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Pentecost Sunday, 31.05.20: the Promise of, and in, the Spirit

Readings: Acts 2:1-11; Psalm 103(104):1,24,29-31,34; 1 Corinthians 12:3-7,12-13; John 20:19-23

The Holy Spirit is the breath of God. When he comes on the apostles, the first thing he does is give them the breath to speak. But to speak words about the person, death and resurrection of Jesus, who is the Word of God. No-one can say Jesus is Lord, no-one has the breath to say it, unless the Spirit is in them. In the same way, no-one can say “Abba! Father” without the Spirit within.

When Jesus appears to the Apostles after his resurrection, he breathes on them, almost as an anticipation of Pentecost. He has already said “peace be with you” to them, but now sends them to speak that peace to those whose sins they forgive. It is the Spirit who breathes through the words of absolution and confers the peace of forgiveness gained by the Cross. It is Jesus, who in breathing out his last on the Cross, breathes into those who believe in him the breath of the Spirit.

The Eleven Apostles (then Twelve by Pentecost) who were there when he appeared were all very different people. We learn more about some of them than others in the Gospel. We know especially Peter and John and Thomas, perhaps. We know that Jesus loved them all in their individuality. As he breathed the Spirit into each of them in the Upper Room both after the resurrection and at Pentecost, he knew very well that they would each respond to the Spirit in their own unique way. Their message about Jesus would be the same, his death and resurrection, his call to believe in the Gospel and repent of sin. But they would each deliver that message and give life to it in the marvellous diversity of who they were.

Each Apostle was full of promise, just like we say of newly qualified teachers or doctors or even priests. That promise, that potential would need to be given life and energy and direction to be realised. For the apostles, that direction was the teaching of Jesus which the Spirit would lead them to understand fully. The life and energy to realise their potential was the Spirit himself, with all his gifts and graces. We know that the Apostles did all fulfil their promise for they all gave their lives in imitation of their Master. In giving their lives, they will have gained eternal life.

Every one of you listening to me today has received the Holy Spirit of Jesus for the same purpose: that his breath might give you the ability to speak and that the message of the Gospel would be what you speak. As with the Apostles, so with each of you: you are all individuals and form a marvellous unity in diversity. God has given you your individual make-up for a purpose of his own loving heart, and he has given you the Spirit of Jesus to achieve that purpose. And yet, diversity is only diversity and not opposition if it is rooted in unity, the unity of faith, hope and love, the unity of the one Body of Christ. When diversity becomes division and opposition, it is not the same Spirit of Jesus who is at work, but the other spirit. That is why we must learn to discern the Spirit, to test our individual inspirations and views against those of the Gospel. That is why Jesus gave us the ministry of the Apostles: to keep guard over his flock and to prevent wolves and thieves from infiltrating her, with attractive and easy speech but which is intended only to deceive, to divide and to destroy. It is the apostolic ministry to keep us in the truth, to declare when the truth is or is not being kept faithfully.

So, we each have from the Spirit a bouquet or package of graces, all of which were won for us by the Cross of Jesus. We can, of course, just leave them aside and neglect them. We can prefer to listen to other spirits that suit our worldly interests or ego. You hear today of those who want their names taken out of the baptismal register; they not only ignore the grace given but actively reject it, because they step away and outside of the Body of Christ; and the Spirit of Christ lives and breathes only in that Body. Wherever the presence of the Spirit is detected in what seems to be somewhere other than the Body, the Church has always taught that she is nonetheless there. The Church and the Spirit can never be separated. They are body and soul. Where one is, there is the other, not by the will of man but by the work of God.

Perhaps this pandemic Pentecost can be for us an opportunity of grace to discern, to examine, to take a closer look at the Spirit present in our personal lives. We hold the pledge of the Spirit in us by virtue of baptism and confirmation, but where and in what ways has the Spirit been leading me to fulfil the promise and potential of my own humanity and Christianity? Where and in what might he now be leading further? I occasionally sit down and become conscious of my breathing, asking the Spirit to become that breath in me, to breathe God in me, that I might be breathed in God. To unveil to me where I need to repent and let go, where I need purified and cleansed. To show me in what things and in what way I can live out better my baptism, confirmation and priestly identity. If we do that with open hearts and minds and with genuine earnestness of soul, the Spirit will come and make his power felt, now gently and softly, now with joy and consolation, now with pain and tears, now with an incredible hope of eternity and a freedom from all that is unworthy of Him.

I invite especially all parents and guardians of our children not to neglect your vocation to lead your children more and more deeply into the life of the Spirit. They are so open to God, they have such tender sensitivity to his presence and touch, that it would be a terrible oversight to leave it untended. Let your spiritual responsibilities towards them renew and revive the life of grace and prayer in your own lives. Don’t allow the cynicism and fatigue of life that can so easily creep in to dissuade you from truly mentoring your children in the ways of prayer, devotion and curiosity for the things of God.

May the Holy Spirit breathe upon and within you this Pentecost with power and divine encouragement, to lift you and your families up, to fill your hearts and conversation with the words and thoughts of Christ and to enable you to testify with apostolic courage to the marvellous deeds of God.