08 June, 2014

Homily for Pentecost (A) - The stuff of miracles

Acts 2:1-21
Psalm 104

Send forth your Spirit, O Lord, and renew the face of the earth. (Cf. Psalm 104:30)
Imagine yourself as a pilgrim to ancient Jerusalem. You are there to celebrate the Feast of Weeks, the original Pentecost, the solemnity that recalls the giving of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai. At this festival the book of Ruth is also read, the book about the non-Jewish grandmother of King David. In this celebration those who belong to Judaism by descent are joined by those who have converted to it from the pagan world. All are one family, one faith in the God of Israel. Jerusalem must have been chaotic, filled with noises, sights, things to attract your attention – street markets, beggars, fellow pilgrims, animals, soldiers, carts, labourers, well-travelled spice merchants… in short; it must have seemed as if the entire world was gathered in this one city.

But then, amidst this chaos something strange happens – there is a commotion; the sudden noise of a strong unseasonal wind shakes the neighbourhood, and all people converge on a single house. After few instants men start coming out of the house, all of them speaking at the same time, talking over each other, speaking in foreign languages. A few of these strange men don’t even seem to make sense at all and it is easy to see why some bystanders think that they are simply drunkards who have spent the night having a few too many.

Here in this unassuming street of Jerusalem, you find yourself becoming a witness to the miracle of Pentecost, to the mystery the Church celebrates today. You are a witness to the immediate aftermath of the Holy Spirit bursting into the chaos and the banality of everyday life in order to radically transform it, in order to renew the face of the earth as psalm 104 declares.

What is even more striking is that the miracle you are witnessing has transformed a group of simple, uneducated, and cowardly men, into a courageous band equipped by the Holy Spirit with new learning, and ready to take the world by storm. These men, these Apostles, are not drunk they are sharpened instruments tempered by the fire of the Holy Spirit. From this moment, their mission will be to accomplish the great reversal of the story of the Tower of Babel. At that time God separated one people from another through language – today through the Apostles the Holy Spirit brings people together; people of every language, nationality, and ethnicity. At Babel, language unified people in defiance of God; today the action of the Holy Spirit brings all languages together in the praise of God. What was foreshadowed in the original, Jewish celebration of Pentecost finds fulfilment in the Apostles and in the Church.

Yet, the miracle of Pentecost is not just the appearance of flames on people’s heads or the instantaneous mastery of foreign languages; it is a radical transformation of personality, a deep conversion, which we all need both at personal and at Church level. This transformation has been called for by some branches of the Church as a New Pentecost, but we needn’t be that dramatic.

The Holy Spirit has already been poured out for us at Baptism and again at Confirmation and it can still burst through the chaos and banality of everyday life if we remain docile and attentive to his presence in us. The Holy Spirit can still make us the objects, the stuff of miracles if we fan its flames, if we continually stir up his gifts in us.
His gifts for us are seven; wisdom, understanding, right judgment or counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. Admittedly, on the whole, these gifts do not enable us to suddenly speak other languages but they are invaluable nonetheless as they allow us to grow ever more into a fully redeemed, fully renewed person – a Christ-like individual.

As we leave behind the Easter season let us ask God to revive the gifts the Holy Spirit in us each day, making us the stuff of miracles, transforming us into those sharpened instruments he needs for renewing the face of the earth.

Send forth your Spirit, O Lord, and renew the face of the earth.

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