To listen to today’s homily, please select the audio file below:
According to the Acts of the Apostles, the Holy Spirit dramatically appears to Jesus’ disciples on the Jewish feast of Pentecost, fifty days after Passover. (Acts 2,1-11) Originally Pentecost was a harvest feast celebrating the fruitfulness of creation, and so appropriately signs of creation come from the sky– fire, noise like a mighty wind– announcing the coming of the Holy Spirit who renews the face of the earth. By the time of Jesus, the Pentecost feast was also a celebration of the covenant made by God with Israel after the Passover. On this day, the Spirit offers God’s covenant to all peoples and promises to renew all creation.
On the day of Pentecost, the disciples of Jesus immediately and confidently leave the upper room and preach the gospel to pilgrims gathered in Jerusalem from the ends of the earth for the feast. “Where did these Galileans get all this?” their hearers ask “as they hear them speaking in their own tongues of the mighty acts of God.” They’re the first to bring the message of Jesus to faraway peoples in Mesopotamia, Judea, Egypt, Rome. This was a remarkable event.
On Pentecost as we participate in this feast we look for the graces to boldly and confidently bring the gospel to all peoples and to all creation through the Spirit given to us.
The Holy Spirit came on Pentecost over 2,000 years ago. We can ask: Is its promise being fulfilled? Today, recent studies say there are over 6 billion people in our world, 2 billion of them are Christian– about one out of three. Christians are evenly dispersed through the world, studies say, and their numbers are growing in Sub Saharan Africa and the Asia Pacific regions. The Holy Spirit seems to be at work in our world.
Of course, we tend to want the kingdom of God to come more quickly and dramatically, we want the fireworks of Pentecost everyday, but the Spirit of God works slowly and silently, with a wisdom all God’s own. In John’s gospel, which we also read on the Feast of Pentecost, the Risen Jesus gives the Holy Spirit to his disciples when he appears to them on Easter Sunday evening. (John 20,19-23) Locked in a room in fear, fallen and dispirited, the disciples expect nothing, perhaps even that things will get worse. Then, Jesus appears, wishes them peace and shows them the wounds in his hands and side. He breathes on them and says “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
What’s quieter, simpler than that? He breathes the Spirit on them. He shows them the wounds in his hands and side, signs that everything that evil could do to him was done to him. Yet he conquers every evil, even death. The Spirit always comes through the wounds of Christ. The Spirit is at work in the darkness of our world.
In our liturgy we have the same quiet promise of the Spirit. “Like the dewfall” the Spirit comes upon the bread and wine, signs of creation, and transforms them in the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. The Spirit rests in the waters of Baptism, in the signs of the other sacraments, creating, healing, forgiving, bringing together a world that’s divided. The Holy Spirit is God’s everyday gift, and no day is without his sure, silent, powerful presence.
Behind the Chair of St. Peter in the Vatican Basilica in Rome, the artist Bernini created a beautiful alabaster window where a steady light pours into the dark church through the image of the Holy Spirit, in the hovering form of a dove.
Day by day, the light comes quietly through the window. Day by day, the Holy Spirit dispenses light for the moment, graces for the world that is now. As Jesus promised, the Holy Spirit dwells with us, his final gift.
Come, Holy Spirit, come!
Shed a ray of light divine!
Come Father of the poor!
Heal our wounds, our strength renew;
On our dryness pour your dew;
Wash the stains of guild away;
Bend the stubborn heart and will;
Melt the frozen, warm the chill,
Guide the steps that go astray.