HOMILY: PENTECOST SUNDAY ‘B’ 2018
In today’s First Reading, we heard St Luke’s account of the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles on the Feast of Pentecost. On that day, those present in Jerusalem – people from a multitude of nations and languages – each heard, in his or her own language, the message the Apostles were proclaiming. In his account of Pentecost, St Luke reminds us that one of the chief graces of the Holy Spirit is the gift of understanding: the gift of understanding the meaning, the sense of what others, however different from ourselves, are saying.
This dimension of the miracle that occurred on the Feast of Pentecost was summed up very succinctly by the poet W.H. Auden: he said that what was given on the Day of Pentecost was not only the ‘gift of tongues’, but also the ‘gift of ears’. The Holy Spirit is given to us – if only we are willing to welcome him into our hearts and minds – so that the abysses of misunderstanding that separate us may be bridged. But we know only too well how hard it is to achieve this: not only in our own personal lives but also on the far wider horizon of conflicts between and within nations – and conflicts between Christians of different allegiances and even within the Catholic Church herself.
It would be hard to deny that we are now living through a time when, right across the spectrum, ‘polarisation’ seems to be ‘the order of the day’. In many instances, whether in world or national affairs, or within Christendom generally and even within the Catholic Church, tensions that have long been present have now for a variety of reasons been suddenly laid bare. Uneasy truces between national or political groupings or within the Christian world have suddenly proved unsustainable – the real conflicts finally have erupted and we see the tragedy of polarisation.
Even in the past week, we have seen this happening in the violence on Israel’s border with Gaza. The conflict that has for so long been smouldering away has now blazed out and looks intractable. Nearer to home, we have seen the increasing polarisation of opinion abut Brexit and also clear evidence of deep rifts in both major political parties in this country. In the wider Christian community and within the Catholic Church more intensely, we see undeniable evidence of polarisation. For years, it seemed just possible to ‘manage’, however precariously, a balance between those who believe they must bring Christianity to be more in tune with modern society and those who believe that continuity with the Biblical and apostolic foundations of the faith must be preserved. But now, at least in some circles, there is even a sense that ‘partings of the way’ might be imminent.
In these very difficult days, St Paul’s insight about the mystery of the Holy Spirit’s working may perhaps help us to see our way though. In his Letter to the Romans, St Paul writes of how ‘the whole creation has been groaning in travail’…’and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly, as we wait for our adoption… ‘ Here St Paul writes of the way we, to whom the Holy Spirit has been given, are called to share in the redeeming work of Christ – in his redeeming Passion and Death groaning and travailing, so as to bring to birth a new creation. Or again, St Paul writes of how the Holy Spirit is always praying within us, with sighs too deep for words, when we ourselves do not know how to pray or what to ask for. In a time like ours, when for whatever reasons ‘polarisation’ seems to be the ‘order of the day’, we must surely accept that we must look beyond ourselves and the remedies of this world – and turn to him, the Holy Spirit, who triumphantly raised Jesus from death and then, on the Day of Pentecost, again triumphantly reversed the tragedy of Babel and its death-dealing polarisation of peoples and languages.