Sunday, June 12, 2011

Fr. Matthias Neuman's Pentecost Homily

Readings: Acts 2:1-11; 1 Cor 12:3-13; John 20:19-23

The Holy Spirit is an elusive (almost sneaky) sort. In today’s first reading the Spirit comes upon Mary and the disciples and impels them to speak in different languages. In the second reading Paul announces the thoroughness of the Spirit in all the followers of Jesus Christ, from the very first moment that one confessed ‘Jesus is Lord.’ And in the passage from John’s gospel the Spirit becomes the medium through which sins are forgiven. In our own days the Holy Spirit remains just as elusive. Pope John XXIII often remarked that it was a sudden inspiration from the Spirit that urged him to call the Second Vatican Council. It was that same council which proclaimed that the Holy Spirit distributes diverse charisms on all the members of the Church. The Holy Spirit is not easy to categorize.

I’d like to spend a little time with that last thought, that the Holy Spirit distributes charisms on all the members of the Church. Let’s listen again to that relevant passage from the Constitution on the Church: "...the Holy Spirit sanctifies and leads the people of God....and distributes special graces among the faithful of every rank. By these gifts he makes them fit and ready to undertake the various tasks and duties which contribute toward the renewal and building up of the Church. .... These charisms, whether they be the more outstanding or the more simple and widely diffused, are to be received with thanksgiving and consolation for they are especially suited to and useful for the needs of the Church." (#12)

This is really a very important teaching for the Christian people. It tells them that God’s relationship with them involves much more than simply praying for favors and hoping that God answers them. That’s oftentimes what it has been for a lot of people. This Vatican II teaching emphasizes that God takes the initiative with us and bestows special graces that allow all the Christian people to assist and help one another. When we have the sudden idea to drop in and visit an elderly neighbor or take a surprise party basket to a single mother raising several children, we should see that as God’s Spirit taking the initiative and giving us a charism. These charisms are God taking the initiative in our personal relationship.

Besides emphasizing God’s initiative with us, this teaching on charisms also stresses that God wants us to help each other and is always giving us nudges to do so. Every act of outreach is building up the church, the People of God.

The notion of God’s "Spirit" (in Hebrew, Ruah) takes us into the very heart of God’s Mystery. The word, Ruah, also means breath, a breath of wind. Just as our own breath comes from within us, from our heart, so the Holy Spirit comes from the very heart of God. I was recently watching a medieval fantasy story in which there was a scene that reminded me of this closeness of the Holy Spirit and breath. An old woman was trying to teach a young woman some of the knowledge of living well and living faithfully. The old woman said: "You must always remember to keep your ears open and listen to God speaking. Just listen now." After a while the young woman says, "I only hear the wind." The old woman smiles and says, "How do you think God speaks to us?" Let’s be open to listen to the Spirit of God this Pentecost.

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