Pentecost, Year B. Acts 2:1-11. Gal. 5:16-25.
AIM: To help the hearers grasp the meaning of the Pentecost event for our lives.
One bright Sunday morning Jason decided that he would sleep in. His mother was indignant. So she did what mothers do best. Storming into his bedroom, she said: “Jason, it’s Sunday. Time to get up! Time to go to church!”
“I don’t want to go,” Jason mumbled from under the covers.
“What do you mean you don’t want to go?” his mother retorted. “You can’t stay home. Now get up and get dressed.”
Roused now from his slumber, Jason sat up and said: “I’m not going. And I’ll give you two reasons why. First, I don’t like the people at church. And second, they don’t like me.”
“That’s ridiculous,” his mother replied. “I’ll give you two reasons why you’ve got to go. First, you’re forty years old. And second, you’re the Pastor.”
Jason was not too different from Jesus’ apostles after the Ascension. “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature,” Jesus told them on that occasion. (Mark 16:15). Those were the opening words of last Sunday’s gospel. Once Jesus left, however, they found that they had little appetite for proclaiming the gospel even in Jerusalem, let alone to the whole world. They knew their fellow Jews didn’t like them. And many of them didn’t like the apostles’ message either. Like Jason, the apostles preferred to remain in their beds, under the covers, rather than getting up and facing a hostile society.
Aren’t we often like that? We go to church quietly. We receive Jesus into our hearts quietly, listening to his holy Word and receiving his body and blood in Communion. We go home quietly to say our morning and evening prayers quietly. Here’s someone who confesses lying. Asked about the lie, the person says: “When I was leaving to come here, a friend asked where I was going. I was embarrassed to say I was going to confession. So I said I was going to the mall.” No big deal, you say? What do you suppose Jesus would say about that lie? Well, here is what he actually did say: “Whoever will acknowledge me before men, I will acknowledge him before my Father in heaven; and whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven” (Mt. 10:32; cf. Lk. 12:8).
Many of us have a me-and-God religion. Jesus asks for more. Jesus wants us to be his witnesses in an often hostile world. That’s difficult — and scary. If we’re too open, and too public about our faith, people may turn their backs on us. They may call us out of touch, old fashioned, hopelessly unrealistic. They say that about us already when we call abortion not the liberation of women, but a terrible exploitation of women by selfish, irresponsible men. And that is just the beginning of society’s hostility to those who try to witness to the message and truth of Jesus Christ. Like Jason, we’d rather stay home. They don’t like us, and we don’t like them.
Fortunately, Jason had a mother who woke him and sent him out to do what he had been commissioned to do when he was ordained: to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. The one who did that for Jesus’ frightened and reluctant apostles was the Holy Spirit. He came to them on this day with “a noise like a strong driving wind,” and in “tongues as of fire.” That fire warmed their cold hearts. That wind gave them courage to speak in different languages the message Jesus had entrusted to them — a preview of his Church’s work down through history.
Friends, that wind is still blowing. That fire is still burning. That we are Catholic Christians in a continent undreamed of by anyone in Jerusalem on the first Pentecost is proof that the fire kindled then was not lit in vain. “I have come to set fire to the earth,” Jesus says, “and how I wish it were already kindled” (Lk 12:49). It is our task to pass on the flame to others, so that they may catch a spark from the fire of God’s love burning within us. Christianity, it has been said, cannot be taught. It must caught.
As fire burns it gives light. We are called to be prisms or lenses of God’s light, so that it may shine in a dark world. The inner quality of our lives is determining, right now, the brightness, or the darkness, of that part of the world in which God’s providence has placed us. St. Paul tells us what this means in characteristically memorable words. “Work out your own salvation in fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you, inspiring both the will and the deed, for his chosen purpose. Do all you have to do without complaining or wrangling. Show yourselves guileless and above reproach, faultless children of God in a warped and crooked generation, in which you shine like stars in a dark world, and proffer the word of life.” (Phil. 2:12-16)
What is the message we have to proclaim? It is very simple, really. We are to proclaim, by the quality of our lives, and by words if necessary, that God is — that he is real. That he is a God of love, who loves each one of us as if, in the whole universe, there were only one person to love; and that he looks for our loving response to his love. We are called to be witnesses to the existence of a world beyond this one: the unseen, spiritual but utterly real world of God, of the angels, of the saints; the dwelling place of our beloved dead — our true homeland, as Paul reminds when he writes, “we have our citizenship in heaven” (Phil 3:20).
Does any of that come through in your life? Is the Spirit’s wind blowing in your life? Is his divine fire burning in your heart? If you were arrested tonight for being a Catholic Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you? And if mere physical presence at Sunday Mass were not enough for conviction, would there be enough evidence then?
Living our faith in its fullness means doing what Paul tells us to do in our second reading: “Live by the Spirit.” If we do that, Paul says, we shall experience the Spirit’s fruits: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” With confidence, therefore, we join on this feast of Pentecost in the Church’s unceasing prayer for the Spirit’s gifts:
Come down, O love divine, seek thou this soul of mine,
and visit it with thine own ardor glowing;
O Comforter, draw near, within my heart appear,
and kindle it thy holy flame bestowing.
O let it freely burn, till earthly passions turn
to dust and ashes in its heat consuming;
and let thy glorious light shine ever on my sight,
and clothe me round, the while my path illuming.
Let holy charity my outward vesture be,
and lowliness become my inner clothing;
true lowliness of heart, which takes the humbler part,
and o’er its own shortcoming weeps with loathing.
And so the yearning strong, with which the soul will long.
Will far outpass the power of human telling;
for none can guess its grace, till he become the place
wherein the Holy Spirit makes his dwelling.
(Bianco da Siena, d.1434; translated by R.F.Littledale, d. 1890)