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A Homily for Pentecost Sunday

by William Kelley, S.J

June 5, 2022 / Pentecost Sunday/ Cycle C

Holy Trinity, Washington DC

Sunday 11:30 AM

Lectionary: 63, page 492

Acts 2:1-11 They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak

Ps 104:1, 24, 29-30, 31, 34 Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.

1 Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13 In one Spirit we were all baptized into one body

John 14:15-16, 23b-26 The Holy Spirit will teach you everything

Many Catholics mistakenly regard today’s feast of Pentecost as the feast day of the Holy Spirit. But it’s not the feast of the Holy Spirit; it’s the feast of the Church. Moreover, at Pentecost, we don’t simply commemorate an event that happened long ago, the same way, for instance, that we will commemorate D-Day tomorrow. In observing D-Day, we reach back into our national memory to an historic event that both happened and ended decades ago. We honor the many who sacrificed their lives that day, as well as the thousands whose continued service finally brought that bloody war to an end. We commemorate D-Day, but we don’t expect it to be repeated again today.

That’s the difference with Pentecost. On this feast we celebrate not just the original outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit upon the Church two thousand years ago. We also rejoice in God’s ongoing outpouring of the Spirit. And, in fact, we fully hope and expect that Pentecost will happen again this morning. In fact, we count on it. The Holy Spirit, after all, is God’s dynamizing presence in the Church. It’s the Holy Spirit who inspires us to lives of love and service, who encourages us when we falter, and who forgives us when we deliberately turn away from God. Without the constant presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church, we could never live the kind of life that God intends us to live – the kind of life that Jesus lived when he walked this earth.

And yet, many might well ask, “If God’s Spirit is being poured out continually, how has the Church wound up in the derelict and discouraging condition we find it today?” We Catholics continue to be troubled by sordid revelations of clergy sexual abuse and episcopal cover-ups. Where was the Holy Spirit when these despicable behaviors were occurring? We think too of the exasperating actions of certain bishops who, in recent weeks, have attempted to restrict access to the Eucharist for some who do not share their too-narrow understanding of the proper role of Catholics in a democracy. Our task as Catholics is to make our fellow citizens aware of our faith-inspired values: for instance our belief in the sacredness of human life, our reverence for the environment, and our advocacy on behalf of immigrants and refugees. Our further responsibility is – through respectful dialogue – to influence the national conversation around these issues, but not to dictate how the rest of the country must believe and act. We do not, after all, live in a theocracy and not every citizen shares our faith-based values.

We also need to ask why so many good Catholics – Catholics who endeavor to lead virtuous lives – find in the Church, not an encouraging mother but a harsh and censorious judge. We need to question why so many sisters and brothers, who earnestly seek deeper friendship with God and companionship with us in discipleship, encounter instead rejection and condemnation. And, when Saint Paul assures us that God lavishly distributes an abundance of gifts throughout the whole Christian community – not just upon a select few – we must reflect critically on why the Church persists in rebuffing the urgently-needed and generously-offered ministry of women. These grating realities of our imperfect Church require us to question whether ours is the kind of Church that Jesus hoped for, the kind of Church that Jesus shed his blood for?

And the answer, my friends is “no” to the first, and “yes” to the second. “No”, this isn’t – I’m pretty sure – the kind of Church that Jesus hoped for; but “yes” it is the Church that he suffered and died for. As St. Paul teaches in his letter to the Romans “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”

Let’s face it. This feast of Pentecost is not for weak-kneed or fainthearted disciples. They see only the soiled and the spoiled in our Church and, disillusioned, they walk away. No, this feast is for clear-eyed disciples who plainly see the Church’s imperfections, but just as plainly see the compassionate face of Christ in our members who reach out to the lonely, the homeless, the immigrant and the dispossessed. This feast of Pentecost is for faith-filled Christians who continue to hope that God will once again today send out the Spirit and renew the face of the Church.

And so, I urge you, sisters and brothers, make that brief refrain your fervent prayer not just today but every day, for as long as we continue to experience so acutely the sinfulness of our Church: “Lord, send out your Spirit and renew the face of your Church.”


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