Saturday, June 3, 2017

Pentecost

Depiction of the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit, Chapel of the Holy Spirit, Campion Center, Weston, MA


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

One of the truisms heard in theology school is that you can't understand the New Testament without first understanding the Old. Today’s first reading from Acts of the Apostles is proof.  “When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together.”  This reference to Pentecost was to the Jewish festival of Pentecost, not to what we are celebrating today.

The Greek root of Pentecost means fifty days.  The feast of Pentecost that ends the Easter season is historically and symbolically linked to the Jewish feast of Pentecost or Shavuot.  Shavuot is a harvest festival that commemorates God giving the Ten Commandments to Moses fifty days after the Exodus.  In our liturgical year Pentecost occurs fifty days after Easter.  Thus, 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’ led the exodus from death.  Today we rejoice in the gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, fortitude, piety and fear of the Lord.  If we choose to accept and cooperate with these gifts they will strengthen us in our faith and our daily lives. 

The reading from Acts is dramatic and action packed.  It is almost a movie script demanding heavy use of special effects.  Too bad Cecil B. DeMille didn't make a film of this using modern computerized effects.  Wind.  Flame.  Polyglot speaking.  It would be spectacular.  But, we can't afford to be distracted by the special effects of this reading.  Step into the scene.  Put yourself into the action.  Imagine the people’s consternation when they heard this group of unsophisticated and uneducated Galilean men speaking whatever language was necessary for everyone to hear and comprehend the Good News of Christ Jesus risen from the dead.  In the speaking in tongues we see what some call “the reversal of Babel.” That which had been split apart by man's hubris at the Tower of Babel was made whole again by the Son of Man's obedience to the Father at Pentecost.

It is a pity we did not hear all of Psalm 104 during the responsorial.  Psalm 104 describes God’s ongoing act of creation in exquisite imagery.  It also describes our response--or what our response should be--to God's act of supreme generosity. Ideally, God’s action and our response are reciprocal, flowing from the Creator to the creature and from the creature to the Creator.  In a perfect world the reciprocity would be equal in both directions.  In reality it is not.  God gives us more than we are able to, or choose to, return to Him in thanksgiving.
“As a body is one though it has many parts . . .” is an important statement. Paul will return to it with a more detailed elaboration in the letter to the Romans.  It is relevant in society today.  Certain sectors of modern society no longer acknowledge or accept differences or distinctions.  They insist on a false equality. That false equality is an extreme version of particularity. It is marked by a grandiose sense of specialness and uniqueness.  Each individual or faction insists that his or her specialness is most special and thus deserves most special precedence.  Any arguments to the contrary seem to end with someone shrieking the equivalent of "My equality trumps your equality" followed by attributing some newly coined 'ism' or 'phobia' to the other.

There are a number of amusing anecdotes, most of which can never be shared in a homily, about the struggle for the role of most supreme in the body.  The general outline is an argument in which the body's organs argue about which one is the most important, which one is MOST critical to the life and comfort of the individual.   But you know what?  Except for the appendix, which appears to be a useless though occasionally dangerous anatomical appendage, the body has no most important system or organ, no most special system.  All of the systems are equally necessary, each in its own way, to the function and survival of the individual.  The lungs cannot do the work of the liver even if it wishes to self-identify as liver.  The liver cannot decide to do the work of the heart.  The pancreas cannot substitute for the kidneys.  And nothing can cover the body as well as the skin.  If one organ or system fails the entire body dies. It is that simple. 

None of us is the social or biological equivalent of a stem cell.  None of us can do or become ANYTHING depending only upon our dreams, our passion, or, to use an unfortunate term from the past, following our bliss.  We cannot decide to be whatever we "identify ourselves to be" particularly when that violates natural law.  The statement "you can be whatever you want to be" is one of the greatest lies in the history of lying. We all have assets and liabilities.  We are all limited and have strengths.  We all have specific genetic endowments. We are all fallible in some areas and more than competent in others.   The only thing we share is that we are all sinners.  No exceptions and no counterbalance.  That we are sinners loved by God is the only true equality.  Thus, we are called to rejoice that the gifts of the Holy Spirit have been bestowed on us.  Our vocation is to cooperate with those gifts, along with our natural talents and abilities, in the manner to which each of us is called.  Our common calling as Christians is to share the revelation of Jesus with those we meet in whatever language necessary.  The best instruction on how to do this comes from St. Francis of Assisi:

"Preach the Gospel at all times.  Use words only when absolutely necessary."

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Returned to Pleterje with the big camera.  
Took this from the train on the way to Kr┼íko.  One of the many villages along the 100 minute trip. 

On of the many halls at the charterhouse.

One of the small chapels in which each priests celebrates a private Mass after the conventual Mass.

A detail of the monks choir stalls.

Looking into the the priests' choir from what was the brothers' choir.  That separation is no longer maintained. 

A more detailed look at the carving. 

The winter chapel, formerly the brothers' Mass chapel, that is used during the cold weather.  It would be impossible to heat the church. 

The church as viewed from one of the porches. 

My lunch on Wednesday.  I love Europe. 

+Fr. Jack SJ, MD

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