Monday, June 13, 2011

A homily and some random photos

12 June 2011

Acts 2:1-11
Ps 104
1 Cor 12:3-7,12-13
Jn 20:19-23

One of truisms of scripture study is that one cannot understand the New Testament without knowing the Old Testament.  Today’s first reading proves that statement.  “When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together.”  Pentecost is not unique to Christianity. 

The Greek root of Pentecost means fifty days. Pentecost is both historically and symbolically related to the Jewish feast of Pentecost, which is also called Shavuot, a Jewish harvest festival that commemorates God giving the Decalogue to Moses fifty days after the Exodus.  In the Christian liturgical year Pentecost is celebrated fifty days after Easter, with Easter Sunday being counted as day number one of the fifty.  Just as Moses received the wisdom and teaching of the Decalogue fifty days after the Exodus, the disciples received the wisdom of the Holy Spirit fifty days after Jesus’ resurrection; fifty days after Jesus led us in the exodus from death. 

We heard the promise to send the Holy Spirit in the Gospel proclaimed on June 1. 
“But when he comes
the Spirit of truth,
he will guide you to all truth . . .”
In today’s reading from John’s Gospel we hear something very different from what we just heard in Acts of the Apostles. 

The first reading is dramatic.  Wind.  Flame.  Polyglot speaking.  We hear of the people’s consternation that these unsophisticated and uneducated Galileans were able to speak in whatever language was necessary for the many visitors to be able to hear the Good News.  Symbolically this represents what scholars refer to as “the reversal of Babel”, the story in the Old Testament that explains the multiplicity of languages on the earth.  With the descent of the Holy Spirit that which had been split apart by the people’s pride was rejoined by Jesus’ obedience to the Father.

It is a pity we did not hear all of Psalm 104 during the responsorial.  It is the perfect psalm for this feast. It is also the perfect psalm in this age of growing ecological awareness.  Psalm 104 describes creation. It describes God’s ongoing act of creation as well as our response to that act.  God’s action and our response is reciprocal: From the Creator to the created and from the creature to the Creator.

Today we celebrate the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  Thus we hear, “To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.”  And then,  “As a body is one though it has many parts . . .“  Each of us is given unique but not identical gifts.  Our task is to discover those unique gifts and develop them. 

“As a body is one though it has many parts . . .” is important to keep in mind.  It is something to which Paul will return later.  Certain sectors of modern society no longer tolerate or accept differences or distinctions.  Rather, we have come to insist on a false equality that is actually an extreme version of particularity, an extreme sense of specialness, in which each individual or faction demands that his or her specialness is most special, in which my equality is more equal than your equality. 

Medical students hear multiple amusing anecdotes when they study anatomy and physiology.  The general outline is of an argument in which each organ or organ system in the body is debating which is the most important, which one has supremacy and ultimate control over the others, which is MOST critical to the life and comfort of the individual.   But you know what?  Except for the appendix, that is useless though it is still dangerous, there is no most important system, or organ, in the body.  All of the systems are equally necessary, each in its own way, to the optimal function and ultimate survival of each of us. 

The lungs cannot do the work of the liver.  The liver cannot do the work of the heart.  And the pancreas cannot fulfill the role of the skin.  If one organ or system fails the entire body dies.  It is that simple.  None of us is the equivalent of a stem cell that can do or become anything depending upon the circumstances. We are all limited.  We are all fallible.  We are all sinners.  No exceptions. 

Today’s Gospel has the potential to confuse if it is read in isolation.  In Acts we heard of the descent of the Holy Spirit after Jesus’ Ascension.  In chapter 16 of John’s Gospel we heard, “If I do not go away the Paraclete will not come to you; but if I go I will send him to you.”  However, Jesus is quite present to the apostles in today’s Gospel.  How do we reconcile the two?  Jesuit Fr. Stanley Marrow explains things succinctly with a warning to those who would interpret the gospels in too literal a fashion. “We must beware of isolating discrete moments in what is one integral event in the revelation.  He who dies on the cross, is he who rises from the dead, returns to the Father who sent him, and sends his Holy Spirit on all who confess him as Lord and Son of God.” 

Just before the Gospel we heard the sequence, Veni Sancte Spiritus, Come Holy Spirit.  It ended with . . . .

“On the faithful who adore
And confess you, evermore
In your sevenfold gift descend;

Give them virtue’s sure reward;
Give them Thy salvation, Lord;
Give them joys that never end.
Amen. Alleluia.”

The gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit have been bestowed upon us.  Our task is to cooperate with those gifts and graces in the manner to which each of us has been called.  And to share the revelation of Jesus in whatever language necessary with those we meet. 

The weekend was rainy.  The trains into the city were closed for construction work.  It was a good time to arrange photos.   A few were worth sharing. 

Woke up early in the morning.  Looked out the window.  Balloons.  All over the place.  They are lovely to look at but there is no way I would ever ride in one.  
Did you ever wonder where useless Philadelphia sports apparel goes?  I was shocked to see these jerseys hanging in one of the stalls in the Victoria Market.  Only as I was editing the photos did I notice the name on the Iggles jersey.  Donovan McNabb  He is, uh, no longer part of the team.  Never thought to check the price.

It is obvious I was not the only one wandering around Melbourne with a camera attached to his face. 
This last is from Taipei.  Ignatius and I were wandering around Longshan Temple on New Year's Eve.  Only after I had taken about 10 photos did the owner come out to shoo me away. The store is the Taiwanese equivalent of the St. Jude Shop in Philadelphia.  

1 comment:

  1. I used to teach in an Orthodox Jewish school. It was a few years before the connection between Shavuot and Pentecost dawned on me.

    My students celebrate Shavuot by staying up all night reading Torah.