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Sunday, December 4, 2016
Text: Fr Brendan Callaghan SJ for Pentecost at St Anne's Soho
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¬†Fr Brendan gave the following homily at the Pentecost Mass for gay Catholics, their families and friends at St Anne's Soho, in London "Today we celebrate the great beginnings of the Church" ≠ so says the preface at today's Mass. This is the birthday feast of the church, the celebration of the start of a new chapter in the life of the gathered people of God. Our readings present us with complementary images of just what that new way of life entails ≠ pictures which both tell us what happened in the past, and what happens today, in this year of Our Lord, in this year of the Spirit 2005. We can work our way backwards in chronological time through the readings ≠ starting with Paul writing to the community of believers at Corinth, via the account of the first Pentecost in Acts, and finding the source of this new life in the Gospel of John. We need to remember, as we do this, that the risen Jesus continually opened up his friends to the presence of the Holy Spirit. John the evangelist, Luke the chronicler of the acts of the apostles, Paul the founder of churches: each gives us a glimpse of what that meant for those early followers of the risen Lord. Paul is dealing with an already complex church community, one in which a great variety of different people are involved, and in which, inevitably, an equally great variety of rivalries and tensions have emerged. The first variety is one of the signs of the Spirit ≠ the second a mark of how we resist the working of the Spirit. If we look at our own community here ≠ the gathering of the followers of Jesus who pray with and centre their lives on this Eucharistic community ≠ we can see that first, life-giving variety of gifts. Look at us, in this church building at this moment ≠ and we see variety. We see people bringing their various gifts to the service of God in the community of believers ≠ gifts of organisation, gifts of making people welcome, gifts of making music, gifts of proclaiming the scriptures, gifts of ministering within the liturgy of the Eucharist. Less visible are other gifts - gifts of intercessory prayer, gifts of tolerance and forgiveness, gifts of meditation on the scriptures, gifts of perseverance, gifts of faithful and sustaining love in all sorts of relationships. In our other involvements we manifest gifts of service, gifts of responding to the strangers in our midst and to those who are long≠established parts of our community here. Paul welcomes this variety ≠ and the way in which he does so in today's reading is influenced by a measure of jealousy and rivalry among the people of the church of Corinth. "My gift is more important than your gift" might capture something of that spirit ≠ a spirit in opposition to the Spirit of Jesus. "I belong more than you belong" seems also to have been part of it, hence Paul's reminder about Jews and Greeks, slaves and free all drinking of the same Holy Spirit. Paul's understanding of God's love was an inclusive understanding. He had been blasted out of the secure certainties of Pharisaism into a community which welcomed all and all manner of people, into a community which ignored every boundary of religious and racial and civic belonging and ostracism: how could he not see the same Spirit given to all? And if some of us are asking "well, what about us, then?" I venture to suggest that if Paul had had a modern understanding of human sexuality in all its variety, we might just have heard him proclaim that all are given the same Spirit to drink: Jew and Greek, slave and free, gay and straight. As in Corinth, so with us: the very variety of gifts which is a mark of the active presence of the Spirit of God can become, in the hands of the enemy of God's love, a source of undermining the work of the Spirit. The church is made up of human beings in all their variety of insight and blindness, wisdom and foolishness, courage and fearfulness, generosity and selfishness. Variety can be experienced as exhilarating or frightening, as richness or threat. Someone who is different from me can be someone to celebrate with or someone to fear and avoid. In someone who wants to belong to my community I can demand uniformity or I can welcome variety. But I cannot, in the name of Jesus, preach exclusion and avoidance. I cannot claim the guidance of the Spirit if I act out of fear or threat. I cannot profess to be "catholic" if I rule out of my community whole swathes of God's children, men and women whom God finds infinitely loveable. Today the church invites us to celebrate that variety, given and recognised from the beginning of our life as Church. And one of the key marks of the presence of the Spirit in our lives ≠ in my life, in your life - is our willingness ≠ my willingness, your willingness ≠ to find in that amazing variety a source for rejoicing rather than regret, a cause for celebration rather than for carping comparison or for fearful exclusion. To the measure that we celebrate and rejoice in these signs of the Spirit among us, to that same measure we will be a people who proclaim the good news of the gospel. At that first Pentecost, as Luke tells us in the Acts of the Apostles, the followers of Jesus broke out into the world. They broke out of their isolation ≠ all gathered in one place, perhaps in fear and anxiety during the great Jewish feast of Pentecost ≠ and more, they broke out of the limits of language and languages, and spoke and behaved in such a way that everyone ≠ from everywhere in the Eastern Mediterranean (that is, from everywhere that mattered!) ≠ could understand what they were saying ≠ could hear them proclaiming God's works. "Sing if you're glad to be Christian" doesn't do justice to what was, in one sense anyway, one of the biggest coming-out parties of all time. Don't forget that a few verses later Peter has to reassure the crowds that the disciples are not drunk ≠ it's only nine o'clock in the morning And at the heart of this celebration of God's gifts, of this breaking-out into the world to proclaim God's works, is an encounter with Jesus, who gives his Spirit. Just as in the upper room where they were gathered for fear of the Jews, so here and now, for us gathered round these scriptures and round this table of the Lord's Eucharist, it is in meeting with Jesus that we receive the Spirit, it is in our always-new encounters with Jesus that the Spirit is able to work more and more deeply in our hearts. Any encounter with Jesus is a moment of reconciliation: "Peace be with you," says Jesus, and dissolves our fears, our hesitations, our anxieties over our lack of faithfulness in response to his utter faithfulness. "Peace be with you" says Jesus a second time, and reassures us that however we may be perceived or treated by others, we are loved beyond measure by him. Any encounter with Jesus is a call to mission: "As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you." This Pentecost ≠ this Fiftieth Day ≠ sees the start of fifty days of prayer, proclamation and action in the MakePovertyHistory campaign. In our world, in our time, here is one among a variety of ways of proclaiming God's works, alongside people of other Christian communions and other faiths, alongside people of goodwill across the world. And suitably on a day when we celebrate the variousness of God's gifts, there are various ways in which we can take part ≠ by prayer, by witness, and by various forms of action. [prayer cards etc.] There is a variety of gifts, but the same Spirit. How we celebrate God's utterly faithful and incalculably generous love, how we proclaim the good news revealed to us in Jesus, will reflect that variety of gifts. But that we can, and may, and should celebrate and proclaim reflects our common faith. The Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins captured something of that faith: There lives the dearest freshness deep down things because the Holy Ghost over the bent world broods with warm breast, and with ah! bright wings. Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and kindle in them the fire of your love.
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