Sunday, June 4, 2006

Pope: Stay Together and Pray if You Want the Holy Spirit

Actually, it is Jesus Christ who said this and the Pope is reminding us today in his homily:

Staying together was the condition imposed by Jesus to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit; a prerequisite of their harmony was prolonged prayer. In this, we can trace a formidable lesson for any Christian community. At times, it is thought that effective missionary work depends mainly on careful planning and consequent intelligent implementation through concrete commitment. Certainly, the Lord asks for our collaboration, but before any answer we may give, his initiative is necessary: it is his Spirit that is the true protagonist of the Church. The roots of our being and our actions lie in the knowing silence and providence of God.

The images that St Luke uses to indicate the descent of the Holy Spirit – wind and fire – recall Sinai, where God revealed himself to the people of Israel and conceded a covenant with them. (cfr Ex 19:3ff). The feast of Sinai, that Israel used to celebrate 50 days after Easter, was the feast of the Pact. Talking about tongues of fire (cfr Acts 2:3), St Luke wants to represent Pentecost as a new Sinai, as a feast of the new Pact in which the Covenant with Israel is extended to all the peoples of the Earth. The Church has been Catholic and missionary right from the time it was born. The universality of salvation is significantly highlighted by the list of numerous ethnicities of those who heard the first proclamation of the Apostles (cfr Acts 2:9-11).

The People of God, who found their first configuration on Sinai, have now been enlarged to the extent that they are no longer bound by any borders of race or culture, of space or time. As opposed to what happened with the tower of Babel (cfr Gen. 11:1-9), when men who wanted to build a path to heaven with their own hands, ended up by destroying their own capacity for mutual understanding, in Pentecost, the Spirit, with the gift of tongues, reveals how his presence unites and transforms confusion into communion. The pride and egotism of man always create division and build walls of indifference, of hate and of violence. The Holy Spirit, on the contrary, makes hearts capable of understanding the languages of all, because it re-establishes the bridge of authentic communion between Earth and Heaven. The Holy Spirit is love.

But how to enter into the mystery of the Holy Spirit, how to understand the secret of Love? The pages of today’s Gospel take us today to the Cenacle where, once the last Supper was over, a sense of confusion saddened the Apostles. The reason was that the words of Jesus had raised worrying questions: He talked about hatred of the world for him and his followers, he talked about his mysterious departure and there were many other things yet to be said, but for the time being, the Apostles were not capable of carrying the burden (cfr Jn:16:32). To tackle them, he explains the meaning of his distance: he will leave, but he will return; in the meantime, he will not abandon them, he will not leave them orphans. He will send the Consoler, the Spirit of the Father, and it will be the Spirit who will lead them to understand that the work of Christ is a labour of love: the love of He who has sacrificed himself, the love of the Father who gave him up.