Saturday, May 10, 2008


(Pentecost Sunday)

(N.B. There are alternate endings for the vigil Mass and the Mass during the day)

Today is the fulfillment of all the mysteries of the Lord we have been celebrating all year, from his Nativity and his ministry to his Passion, death, and Resurrection. They all lead to that most wonderful of gifts to us, the Presence of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, our minds, our families, and in us assembled as church.

God is not someone who just sits there. It’s not like God just holds court in heaven enjoying his own perfection and the company of his angels and his saints. No! God is a dynamic movement, a perfect process of Love. This is part of what we mean when we say that God is a Trinity, trying to describe this God who is a dynamic movement of Love.

Anyone of us who has been in love knows that love wants more than anything to share itself with the other. And so it is with the perfect Love that we call God. From the most perfect charity which desires nothing more than the pure benefit and good of another all the way down to the most basic sexual desire in which our very bodies seem to reach out and long for the other, in all of these experiences of love we come to know a hint or a shadow of the tremendous passion of God to share his very self with the world.

The overflowing of the love of God, this stretching forth as it were, of God’s love for his creation, we call the Holy Spirit. This Spirit was present in the very beginning: as we read in Genesis, before God even began to create the heavens and the earth, the breath or spirit of God hovered over the waters. From the very beginning it wasn’t as if God sat aloof from his creation. Instead, God was intimately present, loving the creation into being.

This is also what it means when the gospels say that Jesus “was conceived by the Holy Spirit.” The same Spirit, the same divine Love which embraced creation from the very beginning, now accomplishes the perfect unification between God and our humanity in Jesus Christ. God desires so much to be present to us, to love us as we are, that he gives up all the power and prerogative that goes with being God and becomes one of us, vulnerable for sure, but able to relate to us perfectly as our brother.

And now this same Spirit which hovered over the waters in the beginning, which conceived Jesus Christ in the womb of Mary, and which most perfectly of all, raised Jesus from the dead, is given to us. The Spirit is given to us so that we too might be lifted up with Jesus. The Spirit both bids us and helps us rise from all of the violence , depression, anxiety—from all of this approximation of death that we have brought upon ourselves with our sins. The Spirit gives us true freedom. The presence of the Spirit which we have by uniting ourselves to the humanity of Christ in prayer, faith, and sacrament, rolls us up into the dynamic movement of love which is the Trinity of God. In this great Gift we become—obscurely, mysteriously, sacramentally—part of the very inner life of God.

This great gift leaves us with a mission, a mission with which we are sent forth at the end of this Easter season. And this mission is nothing less than the healing of all of human civilization.


In the first reading from the book of Genesis we heard the story of the tower of Babel, and how the language of the people working there became so confused that they could no longer work together and were “scattered all over the earth.” So what went wrong with their project? Think back to the beginning of the reading. They said to themselves, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the sky, and so make a name for ourselves.”

This is the original sin of every politics and human effort at leadership that leaves God out of the picture. For when we try to build a family, a community, or a civilization for our own glory, it only ends in confusion and alienation. We must learn to run our communities, our society, and our countries for the glory of God rather than ourselves, and according to the Spirit of God rather than the wisdom of this world. That is why the very last scene in the whole of the Bible is the New Jerusalem coming out of heaven and joining itself to the earth.

God entrusts us with the mission of building up this civilization of the Spirit. And when we begin we will find that our differences are no longer confusing and scattering. We will find a new unity for humanity in the love and the Spirit of God, and we will let the Holy Spirit create the world anew.


Jesus gives to his disciples this power to heal the world in the Gospel we hear today. He breathes on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” This is the same Holy Spirit which hovered over the waters at the beginning of creation. It is the same Holy Spirit which overshadowed Mary and conceived Jesus in her womb. And now this Holy Spirit is on us. It is an empowering Spirit, and Jesus describes the power that it gives: “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain and retained.”

Today the power of divine forgiveness is put into our hands, yours and mine. And this is power to stop all of the cycles of violence which hinder and injure our personal relationships and break out into the wars which scar all of human history.

After all, the real power of violence lies not in its ability to hurt, but in its ability to reproduce and to grow. You hit me, I hit you harder. Nations retaliate against each other and wars escalate. Those who suffer abuse as children often grow up to be abusers. And murderers are executed to make the point that killing people is unacceptable.

The Holy Spirit empowers us to stop these cycles of violence in their tracks by forgiveness. And this is nothing less than an imitation of Christ’s own Passion, in which he takes to himself on the Cross all the violence and hate that we can dish out, and gives nothing back but the blessing and kindness of the Resurrection.

Let us gladly accept the power to forgive with the very forgiveness and compassion of God. By forgiving let us let go of every bitterness of heart that injures our personal relationships with gossip, detraction, and betrayal. And if we start there, let us have confidence that we are allowing the Holy Spirit to heal the world with the soothing forgiveness that will end all violence and war, and will create the world anew in the love that is the Spirit of God.

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