Sunday, May 23, 2010

Lord, Send Out Your Spirit And Renew The Face Of The Earth!

Solemnity of Pentecost
Reading I
Acts 2:1-11
When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled,
they were all in one place together.
And suddenly there came from the sky
a noise like a strong driving wind,
and it filled the entire house in which they were.
Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire,
which parted 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.

Now there were devout Jews
from every nation under heaven
staying in Jerusalem.
At this sound, they gathered in a large crowd,
but they were confused
because each one heard them speaking in his own language.
They were astounded, and in amazement they asked,
“Are not all these people who are speaking Galileans?
Then how does each of us hear them in his native language?
We are Parthians, Medes, and Elamites,
inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia,
Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia,
Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene,
as well as travelers from Rome,
both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs,
yet we hear them speaking in our own tongues
of the mighty acts of God.”
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Psalm 104
Lord, send out your Spirit,
and renew the face of the earth.
Bless the LORD, O my soul!
O LORD, my God, you are great indeed!
How manifold are your works, O LORD!
the earth is full of your creatures;
Lord, send out your Spirit,
and renew the face of the earth.
May the glory of the LORD endure forever;
may the LORD be glad in his works!
Pleasing to him be my theme;
I will be glad in the LORD.
Lord, send out your Spirit,
and renew the face of the earth.
If you take away their breath, they perish
and return to their dust.
When you send forth your spirit, they are created,
and you renew the face of the earth.
Lord, send out your Spirit,
and renew the face of the earth.
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Reading II
1 Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13
Brothers and sisters:
No one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.
There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit;
there are different forms of service but the same Lord;
there are different workings but the same God
who produces all of them in everyone.
To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit
is given for some benefit.

As a body is one though it has many parts,
and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body,
so also Christ.
For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body,
whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons,
and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.


Romans 8:8-17
Brothers and sisters:
Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
But you are not in the flesh;
on the contrary, you are in the spirit,
if only the Spirit of God dwells in you.
Whoever does not have the Spirit of Christ
does not belong to him.
But if Christ is in you,
although the body is dead because of sin,
the spirit is alive because of righteousness.
If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus
from the dead dwells in you,
the one who raised Christ from the dead
will give life to your mortal bodies also,
through his Spirit that dwells in you.
Consequently, brothers and sisters,
we are not debtors to the flesh,
to live according to the flesh.
For if you live according to the flesh, you will die,
but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body,
you will live.

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.
For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear,
but you received a Spirit of adoption,
through whom we cry, “Abba, Father!”
The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit
that we are children of God,
and if children, then heirs,
heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ,
if only we suffer with him
so that we may also be glorified with him.
John 20:19-23
On the evening of that first day of the week,
when the doors were locked, where the disciples were,
for fear of the Jews,
Jesus came and stood in their midst
and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
When he had said this,
he showed them his hands and his side.
The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you.
As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
And when he had said this,
he breathed on them and said to them,
“Receive the Holy Spirit.
Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them,
and whose sins you retain are retained.”


John 14:15-16, 23b-26
Jesus said to his disciples:
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
And I will ask the Father,
and he will give you another Advocate
to be with you always.

“Whoever loves me will keep my word,
and my Father will love him,
and we will come to him
and make our dwelling with him.
Those who do not love me do not keep my words;
yet the word you hear is not mine
but that of the Father who sent me.

“I have told you this while I am with you.
The Advocate, the Holy Spirit
whom the Father will send in my name,
will teach you everything
and remind you of all that I told you.”
TODAY'S GREAT AND JOYFUL FEAST rounds off the tremendous mysteries that we have been commemorating since Holy Week - the Passion, the Death, the Resurrection, and Ascension of Jesus culminates in the sending of the Spirit of the Father and the Son on his disciples. As has been said previously, we are not dealing here merely with separate historical incidents but with one reality - the extraordinary intervention of God into our lives by what we can only call the "mystery" of Christ. And today's feast indicates that it is an ongoing reality, which still touches our lives every single day.

Two models, one reality

What we said, too, of the Ascension last week applies with equal force to the meaning of Pentecost. In other words, we would be making a mistake to read the Scripture texts too literally, otherwise we will run into unnecessary conflicts. As with the Ascension, our traditional catechisms tends to identify Pentecost only with the version in the Acts (the First Reading of today's Mass). But in today's Gospel, which takes place on Easter Sunday, Jesus, before his Ascension, gives his Spirit to his disciples and the mission which follows from that. The two accounts are two different ways of describing the same reality. Actual time and place are not important.

A new creation

Let us go to the Gospel first. It is "the first day of the week", that is, the Sunday after Good Friday, the day of the Resurrection - or Easter Sunday. Jesus' disciples are cowering in fear behind locked doors. As colleagues of Jesus they are afraid they may have to face arrest or even worse. Suddenly, there is Jesus among them. He gives them the usual Jewish greeting 'Shalom' but here it is filled with meaning. "Peace with you" can be taken as a wish ('Peace be with you') or more truly ('Peace is with you'). In the presence of Jesus we experience a kind of peace which only he can give.

It is no wonder that the disciples, who just now were terrified, are filled with joy. There are two qualities that always accompany the presence of Jesus in our lives - peace and joy.

Passing the baton

Now comes the mission: "As the Father sent me, so am I sending you." The baton is being passed. They have a job to do and it is exactly what Jesus himself came to do - to establish the Kingdom on earth.

Jesus now breathes on them. In Greek the word for 'breath' and 'spirit' are the same. The breathing recalls God breathing life into the dust and bringing the first human being into existence. Here too there is a kind of creation, as the disciples are re-created into the 'new person' that Paul will speak about in his letters, a person filled with the Spirit of Jesus and mandated to continue his work.

Agents of unity and peace

And how is that work expressed? "For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained." This is their job - to be agents of reconciliation. Reconciliation of people everywhere with their God and reconciliation with each other as brothers and sisters, children of one common Father. Reconciliation means the healing of wounds, of all forms of division. This is the work of the Kingdom. It is what we are called to do.

We use this text for the institution of the Sacrament of Reconciliation but I believe that the meaning of the words includes this but goes much further than just referring to a Sacrament.

A mind-blowing experience

Let us now turn to the second Spirit-experience as it is described in Luke's account in the Acts (First Reading). This is sometimes called the Exodus account, for it reminds us of the great event commemorating the liberation of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt.

Here, too, there are significant elements:

a. There is the powerful wind, which, of course, is the Spirit and which, in John's gospel, is translated as "breath".

b. There is the fire - the tongues of fire over each one in the place. This, as in the Exodus narrative, indicates God's power and presence. We think of the burning bush from which God spoke to Moses and gave him his mission to his people. It reminds us of the pillar of fire, which, by night, accompanied and guided the Jews on their wanderings through the desert. They knew they were not alone.

Extraordinary change

And what an extraordinary result this experience had on the disciples! These men, huddled fearfully behind locked doors are almost blown from the room. No longer afraid, they have an almost uncontrollable urge to share what they have experienced, to share their knowledge but, even more, their experience of Jesus. Threats of prison or torture in no way intimidate them.

Special gifts for each one

Second, the Spirit is the source of the special gifts (or 'charisms') which each member of the community receives. The Source of the gifts is one - the Spirit of God and that is what unites together all those who receive them into one community. But there is a huge variety of gifts. It is important to note that the gifts are not given as a personal grace for oneself. They are rather special abilities by which each one serves the needs of the community. We have all to work together, using our gifts, to build up the community to which we belong.

We are many in number but, through the working of the Spirit, we become like one body, in fact, we are the Body of Christ. Just as one body has many limbs and organs working together as a harmonious unit, so we as the Body of Christ each make our distinct contribution to the life and work of the community. "In one Spirit, we were all baptised, Jews as well as Greeks, slaves as well as citizens, and one Spirit was given to us all to drink."

The way to freedom

The Spirit is a way of true freedom and liberation; his is not a way of slavery, compulsion, addiction, greed or fear. Through the Spirit there is a close, warm, confident relationship with God who can be boldly addressed by the intimate term "Abba" (Papa). Filled with the Spirit, we are in the fullest sense children of God, living images of our Father.

The Spirit makes us co-heirs with Christ to "suffer with him that we may also be glorified with him ". The suffering does not arise from restrictions on our freedom but because, in our total commitment to truth, love, genuine freedom and human dignity, we are prepared to pay any price, even, if necessary, the surrender of life itself. We could not be truly happy otherwise.

Gifts to be shared

We radiate that Spirit and by our word and example invite others to share it. The gifts of the Spirit are not for ourselves: they are to be shared. After the coming of the Holy Spirit, as we have seen, the disciples did not stay in that room luxuriating in what they had been given. They burst out to tell the world how much God loves everyone and how he wants everyone to experience that love. How he wants people liberated from the destructive constraints of the flesh to an unlimited blossoming in the Spirit.

1 comment:

Sarah in the tent said...

It's interesting to contrast Pentecost with the story of the Tower of Babel. In Babel, the nations wanted to make a name for themselves, but Pentecost was concerned with preaching the marvels of God - God's name not man's.

When God confused people's languages at Babel, it seemed to me like a mean thing to do. But when you see it in the light of Pentecost, Babel can look like a gift. We speak different languages, using words that sometimes derive from completely different areas of human experience to describe the same concepts, scavenging words from each other if they seem to express better what we think and feel deep down, which is common to us all. If there was only one language, it would just be a kind of tool, like a hand. It would point to nothing deeper. The fact that we can translate one language to another shows the fundamental unity of human beings. I think it points to something dynamic and spiritual inside all of us. That dynamic, fundamental unity is an aspect of the Spirit poured out at Pentecost.

Without Pentecost, Babel seems like God asserting His authority. But with Pentecost, Babel is connected to the gift of the Holy Spirit and Babel itself is seen as a gift, encouraging spiritual awareness in clever, busy humans.