Sunday, May 27, 2007

Re-Creation and the Holy Spirit

(Pentecost Sunday-Year C; This homily was given 27 May, 2007, at Our Lady of Mercy, East Greenwich, R.I.; read Acts 2:1-11 & John 20:19-23)

One of the first stories we learn from the Bible as children is the Story of Creation that we find in the Book of Genesis. We are all familiar with those opening words: In the beginning.

The author of Genesis relates how:

In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss, while a mighty wind swept over the earth.
—Genesis 1:1-2

The Hebrew word for that mighty wind is ruah, and it means spirit or wind of God. By no means is it merely a strong gust of wind. The ruah, or the wind of God, has the power to enter directly into that formless wasteland, that primordial chaos and the abyss of darkness, to bring order and light.

Genesis continues to describe how God then separates the light from the darkness, the night from the day, the land from the sea. He makes the plants and various animals and creeping things. But finally, as the capstone and the pinnacle of creation, he fashions man.

We read about how God personally creates man out of the clay of the ground, and then He breathes into him the “breath of life;” God puts His own life-breath into the man, and he becomes a living being.

The Story of Creation is a powerful and beautiful story of God’s plan for the human family; it evokes a sense of that original paradise right here on earth.

But we also know the rest of the story: How that paradise was lost through original sin. Suddenly sin and death entered into God’s perfect creation, and the chaos and darkness crept in as God had never intended. Our human nature, and creation along with it, had become tainted.

The Gospel of St. John is, in many ways, a response to that fall of man and corruption of creation. It has been referred to as the “Story of the Re-creation,” because of the similarities to the Book of Genesis.

St. John begins his gospel with the very same words we find in that original creation narrative: In the beginning.

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
—John 1:1

Then John describes how “the word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). God became man and suddenly everything changed. He brought hope where there had been despair and order where chaos reigned. Christ restored our vision when He opened the eyes of the blind (Chaper 9), and showed Himself master over the chaos of this world by walking across the stormy sea (Chapter 6).

But the high point of the story of re-creation for St. John is found in the gospel for this Feast of Pentecost. The disciples are in the upper room, huddled together behind locked doors. Most of them have failed Christ in one way or another. They are filled with fear of what may happen to them.

Suddenly Jesus enters into their own private darkness and says to them, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (John 20:21). Even as Christ was the light of the world and the source of hope and promise of peace to the world, even so will these disciples be.

Jesus then does something that, at first, would seem very odd to us. St. John says, “He breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” (John 20:22).

The word St. John uses for Christ breathing on the disciples is the very same word used in Genesis to describe how God breathed new life into man. John wants to make sure that his audience understands that Christ is re-creating the disciples, and then through them, renewing the face of the earth.

We see that even more powerfully in the first reading for this weekend, from the Acts of the Apostles. The disciples are all gathered together in one place when a strong, driving wind rushes upon them. Reminiscent of the ruah, the wind over the earth at the dawn of creation, the Holy Spirit comes upon the early Church with great power. God sends the Holy Spirit upon them in the appearance of those tongues of fire, and then sends them out to proclaim the Good News to all the nations.

This is Pentecost, the power of God and nothing less than the re-creation of the world. On that day the Church was born, the hearts of the disciples were set ablaze, and God changed the course of human history.

But as we celebrate this great Feast of Pentecost here in 2007, we can ask ourselves:

Where do we most need the Holy Spirit in our world today?

Where do we find the chaos and the darkness in our own world and in our own lives?

In Iraq, and in the Middle East?

In the United States?

In our own families and our own personal lives?

Where has the darkness and the chaos crept into our own world? We need that same power of God in the Holy Spirit, the power that alone brings light, peace and order to a world that has slipped off-course in so many ways. Are we open to the Holy Spirit in our own lives and willing to seek Him out incessantly for that great Gift of Himself?

Just yesterday we celebrated the feast of St. Philip Neri. St Philip is a sixteenth century priest who is often referred to as the Apostle of Rome because of his role in God’s work of renewal in the Eternal City at a time when many had lost their focus. Clergy, as well as laity, were much more concerned with the things of this earth, to the detriment of their spiritual lives. The importance of the Sacrifice of the Mass and the life of devotion were all but lost. Yet, St. Philip, through his apostolic zeal and radiant joy, was able to turn countless souls back to Christ.

There is a great story about St. Philip, who on the vigil of Pentecost had gone into a small cave or grotto and began to pray for an increase in the gifts of the Holy Spirit. He wanted to experience more powerfully the Spirit of God in his life. Suddenly there appeared before him a globe of fire. It entered his mouth and then expanded his chest as his heart beat furiously within him.

St. Philip cried out for God to stop that experience, not because he was in pain, but because he was overwhelmed by joy. After his death, it was discovered that two of his ribs had been broken above his heart when it had expanded. They had re-formed, creating a lager space for the beating of his enlarged heart.

Today, on this Feast of Pentecost, we pray for that same increase in the power of the Holy Spirit in our own lives. Not that God would break our ribs, but that He would break open our hearts and souls, and fill them with that same fire of love that burned in the hearts of St. Philip Neri, and all the disciples on the first day of Pentecost.

We pray:

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful
and enkindle in them the fire of your love.

Send forth your spirit and they shall be created.
And you shall renew the face of the earth.