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Homily for Pentecost, Year A, 2023

I think I have mentioned before how our parish prepares families for the baptism of their children. In some fashion or other, we end up in the Church and I point to the Cross and explain that this is our product disclosure statement. You can’t ever say we didn’t warn you! I wonder whether we need something similar for Pentecost, some kind of spiritual prospectus.

When we hear the description in our first reading, how do we imagine this? It is important to dwell on this, because as you know, one of my favourite parts of scripture is the saying: God is the same yesterday, today and forever. What happened at Pentecost is still happening right now. Happening in the life of each one of us. So, again, when we hear that description what do we imagine in going on? How does it relate to my here and now?

Perhaps it is worth highlighting some of the key signs and what they mean. They heard what sounded like a great wind. It seemed to fill the whole room. What seemed like tongues of fire came to rest on each of them.

First, what is this wind? The wind from heaven is first of all the breath of God, that which breathes life into creation, that which we read in Genesis causes humanity to live. In Exodus, it is also the wind that holds back the sea allowing Israel to escape from the Egyptians, yet another example of God’s creative and redemptive power, God’s loving kindness, God’s power to keep us safe.

Likewise, we hear about that fire in the book of Exodus. At day, a pillar of wind and cloud kept the Egyptians at bay, again protecting the Israelites; while at night, a pillar of fire guided them through the darkness into the Promised Land. Fire is also a sign of God’s judgment, God’s anger at injustice and evil. God burns up all that is unholy. Nothing that is impure can stand in God’s presence. These are the forces that our first reading is talking about.

We also hear that what sounded like the wind filled the whole room. This clearly points to the presence of God in the temple: both in the original Tabernacle when God was with his people in the desert, and the Temple in Jerusalem. When Isaiah has his vision of God taking possession of the Temple and filling it up with God’s glory, he sees angels covering their faces. He cries out in fear because he is impure and he has looked on God. God quickly purifies him so that he can withstand God’s presence. This is what we are talking about at Pentecost. God is taking possession of his new temple, the Body of Christ, the Church, the temple of the Holy Spirit.

A wonderful example of this is the example of St Philip Neri, whose feast day was last Friday. At around this time, between Ascension and Pentecost, while he was praying in the Roman Catacombs, Philip saw a ball of fire enter his mouth and move to his heart. He felt so overcome by God’s love that he was afraid he would overheat and die. He became one of the most famous saints in Rome. When he died and they performed an autopsy, they found out that his heart had grown so much, got so massive that it had broken some ribs to make room. As I said, this is serious stuff.

But if this is what we are talking about, God having purified us at Easter and now filling up our lives with his presence, should we be concerned? Should we be afraid? How should we respond? Well, every time someone is in the presence of the Divine, fear is usually the first response. But if it is God or God’s messenger, the person is told not to be afraid. But what happens to the person, when the Holy Spirit takes over the person’s life? We can see all this in our gospel. Listen to what Jesus says.

Remember he has just been crucified. All but a few of his closest friends had deserted him when he needed them most. All have left the way. Almost no-one has believed in the Good News which is Himself, God’s love for the world.

After all that has happened to him, after all he had endured, what does he say? “Peace be with you.” After his disciples have failed him at the crucial moment, what does he do? “As the Father sent me, so am I sending you.” For the world that has rejected him both as God and as human, what does he want? “Receive the Holy Spirit” and set about offering forgiveness of sins. Purify the whole world that it too might become part of the Body of Christ, that it too might become a temple of the Holy Spirit.

Once I become united with God, once I let God’s Holy Spirit dominate my life, then I partake of God’s life. I am no longer buffeted by the world. Yes, I might be tested. Yes, I might be tempted. Yes, I might be made to suffer and even killed, but my heart is at peace. I just set about God’s plan, afire with love.

This is what we celebrate today. The awesome power of God. Not only purifying us but wanting to dwell in us, desperately seeking our cooperation in the great work of love. So how will we respond? When God’s power seeks to make its home in our hearts, how will we respond?


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