Homily: The Gift That Keeps on Giving
Today we celebrate the coming of the Spirit upon the apostles after Jesus’ resurrection and return to the Father. The coming of the Spirit is recorded in the gospel and in the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles. It is the fullness of the Spirit that was offered to them, and they embraced it fully.
For the early Christian church, the festival of newness continued, moving from new crops to new spirit, as the church marked this day as the moment the waiting disciples received power and energy to leave their place of hiding after the crucifixion of Jesus and take their story out into the world.
The story of Pentecost is not a story of a group of people who received something and then sat around admiring the gift. It’s a story about a mission. Luke’s account of those early disciples tells us they got busy and went right out to change the world, as they themselves had been changed by the moving Spirit. Luke’s entire story in the book of Acts is one of bold movement, beginning in that room in Jerusalem and reaching to the ends of the earth, always moving outward despite all odds, always inviting and including new people, despite opposition.
That work of the Spirit was not just telling the story of Jesus; it was living a new kind of life. The followers of the Way, as the followers of Jesus called themselves, were known for a new kind of love, a kind of radical hospitality. They preached a new kind of equality, where women and men shared in the work, where slaves and free were equals, where there were no outsiders. They formed a community like that described by the prophet Joel, where both sons and daughters prophesied, where old and young shared dreams and vision. And they were known for the concrete way they shared their goods and re-distributed them to the poor. This was a new way of understanding their work and their play, their money and their politics. It was a way that threatened the status quo of Rome and of the temple, a way that shook the powers and the principalities to their foundations. This new way was not only about a new way of believing; it meant a new way of living.
This feast is all about new life, new energy, new power, and thanksgiving for the abundance of it all, and the continuing reality of new life, new energy, new power in our lives today and in the future. Anne Howard
When I look at these readings about the Holy Spirit coming down upon the Apostles, I envision this gathering of the Apostles and their experiencing the coming of the Holy Spirit upon them as I see all of you gathered here today. I see this gathering of diverse people. I imagine a gust of wind descending upon us, the Spirit bestowing gifts and a realization of value and purpose upon each one of us in this church.
And then comes the voice, each person’s voice amplified and empowered by the Spirit of God, a powerful hymn that makes the boldest hymn feel like a lullaby. We are left but to catch our breaths (or to be caught by our true breath) and celebrate as each person present discovers this good God who lavishes good gifts among the people in order to serve and love one another.
We are all called to partake in being Church. It’s not just priests and bishops and cardinals, it’s all of us who are important because we have been called by God and marked by love.
We have all been called by God to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly. We have all been called by Christ to love God and love others. God bestows gifts on us all. It takes the whole body working together, a Pentecost community, to hear and respond to the call of God in our lives and our world today. Jes Kas-Keat
It matters that we understand the implications of this out-pouring of God’s Spirit. This new presence of Jesus in the Spirit is expressed in terms of peace, mission and forgiveness. The risen Lord addressed his disciples with the greeting, “Peace.” However, this is no longer just a wish, as is the case when we use it as a greeting; it is now a GIFT. Living in the Spirit of Jesus will provide us with a deep confidence that can withstand even the most tragic experiences.
To live in the Spirit of Jesus means also to accept the mission of making the love of the Father evident in our world and by doing so to continue and to extend the presence of Jesus in human history. The love of Jesus is made present in our world most effectively through the loving presence of his followers.
Many years ago, while a student at St Vincent seminary, I heard one of the older monks say about a young novice, “That one has the Spirit.” What he seemed to suggest was that this novice was imbued with such a spirit of quiet, confident joy that he was able to go about his work and prayer in a way that seemed so natural and so spontaneous that it could almost be called instinctive. He was reveling in life, not enduring it.
That novice had, of course, the great advantage of being young and healthy. But we all know older persons also who have experienced the sorrows as well as the joys of life and who still seem so peaceful and confident. This can’t be simply a matter of personal disposition. This can only happen when we open ourselves fully to the Spirit of God.
When we live in this positive and loving way, we are fulfilling the mission of Jesus in our world. We may seem to be warming and redeeming only the small, chilly space that we happen to occupy in life but our kindness radiates in fact in wonderful ways to touch the whole world.
This loving concern will also include the precious gift of forgiveness–a gift that heals and reconciles and liberates. To be a follower of Jesus is a blessing; to “have the Spirit” is the fullness of that blessing.
Demetrius R. Dumm, O.S.B.