31 May 2020 Homily by Bishop Noel Treanor for Feast of Pentecost

I You send forth your Spirit, they are created (Ps 103. 29)

Today, Pentecost Sunday, the Holy Spirit is the subject of the three readings we have just heard from the New Testament – evidently so, one might remark !

As we listened to these readings from the traditions associated with St Luke (the lines from the Acts of the Apostles), with St John (the gospel text) and with St Paul on the gifts of the Holy Spirit, my thoughts turned to the many children whose Confirmations we have not been able to celebrate here in this diocese, and presumably elsewhere, due to the corona virus pandemic.

We all look forward to being able to celebrate the sacrament of Confirmation with them in due course. Confirmation marks a milestone in their lives and in family life. It’s another moment in the life of the domestic Church, on the pathway of family life, when many adults re-discover the ennobling quality of Christian lifestyle and the empowerment of belonging with their children to parish and faith community.

Until it is possible to celebrate Confirmations, may I ask you, parents, grandparents, their guardians and friends to greet your children today on my behalf and on behalf of their teachers, classroom assistants, and all those who were and are involved in preparing them for the commitment they make as they celebrate the sacrament of Confirmation.

Thinking about children at any time, and especially in our current circumstances, raises thoughts, at least now and then, about the world and the human society of tomorrow. Multi and inter-disciplinary commentary on this subject is currently both plentiful and stimulating. The importance of the subject, from whatever angle it is treated, cannot be underestimated. It is well that we Christians, citizens of our bodies politic and of our time, should hone our critical understanding of the enormous issues facing society, our institutions of governance, those elected to them and those who have accepted the responsibility of public service for the common and public good. Governance in and of the new normal will be confronted with social ethical issues of profound existential significance for justice, sustainable development, the generation and sharing of wealth, the organisation of work. Today we pray that leaders of public opinion, in politics, society, economics, and research, may be inspired by the Spirit of truth and life.

For Christians, for us who listen to the Word of God and celebrate this Eucharist on the feast of Pentecost, there is also the concomitant issue of the place of God, or the human awareness of what the first reading describes as the “marvels of God” / the mirabilia Dei (Ac 2.11) in the society of today and tomorrow. Whilst the working of the Spirit of God is not dependent on any one of us, nor on us collectively, the penetration of what the same book of the Acts of the Apostles refers to as “the consolation of the Holy Spirit” (Ac 9.31) into the fabric of life and society is individuated and personalised through the good works and agency of us, women and men, in our active personal and societal lives, in our life’s work, in our relationships, and endeavours.

The invitation to “receive the Holy Spirit” (Jn 20.22), as addressed to the disciples by Jesus, in today’s gospel according to St John, is linked to the mission of forgiveness of sins and to the mission of making known the “marvels of God” in (Ac 2.11), the power and strength of faith in Christ in St Luke’s Acts of the Apostles. The power and strength of that faith in Christ is illustrated in the primordial expansion of the Christian community, the Church, in the chapters of the Acts of the Apostles.  From various and varied moments in our lives, you and I have known the strength this same faith engenders and how it can save us, dare one say so, even from ourselves!  Today, Pentecost, we receive the mission of making Jesus known, of making Him known as Lord (1Cor 12.3), as the living revelation of God. How are we to do that?

II A variety of gifts, always the same Spirit, all sorts of service to be done (1 Cor 12 4)

In this regard St Paul observes, as we heard, that there are” all sorts of service to be done” (1 Cor 12.4), and that there is a variety of gifts, yet always the same Spirit. On this Pentecost Sunday, together with the priests of the diocese, I should like to thank the numerous volunteers who serve and sustain the life and outreach of our parishes and diocese. Vast numbers of women and men offer their time, undertake training, turn up for events and meetings, and do so voluntarily, to give life and dynamism to our parishes.  In so many ways, through their generosity, time, and effort they make the love of God a living reality in our midst.  Today we acknowledge their work and we thank them.  They are the living animators of Pentecost, “the Church at work” at the coal face, throughout the year in our parishes and communities.

For the follower of Christ, prior to all such outreach and service there comes the cultivation of our sense of God and the things of God. Prayer is part of family life in many of our homes. Yet although many parents and teachers foster a sense of God and a habit of prayer in their children, challenges in our  ambient culture to Christian lifestyle, if not its disparagement, risk deepening the rupture in the transmission from one generation to the next of an appreciation of faith and of an active participation in the liturgical, community and service components of the life of the local Church.  Personal prayer, the celebration of the liturgy and the sacraments, extend and open our lives beyond a self-centred view of life to a way of seeing inspired by the Spirit of God’s Word, by what St John calls the Spirit of truth (Jn 15.26) and the Spirit which gives life (Jn 6.63).  We pray today that our witness of prayer and service, that of our parishes and Christian communities, may be centres and sources of inspiration for the discovery of  the joy and consolation of faith in Christ, so that many may be enabled by the movement of God’s Spirit to recognise “Jesus as Lord”, to quote the words of St Paul (1 Cor.12.3b).

III And, behold, it was very good (Gn.1.31)

We are all aware of the many challenges in contemporary society to traditional expressions and manifestations of Christian devotion, faith and lifestyle and of the concerns to which this give rise for many, especially for parents and grandparents.  Recent decades have seen profound changes in sensibility and cultural mores. Progress in research, science and technology, with concomitant developments in thought and discourse about human identity and our place in the cosmos have given rise to new and fascinating questions for humanity.  We live in what some refer to as, a “liquid society” and we carry personally and in our families the burdens of its search for meaning and the re-articulation of an anthropology for our time. In this milieu which will be part of the new normal, the capacity for discernment, for guided and prayerful thought, so that one can take responsibility for one’s freedom for self in society and with others, will become more and more a hallmark of the pathway towards the maturing of faith in Christ. 

In this our contemporary world, as in all times, our lodestar is still to be found in that text from the book of Genesis which refers to the creative breath/spirit  of God :  “God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, a sixth day” (Gn 1.31).

We, the human family, are still partly in that Genesis “evening”.  So we pray that our celebration of the creative and restorative power of God’s breath on this Pentecost Sunday may inspire us to develop :

  • a sense of prayerful optimism for the human condition,
  • a sense of trust in our own flesh and blood, our youth, and their future,
  • a determination to share and open to others the power of faith in Jesus as Lord,
  • so that, inspired by that faith in Christ, we may give a little time and support to enable our local Church and its agencies to help, reach out, to console and give new hope to others in personal, spiritual or material need.