Solemnity of Pentecost 2013
Homily preached by Abbot Cuthbert Madden at the Conventual Mass on the Solemnity of Pentecost (19th May 2013).
Dear Brothers and Sisters, we have just listened to the account of the first Pentecost in Jerusalem. It is an astonishing text because it speaks of an event quite unlike most of our experience: few of us, I rather think none of us, have experienced the noise of a rushing wind accompanied by tongues of fire resting on our heads. Because this is so it is easy for us to react in one of two ways: on the one hand we can write off this event entirely; our reasoning might be that this is neither a commonplace event nor is it an unusual event which has been recorded elsewhere and so, we suggest, it did not occur. On the other hand we might suggest that this event did happen and then breathe a sigh of relief because it has not happened to us and so, we suggest, we can continue in our own rather relaxed way of living. For a Christian neither of these two reactions hits the mark: let us begin again.
Let us start by supplying a little context for the first Pentecost. The Apostles and other close disciples of Jesus knew him well: they had travelled with him as he taught his own people everything he knew about God his Father. They had witnessed the healing miracles and the other signs of his divinity. They had seen him taken prisoner, tried, and executed on the wood of the cross. They had seen him laid in the tomb and then, three days later, they had seen the empty tomb. Many of these witnesses had seen him after his resurrection, they had listened to him, eaten with him, touched him. Then they had seen him taken up into heaven and after that event they had gathered together to pray. They prayed because they were waiting. They were waiting for the coming of the Advocate, the Paraclete, who had been promised to them by Christ. In chapters 14, 15 and 16 of the Gospel of St John Jesus repeatedly promises his disciples that he will send the Spirit of Truth who will lead them into all truth. So now they are waiting for the Spirit who will reveal to them their God-given task in life.
When the Spirit does come their God-given role is very clear, they are to go and tell those men and women who are gathered in Jerusalem all they know about Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, who has reconciled mankind to God, and who now stands at the right hand of God to intercede for all of us. And that is what they do.
What was the message they taught the crowds? This is very simple: they taught the crowds what Jesus had taught them and then they said that if these crowds also loved Jesus they should keep his word. The message then was the same as the message that we have received: ‘If anyone loves me he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we shall come to him and make our home with him’ (John 14.23b).
Now what does this mean for us? In the first place I think that it means that if we desire to experience the outpouring of the Holy Spirit we must begin by coming to know Jesus. St Benedict is very clear how this is to be achieved. We are to immerse ourselves in the Scriptures, especially the Gospels. We are to listen to Jesus speaking there. We are to watch him healing the sick, giving new sight to the blind, talking with unbelievers and believers alike. We are to come to know Jesus as our brother and our friend. St Benedict tells us also that we will hear Jesus speaking in the words of our brothers and sisters. He asks us to listen to them; to attend to their needs. Benedict tells us that we must clothe the naked, heal the sick, feed the hungry, help those in any kind of need, all kinds of needs, even the most trivial needs – because when we care for our brothers and sisters we are caring for Christ and we come to know Christ. This, of course, is simply reiterating the teaching of Jesus himself. When we know Christ then we will experience the Holy Spirit coming down upon us and renewing the gifts of grace that he has already given us – for in truth the Holy Spirit had already overshadowed us and we did not know it.
‘If anyone loves me he will keep my word...’ dear brothers and sisters, we have heard the commands of Christ addressed to us as we read the Gospels; all we need to do now is to put those words into action. When we put those words into action the words change us and the Spirit, the Sanctifier, makes us holy. This holiness is not a thing to be feared – we do not become unapproachable or less human, rather we become more approachable, more properly human, more lovable, because we are becoming the person that God made us to be.
Let each of us then, on this Pentecost day, pray to the Lord that he will send his Holy Spirit to overshadow us so that we may become the person he made us to be. For when we are the person he made us to be every word of ours, every action of ours, will speak loudly of the Lord Jesus and then the world around us will come to believe and the whole of God’s creation will, at last, be made new.