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Pentecost Sunday

The Holy Spirit: Jerusalem

In a very short while we shall find ourselves in Jerusalem and we shall visit the site traditionally claimed to be the Cenacle where the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles. St. Luke gives us the account in Acts, the reading taken for today. Everybody of any importance, including Our Lady, was present that day. Typically Luke said they were in prayer when the Holy Spirit descended on them; Luke has everybody praying whenever possible. They had been staying there at Our Lord`s ordinance and they were afraid of the Jews. It was a Jewish feast, a harvest festival. That explains why so many were up in Jerusalem from all over the world. The Jews were very faithful to their pilgrimages. Indeed they were only following the stipulations of their Law in doing so. The followers of Our Lord on that particular feast were not joining in the usual celebrations; despite their experience of the resurrected Christ they were still cowering for fear of the Jews. One wonders why. If they knew who Jesus was and what the resurrection had meant how could one explain the fact that they would have been scared of anything any-more?

Needless to say, when we read John's account of the resurrection and the missioning of the Twelve there is no such fear. The only fear attested in the accounts was that due to the death of Jesus before the resurrection, and that was no surprise. But afterwards it was quite different. Now having seen Him they are full of joy and they obey his command to go into the whole world.

What we read in Luke is quite different. He has the whole world come to Jerusalem. And he sees the Apostles transformed to meet it. Fear disappears and they come out boldly to face a crowd taken to be until then hostile. The scenario before they emerge is derived from an Old Testament background. Fire is associated with God and the tongues of fire are indicative of the gift of tongues bestowed by the Spirit. In Israel God would send his Spirit at the end of time. The effect would be real with an impression made in the actual life of the people on whom he would descend. Speaking in tongues was a sign of that presence. Lack of fear would be another sign. Ready access to God- through Christ, the Messiah, is the end of existence: it is the fullness. Everything that life is about would then be realised. The citation from Joel of young men seeing visions and old men dreaming dreams are just ways of expressing this.

It comes across quite differently in John. First of all the risen Jesus greets them with PEACE. This is the messianic peace. Everything that had been foretold in Isaiah 9 and 11 is included in this. Reconciliation as when the lion and the kid lie down together and a child will be able to play with a serpent without danger. And of course that is what reconciliation is all about. The disciples receiving the Holy Spirit become reconciled in the name of God. It means peace between people who belong to Christ and peace with the God who had sent his Messiah. This is universal. Whereas the gift of tongues is Babel undone, people can now talk to each other and there is no fear and no rivalry with God- all is peace through Jesus.

What does it mean in practice for us? Wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and the fear of the Lord. The most important thing of all is that we are able to believe in Our Lord and in everything that He is about. We do not argue ourselves into faith, and we do not congratulate ourselves on being believers. It is all gift. To have a religious life- or to be a priest: this weekend I pass 35 years as a priest. When someone says thanks it is obvious that such a one has been protected and loved. The mystery is not solved for all those who once made the journey with me and gave up en route. It is part of the mystery why on that First Pentecost morning some believed and some did not, when Peter preached to them and the Apostles spoke in tongues. The New Testament does not claim to answer the mystery of that either.

We are about to go to Jerusalem. And each one must ask why he goes. It seems so strange always looking to the past to find out the meaning of the present. But then we do that for self identity as human beings anyway. Without our parents we would not know who we are. And we live as a set of coordinated memories. That is what we are as Christians too. But the accent must fall on living. It is not just a question of thinking; it involves doing. We are doing daily what we were given from the past but as realistic and actual for now. In the Holy Places we will fill out our imaginations and our knowledge, but what we bring determines what we receive in terms of what our believing lives are about.

Today, here in Rome, for most of us here present it is a unique occasion. We will not be here again. It is a time of grace, of gift, to ask for a strength that we always need. We can be really touched by the hymns to the Holy Spirit. Consolator optime, dulcis hospes animae, dulce refrigerium. It is about the experience of the faith, the values that we hold dearest, the love that we would treasure. It is about the work that we do- so often in teaching, that it will help the lives of those with whom we spend our lives. How we would want people not to make a mess of their lives, that they would be at peace and happy. And have the discipline to bring it about. The Christian faith says this comes from above, from God's Holy Spirit. It is God's way of being present with his Church and with each individual on the road to the heavenly Jerusalem.

The truly amazing thing is that the Church is still here, young and fresh, despite so much that threatened it. And today is our day.  

Rev. Richard J. Taylor

MCI Spiritual Advisor

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