Monday, 9 June 2014

A HOMILY FOR PENTECOST – YEAR A, STM, TORONTO 2014

“Peace be with you, as the Father has sent me, so I send you.”


In today’s reading from Acts the mysteries prefigured in the Jewish feast of Pentecost are fulfilled in the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on Blessed Mary and the Apostles (Acts 1:14).


For Israel, Pentecost – the celebration of the harvest – had become the celebration marking God’s Covenant with the People of Israel on Mt. Sinai. There, in wind and fire, God made his presence known to the people and then gave them the gift of his Law, the Ten Commandments or Decalogue.

In this singular way God established the principle of human freedom. With the Exodus from Egypt, God brought about the first fruits of our collective freedom, a freedom always shared in the essential “togetherness” which is necessary for liberty.  However, our common liberty can last only in an ordered harmony of freedom that reveals to each person his or her limits – and so, the Spirit must always be seen in relation to the Law and the universal gathered community, the Catholic Church.

The gift of the Law on Mount Sinai is not, then, a restriction nor is it an abolition of freedom.  Covenant Law is the foundation of true liberty.  

The Law is the first fruit of the Covenant just as Pentecost is, for Christians, the manifestation of the first fruits of the Holy Spirit in the Church (ekklesia - gathered) a gathering of all nations.

A fruitful ordering of society finds stability only if it comes from God, uniting men and women in the perspective of God expressed in the Commandments for our mutual good and the nurture, by grace, of the virtues, these gifts of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, self-control.
The Nash Papyrus

Israel fully became a people, through the Covenant with God on Mt Sinai. This happened when Israel encountered God on Sinai and was given the Covenant Law as the foundation and the guarantee of their free existence as a people. 

Likewise, the wind and fire, which enveloped the community of Jesus' disciples gathered in the Upper Room is a development of the event of Mount Sinai and brings full freedom by extending true freedom, under God, to all humanity.

The People of God found its first configuration, then, on Mount Sinai. Now by the grace of the Holy Spirit, the People of God is enlarged to the point of recognizing no limitations. The new People of God, the Church, is made up of all nations. The Church is catholic from her beginnings and this catholicity is of her deepest essence and character.

St Paul explains and underlines this in the Second Reading when he says: “It was in one Spirit that all of us, whether Jew or Greek, slave or free, were baptized into one body. All of us have been given to drink of the one Spirit” (I Cor 12: 13).


In the words of Pope Emeritus Benedict speaking at Pentecost in 2010:
“The wind and fire of the Holy Spirit must continually break down those barriers that we men and women continue to build between us; we must continually pass from Babel – being closed in on ourselves – to Pentecost.


So it is that we must continually pray for the Holy Spirit to open us, giving us the grace of understanding, so that we become the People of God. St Paul tells us more along these lines: in Christ, who as the one Bread feeds all of us in the Eucharist and draws us to him in his Body wracked on the Cross, we must become only one body and one spirit.”

Benedict continues: “The Risen Lord passes through the closed doors and enters the place where the disciples are, and greets them twice with the words: ‘Peace be with you’.  We continually close our doors; we continually want to feel secure and do not want to be disturbed by others and by God. And so, we can continually implore the Lord just for this, that he come to us, overcoming our closure, to bring us his greeting: ‘Peace be with you’ ”.

This greeting of the Lord is a bridge that God builds between heaven and earth. God the Holy Spirit descends to this bridge, reaching us. We can climb up on this bridge of peace to reach him. On this bridge, always together with him, we reach out to our neighbours, reach the ones who need us.” 

We can reach out to those who would come into the full communion of the universal Church.

The Lord’s greeting of peace is followed by two gestures that are decisive for Pentecost: Jeus wants the disciples to continue his mission: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” (John 20: 21).

The Holy Spirit must guide our hearts because we see what happens increasingly in a society which has no reference to God or to the Holy Spirit’s guidance.  Sadly, the void is filled by spirits of intemperance, of anger, of wrath and of wanton murder as we saw tragically in Moncton this week and recently in Calgary and elsewhere.  We see this violence and evil increase when we let go of the formal commitment of our society to the virtues of faith, hope and love taught to and nurtured in our children by the grace of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus with his apostles breathes on the apostles and says: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the the sins of any, they are retained.” (Jn 20: 23). The Lord breathes on the apostles, giving them the Holy Spirit, his own Spirit. The breath of Jesus is the Holy Spirit.


To his breath, to the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Lord joins the power of forgiveness. We heard earlier that the Holy Spirit unites, breaks down barriers, leads us one to the other. The strength that opens up and overcomes Babel (divisions amongst us) is the strength of forgiveness.

Jesus can grant forgiveness and the power to forgive because he himself suffered the consequences of sin and dispelled them in the flame of his love. Forgiveness comes from the Cross. Jesus transforms the world with the love that he offers to us through the Holy Spirit. His sacred heart, opened on the Cross, is the door through which the grace of forgiveness enters into the world. And this grace alone is able to transform the world.

The Sacrament of Penance is one of the Church’s precious treasures because authentic renewal of society is accomplished only through forgiveness. Nothing can improve the world if evil is not overcome by the teaching of the virtues and of forgiveness through the Holy Spirit ministered to us by the Holy Spirit in the Sacrament of Penance.

In this way the Holy Spirit fulfills and seals the Law with the new covenant brought about by Jesus through his life, passion, death, resurrection and ascension.  As a consequence of his sacrifice, the Holy Sprit now fulfills the Law and extends the Law written no longer just on stone tablets but on the hearts of believers, as the prophets promised. (2 Cor. 3:2-8; Rom. 8:2)

The Holy Spirit is revealed as the life-giving breath of the Father, the Wisdom by which God made all things. In the fulfillment of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit comes as “a strong, driving wind” to renew the face of the earth.
Like a river of living water for all ages, the grace of the Holy Spirit is poured out on the Body of Christ, the Church, for the good of all humanity. (John 7:37-39)

“Peace be with you, as the Father has sent me, so I send you.”


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