Jun 7, 2014

Pentecost - One Voice from Many

(El Greco)
"And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit"
Acts 2: 1-11
1 Cor 12: 3b-7, 12-13
Jn 20: 19-23

I grew up in a home with two languages and two cultures: American and East European (Lithuanian). The ebb and flow of daily life and ongoing relationships with relatives, most of whom were also Lithuanian, was what became for me and my siblings and parents, normal.  All four of my grandparents were immigrants from Lithuania so my parents were born here as were we, their children.  My grandparents spoke a “broken” English but in time we caught on to certain words and phrases in their native tongue.   
I know we were all enriched by the experience of a larger world beyond our home in a suburb of Chicago.  Our Catholic faith was wrapped up in our common identity.  One thing was obvious, though the languages and cultures may be distinctly different neither was seen as a barrier to the other.  What united us were a common faith, mutual love, food of course, and an understanding that from the many opinions and perspectives we were still united by faith in the Lord. We could have even said that a good spirit flowed between everyone.

This Sunday we conclude the Easter season with the joyful celebration of Pentecost – the Feast of the Holy Spirit which is the glue or the bond that keeps the many cultures and voices throughout the world united as one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.
We see this unity spoken of in both our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles and in the second from St. Paul to the Corinthian Christians.  In Acts, the crowds are astounded that though they are from many parts of the ancient world, all now hear the Apostles speak of the “mighty acts of God” in their own native tongues.  The fire and wind of the Holy Spirit has just come down on the Apostles gathered in prayer and now manifests its power to unite.

St. Paul writes to the Greek Christians about the diversity among them:  “different spiritual gifts, different forms of service, different workings” but all are united in one body: “As a body is one though it has many parts . . . so also Christ.” It is the Spirit that breathes upon us the miracle and divine glue of unity.  If you’ve ever been to an international gathering of Catholics, such as in St. Peter square at the Vatican, you know how powerful and impressive an experience that is.  From many parts, one voice is spoken.

Pope Francis puts is so well in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium - the Joy of the Gospel: "In the diversity of peoples who experience the gift of God, each in accordance with its own culture, the Church expresses her genuine catholicity and shows forth the 'beauty of her varied face." (EG: 116) 
On one level, we can rest on our laurels but reality tells us that we constantly have to beware of the potential for sin among us:  jealousy, greed, arrogance, criticism, pride, self-righteousness, liberal, conservative, traditionalist, Latin Mass, Mass in the vernacular, Bishop, Priest, Pastor, parishioner, etc.  All of these are common lighting rods that at times we know simmer or explode to disturb the unity sown among us. 

This ministry or that ministry vies for more priority in financial planning or the parents of children in Catholic School view those in public as just not as “fortunate” as them.  A page can likely be filled with the realities of daily ministry in service to the Gospel but none of this is anything new.  While the Evil Spirit battles against all that is good and of God, the Holy Spirit is constantly seeking to raise our minds and hearts beyond this world to the next; to keep our lives and hearts fixed on the good things of God.  That takes work indeed for the flesh and the spirit often stand opposed.
In the end, this one voice speaks to us through the diversity of members gathered in prayer and worship.  We are many households and everyone comes with baggage from their daily lives but as we together seek the common good of all and profess one faith in Jesus as Lord, we are united and we have the power of the Holy Spirit available to us constantly.  As Pastor, I see it all the time but the good news about the life giving force of an on fire Christian community is lost on the culture around us if the members do not even believe it themselves.

What are the signs of the Spirit among us? How can we speak with one voice from the many parts that we are? 
While the media, the internet, television and the entertainment industry work very hard at gaining the attention of the general population, they are not in the business of marketing the Gospel of Christ.  Often, it is the contrary.

Our Christian faith offers us the best that God has offered: the unabashed dignity of every human person from the moment of their conception, the unity of marriage between a man and woman and the holiness of faith centered family life, the assurance that God has shown us the way to his Father’s house, the power to transform society through Charity and forgiveness, and a Church which is his Body, the community where we are fed in Word and Sacrament and raised to a higher level of morality.
While the voice of the Spirit can be frustrated or distracted, it will never be silenced all together.  For Jesus desires that we be One and sometimes in the most surprising ways, he reminds us that he has not forgotten that promise.  Think of Blessed Mother Teresa, Pope Francis, a young heroic college student who acts without fear to protect others from a raging gunman on campus, a marriage that is healed, a “welcome to our parish” from a friendly Usher on Sunday morning, a generous parish committee who serve food to those less fortunate.  The signs of the Spirit breathe around us and make us One in Christ. 

O God, who bestow heavenly gifts upon your Church,
safeguard, we pray, the grace you have given,
that the gift of the Holy Spirit poured out upon her
may retain all its force
and that this spiritual food
may gain her abundance of eternal redemption.

(Prayer after Communion for Solemnity)