6 minutes reading time (1208 words)

Homily - Pentecost - Bishop McKeown

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Sunday, 23 May 2021 

We have journeyed with the disciples of Jesus through the events of Holy Week and Easter, when Jesus left them on Good Friday and returned in a different bodily way at the Resurrection. At the Ascension he left them in a more definitive way – but promised to be with them in yet another way. Today, on Pentecost Sunday, we celebrate that new presence with the birth of the Church as the Body of Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit. Christ remains with his Church and the Word who became flesh still dwells among us in the Church. What does this feast tell us? 

Firstly, this is all God's work. Everything is gift. The coming of the promised Holy Spirit on the disciples is God's work. They are filled with power from on high. Then St Paul talks about the gifts that the Spirit brings. The mission of the Church is to be used to serve God's ministry of bringing mercy and wholeness to the self-inflicted wounds of the world. Thus, Pentecost is a powerful call to let God be God in his church. The current emphasis on synodality is not a modern fad. It is a divine call to move away from preoccupations about Christendom and about our status in civic society – and to make space for the divine agenda. Jesus was not concerned about his power and popularity. He centred his work on bringing healing where it was needed. He knew that the enemy to be vanquished was the devil who held people in his power. The Spirit is a gift so that the Church to proclaim God's mercy. When we want to be in control and are frightened of our weakness, we don't want to make space for the God of surprises. When, like the frightened apostles, we acknowledge our fear and our frailty, we can be used by the power of God. Earthly kingdoms want to be in control. Pentecost is an uncomfortable but liberating call to let God be in control. 

A Church or parish that is merely sitting, waiting for people to come is afraid of the Spirit. A Church which complains that people are not coming any more is not Spirit-led.

Secondly, the Holy Spirit sends the apostles out. There is a temptation for us in Church to be happy if we are welcoming and smiling to those who come to us. Pentecost says that this is not enough. The first disciples are sent out to invite others to know about Jesus. We find in the early church that this can happen in various ways. Sometimes, the early disciples found themselves with people who were asking questions. On other occasions, they were criticised and challenged. But they always found ways to speak about Jesus, using whatever sort of language was needed to respond to the situation in which they found themselves.

A Church or parish that is merely sitting, waiting for people to come is afraid of the Spirit. A Church which complains that people are not coming any more is not Spirit-led. When God is in control, God wants us to have a loving passion for the salvation of others.The stories of the early Church in the Acts of the Apostles show how the disciples were constantly being pushed beyond their comfort zone to engage with Samaritans and Gentiles. That raised awkward, divisive questions for the first followers of Jesus as to whether foreigners needed to follow the Jewish Law before they could become believers. Reaching out to people who are not like us is uncomfortable. But that is the call of the Church. Jesus had challenged the Pharisees, who wanted to retreat into a holy huddle of the like-minded. For believers, the goal is not to seek man-made certainty. It is to be certain that God is in charge, especially when we feel insecure. It will mean using whatever resources we have to develop a culture of leadership and mission. We have learned from the pandemic lockdowns that we have wonderful new ways of reaching people in their homes. There is no sense in going back to a church culture that was not working, if we are make new disciples of Jesus.As missionaries in every generation discovered, that will involve taking risks. Are we ready to be a risk-taking Pentecost Church? We can't sit in the upper room afraid and angry that people are not coming to us. That is the temptation that Pentecost came to overturn.

Thirdly, St Paul talks about being guided by the Spirit that we have received. He is clear about what happens when self-indulgence is in charge. The god of self-indulgence destroys human dignity, relationships and social cohesion. Those who benefit from the corruption of the young will resist the message of the Spirit. The Spirit of Truth will be an unwelcome scalpel, cutting away cancerous growths in our hearts. But proclaiming the truth is not an excuse for us merely to condemn the excesses of our society. The Holy Spirit wants to build up community based on graced relationships and accountability. Generous social cohesion will never come from canonising self-indulgent passions and desires. What the Spirit brings is not sourness and superiority, self-righteousness and arrogance. St Paul tells us that the Spirit brings is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self-control. Any idiot can condemn and enjoy being angry. The airwaves are full of such destructive verbal missiles. Condemnation can even be seen as a claim to virtue. But those who have received the Spirit can speak the truth in love and not in anger. Before we condemn self-indulgent passions in others, we have to tame the passion to condemn, which wells up so easily in our own hearts.

Last Thursday, just before Pentecost, Pope Francis announced a worldwide, two-year process of discussions leading up to the Synod of Bishops in October 2023. It should take place at parish, then diocesan, then national, then continental and finally at worldwide level. He wants us to learn from the coming of the Holy Spirit and start the journey with Pentecost hearts. Our priority has to be to allow God to be in control of the Church, wherever God wants to lead us. It will involve a much more invitational culture in church, even though that will be very new and even uncomfortable for many of us. And finally, we have to be inspired to find new ways of loving our society while pointing out the fact that it is espousing a self-harm culture, based on lonely self-indulgence. Pentecost marked the beginning of an amazing journey for the apostles. Today's feast invites us to say with the psalmist, send forth your spirit…. and renew the face of the earth. We place ourselves at the service of that mission. Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful.

+ Donal McKeown


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