deeds. On the first Pentecost, when the disciples were filled with the Spirit within, they began to speak in tongues, needing to preach and share of the fullness within. Under the guidance of the Spirit they would now bring the Good News to others, in bending down to wash the feet of others, in loving others perfectly as Father loved us perfectly, in readiness to sacrifice themselves for others as the Lord sacrificed himself for us all, and even in enduring persecution. Jesus predicted rejection and tribulation: “If they have persecuted me, so will they persecute you. You will be scattered. But courage! I have conquered the world,” he said. From the fullness of light within needing to engage the darkness and ambiguity of the world, the Spirit gives the gift of counsel, prompt and right judgment in difficult situations, the gift of fortitude, courage, and endurance in standing for what is right in the sight of God, and the gift of piety, the total reliance on God that keeps us resolute in whatever we must do.
This year, in celebrating the Paschal Mystery and especially the mystery of the Resurrection, because of the coronavirus pandemic we have worked from home. Pentecost gives us a new meaning of working from home within. The Father, Son, and the Spirit at home within breathe new life into our dead bones, lift up our drooping spirits, remind us of how much we are loved individually, and as his community of believers despite all our foibles and all adversity unto eternal life. At home with God within, we receive the Spirit’s gifts that renew the face of the earth.