Sunday, May 23, 2010

Fr. Matthias Neumen's Pentecost Homily

Readings: Acts 2:1-11; Rm 8:8-17; Jn 14:15-26

Fr. Theodore Brune was one of the most unique monks we have ever had at St. Meinrad. He was an incorrigible extrovert. There was nothing he enjoyed more than preparing for and managing a party or dinner. For years, as a brother, he worked in the guest department and was known far and wide. When we began our priory in Huaraz, Peru, he volunteered. While in Peru he saw the great need for priests in the country. So in his late 40s he decided to study for the priesthood; he was sent to a special English-speaking seminary for late vocations in Rome (the Bedae). He was there during my second stint in Rome, and he certainly made it lively. He was one of those people who, when he spoke, hardly ever finished a sentence. Halfway through one, he started another on a completely different topic. In Rome that problem was compounded by the fact that whenever he would try to speak Italian, his half-sentences were a mixture of Italian, English and Spanish words. (Whenever he would read the Gospel in church, whenever the name of Jesus appeared, he would always pronounce it by the Spanish Jesus and not the Italian Gesu.) But he was one of the most effective communicators I have ever seen. Somehow in that jumble of Italian, Spanish and English words, he could always get his point across and people knew what he was saying. We’ve all heard how real "communication" happens not just through the meanings of words, but even moreso by tone of voice and nonverbal means. Fr. Theodore Brune exemplified that to a T.

I’ve often wondered if the event with the Holy Spirit in the Upper Room and the preaching of the gospel afterward wasn’t something like that. It wasn’t just the message of the Resurrection of Jesus, but it was the spirited communicating of the Spirit-transformed disciples that moved people. The disciples’ message shone through their lives. It was the gospel incarnated into people's lives.

I’ve always found it very interesting the many ways that the Christian tradition has attempted to flesh out, specify and diversify this one great gift of the Spirit. St. Paul in his letters makes several attempts at this. In his first letter to the Corinthians he writes: "There are a variety of gifts but always the same Spirit. The Spirit is given to each person for a good purpose: the gifts of preaching and faith, healing and miracles, prophecy, tongues and interpretation." (12:4-11) In the Letter to the Galatians he has a different list: "What the Spirit brings, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self-control." (5:22) Later on in the Christian tradition catechism books will add a classic listing: the gifts of the Holy Spirit (Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety and Fear of the Lord. This listing is borrowed straight from the Prophecy of Isaiah (11:2-3). This one gift of the Spirit is so rich that Christians haven’t been able to find enough ways to describe it. It is the overflowing gift of God.

Some forty years ago I gave a retreat to the Sisters of the Holy Spirit in Pittsburgh, PA. I tried to give them a more modern perspective on this one overflowing Spirit of God. These are the gifts of the Spirit that I came up with:

Receptiveness - the perceiving and taking in the unique preciousness of a person or event.

Expansiveness - the willingness to try a diversity of approaches to reach a specific goal.

Self-confidence - the conviction that I have a unique contribution to make in God’s plan.

Sensitiveness - a keen awareness of emotions and beauty in persons and events.

Empathy - an aptitude for entering into and sharing another person’s feelings.

Humor - an attitude of joyful exuberance and playfulness.

Enthusiasm - an overflowing commitment to a person, ideal or task.

These all come from that one superabundant Spirit of God.

This Pentecost feast we should each take some time to try and discern what are our gifts of the Spirit and do I use them for the building-up of my community?

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