Jun 10, 2011

Pentecost: Our explosive God

Nasa: suface of the Sun

Acts 2: 1-11
1 Cor 12: 3b-7,12-13  http://www.usccb.org/nab/061211b.shtml
John 20: 19-23

Now and then we see pictures of large hotels, old hospitals, many storied parking garages, or tall unsightly smoke stacks rigged with explosive charges top to bottom. At the count of “3-2-1” the structure explodes in a deafening boom and crashes to the ground in a cloud of dust and debris. What was formerly a grand edifice is now a pile of rubble so that something new and more imposing or efficient can be built in its place. At one time it might have been difficult to imagine that this hotel or tall tower or freeway bridge could be replaced. But through the skills of engineers and more intricate building plans something better, sturdier, more beautiful and useful now takes its place.

This weekend we celebrate an explosion of sorts; a release of divine power that enters with great fanfare. The old has been replaced by a new birth; a fresh but ever present power of God is released on the world. We hear in the first reading, “Suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind . . . then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them . . .” (Acts 2: 2-3). The Apostles are filled with this blast of power from heaven as the Holy Spirit is made present to them in wind and fire. This Spirit, whose breath was present at the creation of the world, now takes a specific role as the guide and protector of the Church universal.

Like the sometime gawkers at the destruction of a building, the crowds outside the room where the Apostles were gathered, heard the sound of the wind and they were “astounded and in amazement . . .” This show of divine power is only to be made more wondrous as the Apostles speak in “different tongues” and the international crowd outside hears them, “in his native language . . .” God powerfully expands his presence in the world so the new Church may be built upon the foundation of ancient faith. Jesus’ mission expands outward and the age of the Spirit is inaugurated.

By contrast this show of divine fire from above takes a more gentle form in the Gospel. Jesus appears to his Apostles through locked doors of the room where the disciples were barred shut in fear. Here, there is no wind, fire or ecstatic speech. There is only the gentle word of the risen Christ, “’Peace . . . As the Father has sent me, so I send you’ . . . he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven . . . whose sins you retain are retained.” (Jn 20: 19-23).

Here the presence of the Spirit is shown not through impressive special effects but rather through the warm breath of the living Christ. Through the presence of Peace which takes away the fear of the disciples and offers the healing power of forgiveness. The command to forgive, to reconcile and to heal is given to these men as the core of the message of Christ. That mission, that Spirit of hope is to be taken beyond the confines of their hide-out to “the ends of the earth.”

So, Pentecost is the beginning of a new perspective – from a small point to an expansive vision for all humankind in Christ. It is a truly “Catholic” moment for the Christian Church because of its universal and inclusive implications. From Jerusalem Jesus sent his missionaries out to the larger world and since that moment, the sending has never stopped. Each generation carries the torch like Olympic runners who pass off the fire to the next runner. Today's challenge to Christian morality and threats to life, marriage, and the dignity of the human person are formidable forces which call for a new flame of the Spirit's truth. A broken world surely needs to be reconciled to God.

In the Sacrament of Reconciliation we celebrate not our sinfulness but the breath of the Spirit through the forgiveness of sin as Jesus offers to his Apostles today. Forgiveness heals isolation and in a true sense brings us home within the family of the Church where we find Christ present in Word and Sacrament. Here we share in the mission of Christ as we make him present in the world through the love and service of our daily lives.

In the end it is God’s work, of course, that we do. Baptized in the name of the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we are called to be signs of reconciliation and hope. God has energized his presence in explosive ways and each one of us can be a flame giving warmth to a cold world.

As we hear in Confirmation, may we be "sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit." This is one flame we pray will burn us.