Come, Holy Spirit, come!
And from your celestial home
Shed a ray of light divine!
I have come to discover about myself that I am not real good at languages. I took a couple of years of French in junior high and I don’t think I remember one word of it. In high school and in college, I took Spanish, and I was okay with it, but never got to the point of being able to have a conversation in Spanish. In seminary, I went to Mexico for six weeks to learn Spanish, and discovered that wasn’t even close to long enough. I can muddle through a little Spanish in the Liturgy, but to preach in Spanish or hear a confession in Spanish is insurmountable to me. I also took one unit of Greek in seminary, and that was almost disastrous. I was glad it was a zero-credit-hour class, so it didn’t get me thrown out on academic probation! I think some people are good with languages, and some are not; that ability is truly one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
But, the disciples in our first reading weren’t picked out for their especially good facility with languages either. They were ordinary men, who probably didn’t even have the grammar of their native language down to a science. On these men, the Spirit descended and gave them the gift of proclaiming the Gospel in every language of the known world. This event is miraculous, I think, on two counts. First and obviously, they are given the ability to speak in languages they did not already know. Second, they were given the gift of being able to speak out boldly on behalf of the Gospel. These are men who would not necessarily have commanded the respect or attracted the attention of anyone. They weren’t naturally gifted in public speaking. Yet, they are able to proclaim the Gospel boldly and convincingly, making the message known in the ear of anyone who heard it, regardless of their native language.
This was the first manifestation of the Spirit in the fledgling Church, indeed in some ways it is the birthday of the Church. The Spirit came in power to fill ordinary men with grace to proclaim the Gospel and make it heard by everyone on earth. This is the beginning of the fulfillment of Jesus’ command last week at his ascension: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.” They had no idea how to do that before the Spirit came; now they have the power of the Spirit to speak to every creature in every part of the world in a language that could be understood.
We’ve gathered today on the Solemnity of Pentecost … the commemoration of this great event. Today, we have one last opportunity to celebrate the joy of the Easter season. For fifty days, we’ve been celebrating our Lord’s resurrection, his triumph over the grave, and his defeat of sin and death. We’ve been celebrating our salvation, because Christ’s death and resurrection has broken down the barriers that have kept us from God and has made it possible for us to live with God forever. In the last week, we’ve been celebrating our Lord’s Ascension, with His promise that though He is beyond our sight, He is with us always. And today, today we celebrate the wonderful gift of the Holy Spirit, poured out on the Church, who breathes life into all of us, giving us the power to accomplish the preaching of the Gospel.
The Hebrew word for Spirit is ruah, with is the same word they use for “breath.” So the Spirit who hovered over the waters of the primordial world also breathed life into our first parents, giving them not just spiritual life, but physical life, and life in all its fullness. The psalmist today makes it very clear that this Holy Spirit is the principle of life for all of us: “you take back your spirit, they perish and return to the dust from which they came; when you send forth your spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth” (Ps. 104:34).
That renewing of the earth is accomplished in so many different ways. But the most important way is by the preaching of the Gospel. All of us who have been given to drink of the dew of the Spirit are called upon to preach the Gospel. We may not, as St. Francis suggests, use words all the time, but we must continually express the Gospel in every single moment. Our families need to experience the Spirit in the way that we love them and care for them. People in our workplaces need to experience the Spirit in the integrity we bring to our businesses and the concern we show to employees, employers, colleagues and customers. People in our schools need to experience the Spirit in the way that we learn or teach. People in our communities need to experience the Spirit in the way that we reach out to the needy among us. People in our world need to experience the Spirit in the way that we treat the earth and join efforts to help the poor in other lands.
We need to be a people, filled with the Spirit, who fill our families, workplaces, schools, communities and our world with the grace of the Spirit by the way that we live. We were not given the gifts of the Holy Spirit to keep them for ourselves. They have been poured out on us in order to share with others and join in the Spirit’s effort to re-create the whole world.
Our second reading reminds us that no one can say, “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit. It is this Spirit that gives us the grace to say anything truly worthwhile. In our own parish, we value the gift of shared wisdom. This is the way that our commissions and committees discuss issues and make decisions. Ultimately, we don’t vote on an issue; we look for consensus, we strive to come to a decision that everyone can live with, through the process of shared wisdom, guided by none less than the Holy Spirit.
But this process of sharing wisdom is a great responsibility. It means two things. First, it means that if the Holy Spirit gives us something to say on an issue, we have no business keeping it to ourselves. We must engage others in dialogue about what’s right, or we run the risk of grieving the Holy Spirit, which we never want to do! Second, it means that we don’t just say the first thing that rolls off our tongue; we don’t fire off that terse email when we’re angry and can hide behind a keyboard; we wait for the gift of the Spirit, we pray, and we engage each other face-to-face. In my time here at St. Raphael’s, I’ve come to treasure this gift of shared wisdom – you taught that to me. That doesn’t mean that any of us – you or me – have always done it perfectly, but I love that we have been learning it together.
This process of shared wisdom and consensus seeking is another way that we as a parish strive to speak the Gospel in language we might not have as part of our native tongue. The Spirit gives us the words to speak, the prayers to pray, the wisdom to share when we don’t have them. And together, we all cry out “Jesus is Lord!” with the grace of the Holy Spirit, so that everyone who crosses our paths can hear it loud and clear, in a way they can understand it.
Having gathered today in this place on this great Feast, we now pray for not only an outpouring of that Holy Spirit, but also for the openness to receive that Spirit and the grace to let that Spirit work in us for the salvation of the world. We, the Church, need that Holy Spirit to help us to promote a culture of life in a world of death; to live the Gospel in a world of selfishness; to seek inclusion and to celebrate diversity in a world of racism and hate; to effect conversion and reconciliation in a world steeped in sin. Brothers and sisters in Christ, if people in this world are to know that Jesus is Lord, it’s got to happen through each one of us. One life and one heart at a time can be moved to conversion by our witness and our prayer. Let us pray, then, that the Holy Spirit would do all that in us.
Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and enkindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit, and they shall be created, and you shall renew the face of the earth. Amen. Alleluia!