My sisters and brother as we celebrate our Sunday Eucharist on this Solemnity of Pentecost let us acknowledge, and give thanks for the presence of God’s Holy Spirit, here and now: in our very midst, within and among us. For what our readings today are conveying to us are not merely three discrete instances of the presence and action of the Spirit of God in the history of the early Church, although they do indeed arise out of specific experiences of the Spirit forming the nascent Church, for its mission of universal incarnation of the Life of God.
But if Scripture for us, as believers, is never just history, it is most emphatically not only revealing past events to us on this Solemnity. No! Rather what Luke, Paul and John are showing us is a Living, Divine, Dynamism, that is burning at the center of the Heart of the Church, leading us and all of creation, into full eternal participation in the life of the Blessed Trinity.
The empowerment of the Holy Spirit of God is specifically incarnate, which is to say in the flesh of the Church embodied in each of the instances recorded in our readings, brings us to reflect on the reality of the Spirit informing the life of the Church in every time and place, including again: here and now: Redwoods Monastery, “ sheltering in place.”
And so, Luke tells us of the birth of the Church in Jerusalem: “… There appeared to them tongues of fire, which parted and came to rest on each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Holy Spirit enabled them to proclaim.” Luke wants to make abundantly clear that from its inception, the Spirit of God has given the Church, in each and all of her members, a catholic, a truly universal mission; for the vast crowds of the whole Jewish Diaspora, gathered in Jerusalem for the Pentecost harvest festival, from all parts of the Mediterranean world, hear these simple Galilean disciples of Jesus, “… speaking in our own tongues of the mighty acts of God.” From its very birth, the Holy Spirit makes the Church missionary.
And the Spirit of God makes the Church one in the midst of its emergent and expanding diversity, which Paul is insistent on teaching his Corinthian community, in our second reading. As he concludes: “… in one Spirit we are all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of the one Spirit.” Thus every unique gift, which each of us has been given by the Holy Spirit is always, always for the welfare of the one Body of Christ. Our Spirit inflamed diversity must be in the service of embodied unity: “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 Paul teaches us too! Thus it is God’s Holy Spirit that is knitting us together as members of the one Body of Christ, in and through the unique charisms which have been showered on us all.
The gift of the Spirit is unity, through diversity as Luke and Paul are telling us. And the gifts of the Spirit are also healing and peace as Jesus, Himself tells us, in our Gospel. “Peace be with you,” He says to his disciples twice, on the evening of that first Easter Sunday as He miraculously enters the locked room of their shame and fear, showing them the now glorified wounds of His passion and death that are present in His Risen Body. With the Peace of His Healing Presence He breathes upon them the fullness of His own Spirit, who truly discerns all things: “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained!”
Now, as I observed at the beginning of this homily, God’s Holy Spirit is present here and now, within and among us. It is the indwelling presence of God’s Spirit of Love which constitutes us as the Church, the One- Living- Body of Christ, in Jerusalem, in Corinth, in the Redwoods. How to incarnate this Spirit?
I close with an observation of Pope Francis, which he gave in writing to his British biographer Austin Ivereigh, early in April, in response to the questions Ivereigh had submitted to him, regarding the nature of the Church emerging from our current Pandemic Crisis. Among other things, Ivereigh asked if the Church of the future will be less attached to institutions. Here is our Holy Father’s somewhat edited, response to the question I quote:
Less attached to institutions? I’d say less attached to certain ways of thinking, because the Church is an institution. The temptation is to dream of a de-institutionalized Church, a gnostic Church, without institutions, or one that is subject to fixed institutions, which would be a Pelagian Church. The one who makes the Church is the Holy Spirit, who is neither gnostic nor Pelagian. It is the Holy Spirit who institutionalizes the Church, in an alternative and complementary way, because the Holy Spirit provokes disorder twice through the charisms, but then out of disorder creates harmony. A Church that is free is not an anarchic Church, because freedom is God’s gift. An institutional Church means a Church institutionalized by the Holy Spirit. A tension between disorder and harmony: this is the Church that must come out of the crisis. We have to learn to live in a Church that exists in tension between harmony and disorder, provoked by the Holy Spirit… the Holy Spirit de-institutionalizes what is no longer of use, and institutionalizes the future of the Church. That is the Church that needs to come out of the crisis.
Thus far, Francis, our Pope.
Come Holy Spirit. Fill the hearts of all your faithful. Blow where, when and how You will. In Your sovereign freedom draw us all into the full union of your infinite Love.
By: Fr. Casey Bailey OCSO