Go and Renew the Face of the Earth
Pentecost Sunday: May 15, 2016 (Years A, B, C)
How have you experienced the Holy Spirit acting in your life? Have you ever noticed it was the Holy Spirit who was inspiring you? Enlightening you? Comforting you? Strengthening you? Did you believe it?
The Entrance Antiphon proclaims: “The Spirit of the Lord fills the whole world… holds all things together and knows every word in human speech.” This is a global perspective, seeing the Spirit as the source of unity and of eventual peace throughout the world.
The Holy Spirit is also a personal mentor, tutor or coach as contrasted with a teacher who addresses a whole group. The Spirit works with you individually to help you remember, understand, and act on what Jesus taught. The Spirit helps you use your particular, individual gifts for others. The Spirit maintains unity while promoting and enhancing diversity.
The Gift of Tongues
In Acts 2: 1-11 people are gathered in Jerusalem from “every nation under heaven.” But when the believers are “filled with the Holy Spirit” and begin to proclaim the good news about Jesus, each nationality hears the Christians speaking in its own native tongue. We refer to this as “the miracle of tongues.” It is still happening today.
The real “miracle of tongues” that is happening all around us is not a miracle of people understanding foreign languages, but of people being able to speak about Jesus in ways that makes others say, “Now you are speaking my language!”
To translate something into a particular language is only the first step in communication. Even more important is to be able to talk about the Gospel in ways the people you are addressing can relate to; to use the particular words that really “speak to them”; to make what Jesus said and did relevant to their own life, especially to their daily lives. This is the gift of the prophets.
Jesus made no laws, laid down no rules. Go through the Gospels and see. You won’t find any. What he gave us in his New Law (the term is not found in the Bible) were general principles, like “Love one another as I have loved you,” and “Love your enemies.” These are not rules, because they do not tell us explicitly what to do. We have to think about how to apply them in every particular case.
Or Jesus taught by giving particular examples of what we should do, leaving it to us to figure out what principles they were examples of. These examples are usually such that no one would dream of understanding them as rules for the Church; for example, “Sell your possessions, and give alms” (Luke 12:33); or the three examples in Matthew 5: 39-41: “Turn the other cheek, give your cloak too, go the extra mile.” These lead us to general principles (e.g. “Nothing should be so important to you that it would destroy your relationship with your neighbor: not your possessions, not your time, not your fear of rejection”). The prophets are those who have the insight to apply Christ’s general principles to the concrete circumstances of their time and place. This is to translate the words of Jesus into the language of relevance. It is the best gift of tongues!
“One body, one spirit in Christ”
1Corinthians 12: 3-13 calls us to believe that the gift of leadership in the Church is given to each and every one of us: “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”
This means that the Spirit works with, within and through every Christian to make the life of Christ in that person evident in words and actions that are manifestly the fruit of divine life (grace). The unique personality, talents, experiences and circumstances of each person enable each of us to see things from a unique angle, or to appreciate something in a special way. This is natural, and it is the reason why every single one of us has the gift of leadership and is called to use it when we happen to be the one who sees what needs to be done. (Don’t confuse this with authority. We follow authorities out of commitment but leaders voluntarily. Authorities keep us united; leaders move us forward. These are two distinct functions, and both are necessary).
The Spirit works through what we have by nature and raises it to a higher, a divine, level by enlightening and empowering us to see and do what is according to Christ’s teachings and the Father’s direction for the establishment of his reign — both in our hearts and in the world. In addition to (and usually working through) our natural gifts and talents, we all have “gifts of the Spirit” which we need to recognize, acknowledge and use. There are “varieties of gifts… of services… of activities.” Each of us is unique, and our gifts are multiple and diverse.
But because it is “the same Spirit… the same Lord… the same God who activates all of them in everyone,” and the Spirit is a spirit of unity, we continue “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace…. until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ” (Ephesians 4: 2-3, 13).
“Pardon and peace…”
The essential work of sin is division: separation from God and from other people. The essential work of the Spirit is unity: union with God and with other people. And so in John 20: 19-23, when Jesus gives the call-sign greeting of his resurrection appearances, “Peace be with you,” he continues: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them….”
This explains why the Church puts into the words of sacramental absolution during the rite of Reconciliation, “God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins.” Jesus “took away the sins of the world” by dying on the cross and incorporating us into his body to die and rise in him. Through him as “Lamb of God” the Father has “reconciled the world to himself.” And now he has “entrusted to us” — to the Church, his body on earth — this ministry of reconciliation (2Corinthians 5: 18-19). The Holy Spirit is present and active in the Church, extending the forgiveness of sins to all in a physical, visible way through the bodies of all inspired by him to engage in this “ministry of reconciliation.”
The “ministry of reconciliation” is not limited to sacramental absolution of sins. It is above all the “message of reconciliation” that God has entrusted to the Church and to every member in it. Paul was sent to announce the reconciliation of Jew and Gentile, to proclaim that through Christ “God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1:20). The “ministry of reconciliation” is the work of bringing the whole world together in the “peace and unity of the kingdom” Christ came to establish. The message and ministry of reconciliation is the message and ministry of love: God’s love extended to all, God’s love in us extended and reaching out to every member of the human race. This is the work of the Holy Spirit.
In the Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 104) we repeat a prayer that is also a proclamation of faith and hope: “Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.” We ask for this because we believe it is possible. We are encouraged to believe it is possible because the Church asks for it. Lex orandi, lex credendi: “What rules our prayer rules our faith.” We believe it is God’s will to “renew the face of the earth.” We believe he is doing it and wants to do it through us. Pentecost invites us to embody this belief in action.
We live in glorious times. As Christopher Fry wrote in The Sleep of Prisoners:
Thank God our time is now,
when wrongs rise up to meet us everywhere;
never to leave us till we take the longest stride of soul man ever took.
This is a time when Jesus is calling to us: “Look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting.” People are defecting from the Church in droves. Vocations to the ordained priesthood and to religious orders are dramatically down. Scandals have rocked the Church. Serious defects in the selection and formation of priests and bishops are glaringly evident. Religion seems to be sinking under the surface in a secularized world. It stands to reason God is ready to counter-attack.
Everything indicates that the renewal of the Church will take place through the awakened leadership of a renewed laity—and Pope Francis is committed to that. Every Christian is called to be an evangelizer, a disciple, a witness, a prophet, priest and leader-steward of the kingship of Christ. This is the time to act with confidence in what we ask for when we pray: “Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.”
What do I see that needs to be done in the Church? Can I acknowledge this as a gift of the Spirit? Will I have the consistent faith to act on it, doing what I can to bring it about? What is the Spirit empowering me to do?
Be a prophet. Renew the face of the earth.