May 13, 2016

HOMILY FOR THE FEAST OF PENTECOST C (MAY 16)


HOMILY FOR THE FEAST OF PENTECOST C (MAY 16)

(2nd Gospel choice is used – John 14:15-16 23b-26)

Ronald Stephens
Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese and St. Andrew’s Cathedral Parish
The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

Beginning to understand the Holy Spirit is a sign of maturity. I had great difficulty with the concept when I was a child. I first thought that God had a pet bird that he sent out to people, but then was confused because we used to say Holy Ghost, and that conjured up all sorts of images of dead spirits wandering around and influencing people.
It didn’t help that when we heard the stories of Pentecost, the Spirit now appeared as fireballs on tops of the heads of the apostles. What to make of that?
Slowly, I began to realize that we humans have to create metaphors or pictures of what we do know to help us make sense of what we don’t understand. These images of the Holy Spirit beginning with the breathe of God in Genesis and ending with the tongues of fire in the house where the Apostles were hiding out, are the attempts of the writers to best explain something that is unexplainable.
The Holy Spirit is the third Person of the Blessed Trinity. That itself is rather unexplainable, though we certainly try. I have always found helpful the explanation that the Spirit is the love between the Father and the Son because I have seen in my own life how love can change things for the better. And change is always involved when the Spirit is present.
All of the readings today attempt to make sense of the miraculous that is going on around the Apostles. In the first reading we see the almost immediate change of the Apostles from men who were afraid and in hiding, bereft of their leader, to men who had daring and the ability to speak out – and not just speak out, but speak out in many languages. The Tower of Babel had been reversed by the Spirit for these men.
The Holy Spirit, again then, is a bringer of change.
In the Psalm today we hear: When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the earth.” “When you take away their breath, they die and return to the dust.” The change between life and death is an act of the Spirit.
St. Paul in 1st Corinthians today also talks about change, but he uses the metaphor of gifts or what we call “grace”. The Spirit ‘manifests’ itself in each of us in different ways even though there is only one Spirit creating that change in us. We are gifted by that Spirit and given certain talents which are different from each other, but all which glorify our Creator God. He closes with a different metaphor or image of the Spirit when Paul says: In the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body….and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. We all get the baptism image but the ‘drinking” metaphor is a little odd. In baptism we drink of one Spirit? This is possibly an early reference to the Eucharist because it would have been adults who were baptized which allowed them to receive communion. The implication is that we receive Jesus and the Spirit in communion.
The Sequence is a song that is sung before the Gospel on very major feasts like Christmas and Easter which each have their own distinctive song. The “Veni Sancte Spiritus” which is the Sequence today is an ancient attempt to give praise to the third person of the Trinity in its many works. It in turn explains how the Spirit is Lord, an advocate of the poor, a consoler, a grace-bringing light, a restorer of sinful hearts, and a bringer of seven major gifts. Note that each of these reflects a change being made for the better in our lives.
Lastly, in the alternate Gospel for Year C, John presents Jesus as he talks about the Spirit. The term Jesus uses is Advocate. But Jesus also uses this term about himself because the Spirit is “another” Advocate. What is an Advocate? It is sometimes a legal term when in the court a lawyer pleads someone’s case in order to get that someone free. Jesus sees himself as an Advocate for mankind, pleading to the Father for us. And so, the Spirit will take his place as Advocate when he is gone. This Spirit Advocate, like Jesus,  is also sent by God and Jesus tells us he will be with us forever.
This Advocate we learn a few verses later is also a Teacher. The purpose of this Teacher will be to keep alive all that Jesus has said and taught, but also to help you understand it. And remember- this Teacher is available in each one of us by the right of our Baptism and Confirmation.
So, that is why we are celebrating today. With the entry of the Spirit we begin what we know as Church history. The Apostles begin converting and the Church grows through the influence of the Spirit. That is why we think of Pentecost as our birthday as a Church.
What can this mean to us this week? We have just been through 50 days of celebration of the risen Christ – and now we get on to the business of being Christ in the world with the help of the Spirit. Do many of you pray to the Spirit, ask for the Spirit’s help, ask for understanding through the Spirit? I think most of us pray to God or to Jesus quite regularly, but do we take time to ask the help of the Spirit?  Remember, Jesus said he and the Spirit were sent into the world to advocate, comfort and teach us. Ask for the Spirit’s help. Let the Spirit inspire you. Let the Spirit teach you what needs to be done to be a good Christian. Let the Spirit inform your conscience to help you make decisions. Give in to the Spirit.
I guess that is my major take-home thought today: Give in to the Spirit. See what a difference it can make in your life. Don’t let the Spirit be the forgotten person of God. Give in to her!
And that is the Good News I plead with you to develop in your lives this week. God bless.