"There appeared to them tongues as of fire . . ."
Sunday readings: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/051516-pentecost-day.cfm
Acts 2: 1-11
1 Cor 12: 3-7, 12-13
Jn 20: 19 - 23
I remember well as part of Masters work towards a degree in Pastoral Counseling when we spoke of the counseling situation. Part of the conversation was about telling the truth to ones counselor and how difficult that may be at times. We may feel the same in the sacrament of reconciliation if the issue is to confess something that is shameful or embarrassing.
The saying goes: “We lie because we fear the truth may hurt us.” Think for example about small children who get in to trouble with their parents. “Ok, who started this?” asks the parent. “I didn’t, he/she started it!” Meanwhile, the parent well knows that their son or daughter is the culprit. Why did the guilty child outright lie to their parents? Because they knew if they tell the truth they would get in to trouble.
As adults we find our lives far more complicated but I think the same principle does apply. Marriages get in to trouble because one of the spouses attempts to hide something from the other. They may create the illusion that all is fine but eventually the truth is revealed in a way that could be very painful or maybe helpful depending on the issue.
If I tell the truth in a court of law, as I am obliged to do, it may bring certain punishment on the accused or me but in the end it opens the door to reconciliation as it does in the sacrament of penance. There, the truth will not hurt me but will heal me.
On this beautiful Feast of Pentecost, that of the Holy Spirit, we celebrate that moment of truth that was revealed to the Apostles in the upper room: How Jesus will remain present to them and to the Church until he comes again. In our readings this day we hear of bold preaching; about a risen Christ who appears truly alive again and breathes on the startled disciples to grant them his Spirit. We hear of wind and fire and diverse ancient languages spoken miraculously by simple uneducated men who were temporarily in a holding pattern about their next move. The confusion of Babel is now healed by the Spirit of truth poured out to them. That Spirit will energize and protect the truth which Jesus taught for all time to come. It will not harm but only bring life.
Jesus, no longer contained on this earth, sends his Spirit that moves beyond differences like a blowing wind which cannot be confined. In the continuation of our first reading from Acts 2 we hear of 3,000 people converted and baptized that Pentecost morning due to the Apostles now courageous witness and preaching. So, this Sunday we are confronted with power and tremendous possibility as the Spirit reveals God’s plan to heal our apathy and isolation.
I think some key phrases from our readings are powerful yet we could easily miss their implications. From Acts 2: 1-11: “they were all in one place together . . . There were devout Jews from every nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem. At this sound, (the blowing wind of the Spirit), they gathered in a large crowd . . . we hear them speaking in our own tongues of the almighty acts of God.”
From 1 Corinthians 12, our second reading, we read: “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; different forms of service but the same Lord . . . the same God . . . as a body is one through it has many parts . . . are one body.”
What is the point of these verses? - Unity in diversity. From a broken and fractured and alienated world, the power of the Spirit brings together as one: all in one place . . . gathered in a large crowd . . . we hear in our own tongues . . . different gifts but same Spirit . .. one Lord, one God, many parts but one body.
Rather than seeing differences as a point of separation, the Spirit of God sees them as a reason for union. This truth reveals to us that in spite of differences we are all loved by the same God; we are all his children each made in his image and likeness as the Book of Genesis reminds us. We all have a meaning and purpose to contribute to the whole.
The beauty of creation and of human life is expressed in a kind of kaleidoscopic way like bits of colored glass that by themselves have no useful purpose but put together in a pattern they become parts of the whole. It is the Spirit of truth which we all were born into through baptism and confirmation that makes us one; each in its own giftedness.
As the risen Lord appears to his disciples in our Gospel passage, in a place where they were hiding in fear behind locked doors, he offers them “Shalom,” Peace. The sign of the Spirit in our diversity should be peace offered from Christ to one another. It is the truth of knowing that our sins can be forgiven, that we are called to a new way of living, one centered in love, and don’t have to remain in separation or darkness without hope. Even in the midst of whatever troubles life may bring us, we can find peace and hope to rise above that darkness. The Spirit promises this to us and he is truth itself.
When we gather for word and sacrament we do so not as individual isolated families or couples or singles. We gather in one place to welcome the risen Christ among us who feeds us with himself as we continue this journey of life in service to him and one another.
So, we have a choice; a kind of proposition that God has made to this humanity: to embrace the power of unity and peace or to remain in division and our own arrogance of self-superiority. There is much that could divide us from politics to culture to economics and education. But today’s Fest is a reminder that God has created a family of the Spirit and a place to enter with Christ himself as shepherd. The Spirit guards the truth among us so we have a direction to follow in confidence
O God, who bestow heavenly gifts upon your Church,
safeguard, we pray, the grace you have given,
that the figt 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
Through Christ our Lord.
(Prayer after Communion)