A homily for the Solemnity of Pentecost
St. Luke’s depiction of the Pentecost event in the Acts of the Apostles shows us something about the preaching of the Spirit-filled disciples – their words could not be ignored. The crowd that heard them speak showed different reactions. They were first “confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language.” They were also astounded and amazed. The Apostles’ words seized their hearts and brought them together to listen to the mysterious speech of illiterate Galileans. They would eventually mock and ridicule the Apostles saying, “They are filled with new wine.” No matter the response of the crowd they could not ignore the proclamation of the Spirit-filled Apostles. They just could not resist the power of their words to pull them together to listen to the saving words of God proclaimed by the Apostles.
This is a good image of the Gospel we preach and witness to in our world today. The words of the Gospel leave many confused and amazed for various reasons. The heralds of the Gospel are often maligned and insulted, partly because of their own shortfalls, failings, and inconsistencies, or just out of hatred for the Gospel that they preach and witness to. But the world just cannot ignore the Gospel if it is preached and proclaimed from Spirit-filled hearts.
What does it mean to have a Spirit-filled heart? How can we judge if the Spirit of Jesus abides in us and has complete control of our hearts?
First, we preach with the conviction that Jesus alone is the Lord, “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.” Because Jesus is Lord, we do not preach our opinions or feelings but we preach in a manner that makes us say like Jesus, “My teaching is not mine, but His who sent me.”(Jn 7:16). If Jesus is our Lord, then we do not preach human ideologies but the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ. We do not preach for the sake of human approval or because we are morally impeccable but we preach because we live under the lordship of Jesus Christ who has commissioned us to preach in His name and has given us “a manifestation of His Spirit for some benefit” to the body of Christ. In the words of St. Paul, “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel.”(1Cor 9:16) We also do not preach ourselves but what God has done for us in Jesus Christ and the response that we should make. The devout Jews could not ignore the words of the Apostles because they heard them “speaking in their own tongue of the mighty acts of God.” Let us preach what God has done and is doing in Jesus Christ today in and through His Church and her members and see if the Gospel can be ignored.
Secondly, we preach the Gospel because we have experienced the effects of sin in our lives as well as the forgiveness and new beginning that Jesus offers us in His Resurrection. The disciples abandoned Jesus at His hour of need during His Passion and they had received divine forgiveness by the power of the Holy Spirit offered by the risen Christ, “Peace be with you…Receive the Holy Spirit.” From our forgiven hearts, we proclaim and make present the forgiveness that we have received, “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them and whose sins you retain are retained.” Our preaching should reflect the merciful love that God offers us in Jesus Christ. Our preaching lacks the power to capture hearts as long as we are not experiencing divine forgiveness, repenting of our own infidelities towards Christ, and communicating divine forgiveness to others by our words and actions.
Thirdly, we are Spirit-filled if we are people of community, “When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, the disciples were all in one place together.” If we are Spirit-filled, then we make sacrifices to preserve the unity of the community and we are fully engaged in the life and mission of the community. Our preaching become impotent when it does violence to the perennial and unchanging truths that unite us as a community of Christ and fails to strengthen our bond with Christ and with each other. Likewise, we lack the power to seize the hearts and minds in the world when we preach from families, communities, parishes, churches that are divided because of our actions or inaction. We must speak and act in ways that unite, strengthen and energize the Church instead of weakening, fragmenting, and paralyzing the Church for which Christ died that we may be one.
Fourthly, we proclaim the word of God from hearts that are steeped in the living waters of prayer. In the words of Jesus, “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.”(Lk 6:45) Our hearts need to be filled first with the light and strength of divine grace before our words can have the power to pierce through the hardened and indifferent hearts of our contemporaries. If Jesus is our Lord, we depend on Him for the grace to preach His word and we offer the result of our preaching to Him. The grace to preach and the result belong to Jesus alone, “Without me (Jesus), you can do nothing.”(Jn 15:5) It is through Spirit-inspired prayer that we receive this grace to preach and offer to Jesus whatever may result from our preaching and witnessing to the Gospel.
Fifthly, we preach as Spirit-filled believers when we place Mary, the Mother of God, at the center of our lives and our communities like the Apostles did, “All these with one accord devoted themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary, the mother of Jesus, and with His brethren.” What has Mary got to do with Spirit-filled preaching? Mary is the first human person to receive the Holy Spirit at the Annunciation by believing the words of the Angel Gabriel. By her presence, example and prayers, Mary likewise prepared the Apostles to receive the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Mary also communicates to her children today the true spirit of faith that filled her own heart so that they can receive the truth of the Spirit and believe and communicate saving truths in the Church. Mary helps us open our hearts to the saving power of the Gospel and close our hearts to the deadly poison of many of the innocently sounding heresies of our time.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, the Gospel still has the same power to change hearts and minds of the audience. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI constantly reminded us of the beauty and power of the Gospel and that we only have to unleash it on the world by our words and actions. There is a temptation in today’s secular world to make the Gospel “relevant and acceptable” as if it was never relevant before. There is also a tendency to distort or water down the demands of the Gospel in the name of a false compassion and mercy that gives the impression that God can demand of human nature something that His grace cannot achieve in us. All these only leave the Church weak and disunited, making our preaching of the Gospel dead and boring to our world.
By the power of the Spirit who fills our hearts in today’s Solemnity of Pentecost, let us preach the Gospel by our words. There will be many possible reactions to the Gospel as Jesus taught us, “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept me word, they will keep yours too.”(Jn 15:20) Some people will accept the saving words and embrace Jesus as their Lord and enter into the Church community of faith. Some will reject the Gospel all together and even call us names and denounce us as hypocrites for whatever reasons. But if the world ignores us as we preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, then we must pause and ask ourselves if our hearts are really filled with the Holy Spirit as we preach the powerful Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!