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Friday, 29 May 2020

Pentecost Year A 2020

 Pentecost (A)
(Acts 2:1-11; First Corinthians 12:3-7, 12-13; John 20:19-23)

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, the reading from the Gospel of John should have seemed a little strange to you because Jesus first of all gave the Holy Spirit to the Apostles gathered in the upper room:

Jesus said to them again, "Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you."   And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."

Jesus was preparing His Apostles, whom He was soon to send out in His Name to forgive sins and transmit a new and potentially eternal life, by giving them the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit in their personal lives and public ministry.  You might ask, then, what was strange about that?

This is what was strange: after thus receiving the Holy Spirit from Jesus, the disciples did not, in fact, start preaching everywhere; actually, they went back to Galilee and to their fishing, where Jesus appeared to them once more.  Now that is strange; but it is also very instructive.

In our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles we were told of another, subsequent, bestowal of the Spirit, and this time a public bestowal, where the Spirit descended upon the Church as a whole:

When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.  And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.  Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them.  And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.

Let me bring out clearly for you the difference between these two occasions:

Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, "Peace be with you."

On that first occasion, mentioned by St. John in his Gospel, there was only a small group gathered -- gathered in fear -- a group where not even all the future apostles were present, because we are expressly told:

Thomas, called the Twin, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.

Now let us reconsider the second occasion actually heard in today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles:

When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.  

That was indeed a gathering of the whole Church, as is made clear by the emphatic words: all with one accord in one place; and it was after this public bestowal of the Spirit upon the whole Church gathered together as one that the disciples spontaneously began to praise God:

They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance … speaking the wonderful works of God.

And it was only after this giving of the Spirit to the whole Church that the Apostles -- in the person of Peter -- began to carry out their individual commission(s) to proclaim and to offer salvation, through faith in the Gospel, to all their hearers:

Peter, standing up with the eleven, raised his voice and said to them, "Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and heed my words.  For these are not drunk -- as you suppose -- since it is only the third hour of the day; but this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: 'And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, that I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh.’ Therefore, let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ." (Acts 2:14-18, 36).  

The Spirit, therefore, is primarily bestowed upon the Church as the Body of Christ -- the whole Body -- not just to one part of the Body, even though that part be the college of Apostles.  Once the Spirit had been poured out upon the whole Church, the special grace and blessing the Apostles had already received became active within them, but not before.  This is what the Apostle Paul taught us in our reading from his letter to the Corinthians:

The manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all.

As the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ: by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body--whether Jews or Greeks whether slaves or free -- and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.   For in fact the body is not one member but many. (1 Corinthians 12: 7, 12-14)

A false emphasis on unity has sought, in the past, to impose a strait jacket on Catholics: we are one Body, under one head, the Pope on earth, walking in conformity along the publicly approved road.  But that is not the whole of Paul’s teaching, because he tells us that “the Body is not one member, but many”; for diversity, as in natural so also in supernatural life, is best able to bear adequate witness to the inscrutable depths of the wisdom and beauty, goodness and power of God.

Today, however, whereas our political set-up seems to ape the old-church conformity through its promotion of political correctness, in the Church, on the other hand, the necessary unity under one head -- with the Pope as visible and temporal head of the Body whose supreme, invisible, and eternal Head is Jesus the Risen Lord -- is much enfeebled by individuals claiming the right to pick and choose what to believe and how to behave whilst still, paradoxically, asserting themselves to be true members of the one, universal, Body.

On this day of Pentecost, dear People of God, in our rejoicing, let us rejoice in the Truth: Variety and Unity are both essential in the Church.  She is not what the Corinthians wanted to imagine, that is, a gathering where each and every one could strive to display and develop themselves and their personal egos:

You are still carnal: for where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?   (1 Corinthians 3:3)

On the other hand, neither is Mother Church like some marble obelisk that abides untouched by the passage of time; it is essential for her to grow and develop because the Spirit has been given to provoke change by gradually leading her into the fullness of truth.

If there were only liberal-lefties in the Church, she would be like that herd of Gadarene swine that went off in a wild and unrestrained rush and drowned in the waters of Galilee.  Were there none but died-in-the-wool traditionalists -- more conservative than Rome and more papal than the Pope -- she would be like a lifeless bulk held fast and immovable by its own inertia, impervious to the gentle breathing of the Spirit of Life ever seeking to prepare her gradually for what will be her heavenly fulfilment.

And so, People of God, today we – both as a body and individually – are being offered God’s best Gift: the Spirit of Love, Truth, and Life.   To fruitfully receive what is being offered we must want, we must strive, to use God's Gift for God's purposes, and in God's way; therefore, we should always bear in mind the supreme purpose of God’s Gift offered to us this day: it is for the Glory of God, the good of Mother Church as a whole, and for the saving of souls.

The manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all.

We must also realize that we cannot hide away in some corner of the set-up and let somebody else do what has to be done, because (1 Corinthians 12:18-19):

God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased.   And if they were all one member, where would the body be?  But now indeed there are many members, yet one body.  And the eye cannot say "I am not needed"; nor again the feet, "There is no need of us”. (1 Corinthians 12:18-21)

Dear People of God, the high and mighty – even though set on high by the p rovidential purpose of God – are, maybe individually, but above all as a group, always prepared and easily persuaded to think too highly of themselves e.g. using servile language to show their obedience and devotion with regard to the Pope, a practice inviting the old charges of ‘Popery’, and so alien to the ‘feet’ and humbler members of the one Body which we all are in Christ.

On that first Pentecost, as you heard,

They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance, speaking of the wonderful works of God.

Today the same Holy Spirit wills to come to us for a purpose: not frequently “to speak with other tongues” in our modern times, but certainly to lead us to “speak of the wonderful works of God” in creation, in Jesus, in Mother Church, and in our own lives.  Each and every one of us should be prepared to give humble glory to God by speaking, in his or her own way according to gifts received, of the effect which the truth and the grace of Jesus has had on our lives: the beauty our minds have been enabled to recognise and appreciate, and the joy and hope which have come to abide and hold peaceful sway in our hearts. We would fail God if we were afraid to be our humble, individual, selves in thus joyfully giving sincere and truthful witness to Him and to the Faith; for our first duty, as the angels proclaimed is to give:

            Glory to God in the highest.

However, because we are all members of the one Body of Christ, besides individual sincerity and truth there must be humility and charity in our mutual relations, because, our lives, with all their gifts and talents, are meant to serve the common dignity and common good of the whole Body, as the angels went on to declare:

            Glory to God in the highest, and peace to His People on earth.

The song once sung by the Angels at the birth of Christ has now to become a sublime and eternal chorus in which heaven and earth unite, because Jesus, having finished His mission on earth and being risen from the dead, has now ascended to heaven where He is seated at the Right Hand of Power.  And, as the Psalmist (110:1) prophesied, God the Father has embraced His victorious and glorious Son with the words:

Sit at My right hand till I make Your enemies Your footstool.

People of God, today, Mother Church is urging and encouraging us to join ever more wholeheartedly in that paean of praise; for the Spirit is being offered us in and through her that we might work to make the enemies of Jesus a footstool for His feet as the Father wills: that is my vocation, it is also yours, indeed it is the vocation of us all together in Mother Church.  What a privilege we have: let us get on with it, with grateful praise on our lips and trustful confidence in our hearts!