Archbishop Martin’s Homily for Pentecost Sunday

20 May 2013

Homily Notes of  Most Rev Diarmuid Martin  Archbishop of Dublin, Pro-Cathedral, Dublin, 19 May 2013

“In our hymns and in the liturgy we refer to the Holy Spirit whose coming we celebrate on this Feast of Pentecost as the spirit of unity and the bond of love.  Our second reading reminds us that the Spirit we receive is not the spirit of slaves bringing fear into our lives.  The Spirit is the spirit of sonship; when we become sons of God in Jesus Christ we can turn to God our Father with the simple, intimate term “Abba”, as a child confidently addresses his father.

So often we create complications about faith and about God.  It is we ourselves who turn God into a God to be feared, whereas the God revealed in Jesus Christ invites us to be welcomed into the inner life of God himself, to be friends of God and children of God, who live a life not of fear but of trust and love.

It is the Holy Spirit across the journey of time who guarantees our ability to enter into that relationship with God.  The great Feast of Pentecost is the culmination of the paschal event.  Jesus who is risen from the dead sends as he promised the gift of the Holy Spirit and the Spirit gives life to the Church, which is charged to bring the good news to people of all languages and backgrounds.

This Spirit has been and continues to be at work throughout the whole of history.  Jesus Christ was conceived by the Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit; at the beginning of his public mission, at his baptism, it is the Spirit who descends upon Jesus in the form of a dove and confirms his mission and identity.

After his resurrection, at the moment in which he returns to his Father, Jesus pours out the Spirit upon his disciples and makes them sharers in his own mission.  It is under the guidance of the Holy Spirit that the disciples go out on the first Pentecost Sunday and begin to preach the Good News to peoples from all parts of the then known world.

The spirit, we heard in our first reading, enabled the apostles to speak a message which was understood by all, each in their own language.    This means that the Spirit enabled them at Pentecost and us today to teach a message which is relevant and understandable to the lives and the concrete realities of peoples of different backgrounds.   The message of Jesus is a universal one, not just in the sense that it has spread right around the world, but above all in that no one, no people is excluded from that message. No society is too sophisticated not to be able to understand the message of Jesus. No society is too sophisticated not to need the message of Jesus Christ.

The essence of that message is love. It is when we allow the Spirit to make us loving people that God will come and make his home in us.   This is the message which Jesus gave his disciples already before he died.  It is the message that we as Christian believers are called to bring to the realities of the world of our time.

The Church is called, according to the opening words of the Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Church, to be “a sign and a sacrament of the unity in Jesus Christ of all humankind”.  Wherever Church exists, it must be a sign for all to see of unity and community.

We all need community.   Community is not just for the few who are naturally gregarious.   It is not for the just for the unfortunate who need support.  We need something more than a vague good neighbourliness based on living next-door to each other without enmity or undue friction or even as happens today without even knowing our neighbours.  We all need real community.  We need a deep sense of solidarity and care and love for one another. The Eucharist forms that unique sense of community through the Holy Spirit.

The Spirit is a spirit of freedom. The Spirit enters into our hearts and frees us from our fears and anxieties; from the walls of false protection we build around ourselves; from the limits we place on our ability to be truly loving people.  The Spirit breaks down within us those obstacles which prevent us from opening our hearts truly to God.

The freedom which the Spirit brings is a freedom to serve; the freedom which comes from the Spirit unites.  The freedom which comes from the Spirit overcomes division.   The Spirit is “Lord and giver of life”, we recite in the Creed.  The freedom which comes from the Spirit is a freedom which generates life and rejoices when life can be lived to the full.  It is important in the current debates about abortion that Christian believers be, and be seen to be, on the side of all life, especially when life is most vulnerable.  The Christian believer is on the side of the life of the mother and that of the unborn child, life at its very beginnings and life at its end, life warped through economic exploitation, life threatened by the horrible violence we see on the streets of this city.

We thank God for those who work within our healthcare system and who give constant witness even in difficult circumstances to ensuring that both mother and baby survive and flourish.  This is a great tradition of which we can be proud and which we must see to it that it survives and is not weakened.

In the scriptural tradition, the working of the Spirit at Pentecost is contrasted with the division we see after the construction of the Tower of Babel, fruit of the shameless ambition of humankind.  We experience still today situations just as those at the time of the Tower of Babel. Growth, progress, economic interest and profit are pursued for their own sake, without any regard for the consequences for other areas of life, whether on the poor and excluded, or the environment, or on the global good of inclusion. The story Tower of Babel sheds light on what happens when an economic system or a political programme moves away from serving the common good and when we mere humans think that we can build towers which would reach to God himself, when we almost feel that we can act as God.

A worldview based only on human ambition inevitably leads to divisions and confusion.   In our recent past, an economic system became infested with personal greed and uncontrolled ambition – and it was even trumpeted – only then to collapse like a pack of cards and create new divisions.  We see the divisions of poverty and precariousness, lack of hopeful employment for our young people, of emigration, of our inability to maintain important services of solidarity.  Being on the side of life also means being concerned about all those in our days and in our communities who, as a result of economic mismanagement, are not able to flourish in their lives and who experience anxiety and loneliness and even at times despair.

The biblical image tells us that the division of language, fruit of the folly of human ambition symbolised by the Tower of Babel, has been overcome through the presence of the Spirit at Pentecost which enables peoples of all backgrounds to understand the same message and thus to understand each other.   The challenge for the Church is to be in the forefront in seeing that the work of the culture of the Spirit becomes embodied in real life.

We live in a world in which for many individualism, self-expression and self-sufficiency become the sole driving force of human activity.  This Feast of Pentecost must challenge all of us to overcome that strong tendency towards individualism which we so often find in our society.

We must also be aware of just how much that individualism can infect our understanding of the Christian faith.  We reduce our faith to a sort of book Christianity, something which serves to inspire my life and provide a comfortable, personal, armchair spirituality, making faith a sort of private comfort zone which does not require reaching out to others.  The Church is not a spiritual supermarket where I can serve myself and top-up on ways to save my own soul without ever speaking to anyone else or thinking of the consequences of my actions.

The “Creator Spirit” is the one who helps us steer the path of human progress in a new direction, within a framework respectful of God’s design for his creation, forcing us to transform our individualism and self centeredness into a response of generosity, inspired by the Holy Spirit, that spirit of unity and the bond of love, Lord and giver of life.”