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"FIRST IMPRESSIONS"

PENTECOST -C- June 9, 2019

Acts 2: 1-11; Ps. 104; Romans 8: 8-17;
Jn 14: 15-16, 23b-26; or Jn 20: 19-23

By: Jude Siciliano, OP

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Dear Preachers:

First a little background on this feast. Pentecost isn’t a feast that began when the tongues of fire appeared and the sound of strong driving wind filled the room where Jesus’ disciples were gathered. Rather, Pentecost was first a feast of the Jewish people. It celebrated fifty days after the Passover, and was called the Feast of Unleavened Bread, or the Feast of Weeks. At first it was an agricultural feast, a celebration of the wheat harvest. Pentecost’s significance in the Jewish community expanded to include the remembrance of God’s giving the law on Sinai. Thus, it was a celebration of the new covenanted community formed by God during the trials in the desert.

This all-too-quick review of the origins of Pentecost is not meant to be a history lesson. But as we reflect on its origins, we can see how "loaded" with meaning and imagery this feast is for Christians. The original feast was connected to Passover and so for us, Pentecost is linked to Jesus’ suffering, death and exaltation at God’s right hand. It is also a harvest feast because the disciples, gathered to receive the Spirit, were the "harvest" of Jesus’ labors and we too are the fruits of his work. Notice the references to harvest and gathering in our Acts reading: "When the time of Pentecost was fulfilled;" "the noise like a strong driving wind filled the entire house" and that the gathered community was "filled with the Holy Spirit." In addition, the large crowds drawn by the sound were from, "every nation under heaven." All this talk of fulfillment and people gathered together, sounds like harvest time to me and suggests that Pentecost hasn’t lost its harvest roots. The prophets had suggested that the dispersed would be gathered together on Mount Zion. Now on Pentecost, devout Jews from all the nations (Parthians, Medes, Elamites, etc.) are gathered in Jerusalem, God’s city (Is. 2: 2-4).

This first community, recipients of the Holy Spirit, was open to all peoples,"...we hear them speaking in our own tongues of the mighty acts of God." Because of idolatry and pride Babel became the symbol of human hubris, and was marked by the confusion of language among peoples (Gen. 11: 1-9). Babel was the sign of division and dispersion; Pentecost, that of unity and community. The old order has passed away, people are united under God’s Spirit.

This liturgical cycle we have been focusing on Luke’s gospel and Luke is also the author of Acts. The Holy Spirit has a prominent role in Luke’s writings. The infancy narratives tell us that the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary and the Word became flesh. The Spirit also filled Elizabeth, Zechariah, Anna and Simeon with thanks and joy. The Holy Spirit is a living and active presence in Jesus’ ministry. Just as his baptism marked the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, now Pentecost, with its baptism in the Holy Spirit, marks the beginning of the church’s ministry to the world. Acts begins with the coming of the Spirit on the early church. Soon those who received the Spirit will "act" – empowered by the Spirit, they will go to the ends of the earth, to all people and languages, to proclaim the gospel. Acts has been called "the Gospel of the Holy Spirit." It is less an account of what the first Christians did, and more the narrative of what believers can do who have received the "tongues as of fire." The harvest time has begun and the church will gather the wheat that Jesus planted with his life’s blood. Pentecost truly is a feast of a new harvest.

While the Bible is an account of God’s activities on our behalf, it also tells a lot about the importance of waiting on the part of God’s faithful people. During this Easter season we have been celebrating God’s very good work in Jesus. Jesus was sent by God and stayed faithful to God throughout his mission on our behalf and in his dying. Our Spirit-filled messiah did not turn away, even though his path took him to the grave.

God was active throughout Jesus’ life and did not abandon him, but raised him up.

Meanwhile, aware of all God has been doing, we have been hearing Jesus’ instruction to "wait" for the coming of the Spirit. Faithful biblical people are used to waiting. For long generations Israel waited and longed for the coming of the messiah. The gospels show the fruits of that waiting in the arrival of Jesus and his Spirit-filled mission. For example, Luke’s gospel shows Anna and Simeon waiting and praying in the temple for the fulfillment of God’s promises. After the resurrection the disciples waited and hoped for the promised Spirit to come to fill the open space left in their spirits by Jesus’ ascension. While the disciples were waiting, God again acted and sent the fiery Spirit to comfort and strengthen them.

No one is suggesting we put aside all our labors and concerns and sit around, do nothing and "wait on the Lord." We have already received the gift of the Spirit and have been sent on mission to proclaim the Risen Christ through our words and actions. But there still is a longing within us. Can you feel it, especially in the in-between times when we pause to catch our breath? Call it "waiting." We are one community with our Jewish ancestors and Jesus’ first followers. We are waiting and groaning. A quick look over the maps of the world, the church and our personal lives brings to vivid reminder that, even though we may be busy about the Lord’s work – we are still waiting. We wait and groan for an end to the world’s miseries; our church’s brokenness; our family’s divisions and nature’s devastation.

Pentecost was a reminder to the disciples that God had not forgotten them. Jesus was no longer with them but, as he promised, they would not be left orphans. Our active God sent them the Spirit and on this day we celebrate the Spirit’s coming and the birth of the church. Those gathered in the upper room became a community and began to breathe by means of a new breath – the breath of the Spirit – and to speak in a new way that would unite scattered people by the "tongues as of fire." Was it such a big deal on Pentecost that people were speaking in strange tongues? Wasn’t it more that so many God seekers ("devout Jews from every nation") heard the welcoming message of the gospel in utterances they understood from the disciples? Wasn’t that the real attraction?

Pentecost assures us that God wants to be one with us in helping communicate God’s blessing upon all of creation. As permanent and grinding as the present age seems: world dominance by a few powerful nations; poverty shrouding most of the planet’s peoples; depletion of the earth’s resources; unending violence and the quagmire of war; the displacement of millions – nevertheless, today we celebrate God’s continual presence with us as we preach and heal, reach out to the needy and help forge a Spirit-inspired unity among all people.

Do you think Luke is suggesting by this spectacular Pentecost event that the Spirit came, manifested his/herself and left? Hardly, since throughout the rest of Acts the early church, especially Peter and Paul, formed by the Spirit, show a keen awareness of being Spirit-led. Which means we modern Christian have to draw the conclusion that the Spirit is constantly with us now. We are a Pentecost people and today is Pentecost. So is tomorrow and each day after that! What can we do to show our faith in the Spirit’s abiding presence in our church?

We can work at breaking down any obstacles newcomers encounter when they try to join us. We can make sure "many tongues" are celebrated at our gatherings, in ritual, song and hospitality. We preachers could speak more about the Spirit’s presence with us now, just as it was in Jesus’ ministry. We can start acting less like a private club and reach out to those on the edges of our society. With Pentecost, the under classes and gentile outsiders were given a privileged position in the community of believers.

Under the Pentecost Spirit, the believers were no longer a disjointed and dispirited group. They were empowered by the Spirit to live as Jesus did, for his power was now theirs. Is that possible for us too? Yes, because today and tomorrow and all the days afterward, we celebrate Pentecost.

Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/060919-day.cfm

QUOTABLE

Let us ask the Lord for the grace not to hesitate when the Spirit calls us to take a bold step forward. Let us ask for the apostolic courage to share the Gospel with others and to stop trying to make our Christian life a museum of memories. In every situation may the Holy Spirit cause us to contemplate history in the light of the risen Jesus. In this way, the Church will not stand still, but constantly welcome the Lord’s surprises.

----Pope Francis in "Rejoice and Be Glad" (#139)

JUSTICE BULLETIN BOARD

The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ

Romans 8:16-17

Pentecost must have been a truly amazing time for the early followers of Jesus. All kinds of barriers are broken as seen in the free flow of communication--all God’s children speaking to each other! Lucas Ramirez, in his book, "Designed for More" (Hachette, 2018), writes, "What God had once split in the ancient story (Tower of Babel), was now bringing back together, not with a traditional language, but with the central language of love. This new universal language supersedes all previous kingdoms and brings unity again to humanity, but a unity with the right priorities and centrally focused on God" (210). In the gift of the Spirit of love, God restores human beings to unity with one another and with God--what God had intended at the very beginning of creation. Pope Francis states, "Indeed, we are a single human family that is journeying on toward unity, making the most of solidarity and dialogue among peoples in the multiplicity of differences" (5/24/13).

Ramirez further writes that when the author of the Book of Acts reports that the early believers gathered "in one accord," this Greek phrase, homothymadon, means "to rush along in unison" (211). Wouldn’t it be wonderful to re-capture Christian unity with such intensity again?

I look at the many ministries I have been involved in over the years and realize that I have experienced the Christian unity that love makes happen. There is something to be said for working together on a common goal for the common good when the motivating factor is love of the ‘other,’ who are unknown brothers and sisters.

The language of love can overcome anything when there is mutual effort on both sides. It sometimes requires a leap of faith to step in to a seemingly impossible situation, such as the splintering of Christians in so many different directions. What is a follower of Jesus to do today?

One solution would be to join an interfaith group. This could be a book club or a group working on a pressing social issue or a group of different faiths that just want to get to know each other better. The main way to bring about unity of purpose is to build relationships with those you might otherwise fear.

Let the fire of Pentecost ignite your fire for unity.

---Barbara Molinari Quinby, MPS

Director of Social Justice Ministries

Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral, Raleigh, NC

FAITH BOOK

Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.

From today’s Acts of the Apostles reading:

And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind,

and it filled the entire house where they were.

Reflection:

Pentecost reminds us we never can be sure how, or in whom, the Spirit will work. The feast cautions us to keep ears and eyes open lest we miss what new life the Spirit is breathing into us.

So we ask ourselves:

  • What blocks do I put up to resist the change the Spirit might want to bring about in my life?
  • Have I ever been surprised by the Spirit?

POSTCARDS TO DEATH ROW INMATES

"One has to strongly affirm that condemnation to the death penalty is an inhuman measure that humiliates personal dignity, in whatever form it is carried out."

---Pope Francis

Inmates on death row are the most forgotten people in the prison system. Each week I post in this space several inmates’ names and addresses. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of them to let them know we have not forgotten them. If you like, tell them you heard about them through North Carolina’s, "People of Faith Against the Death Penalty." If the inmate responds you might consider becoming pen pals.

Please write to:

  • Johnny S. Parker #0311966 (On death row since 3/24/97)
  • Leroy Mann #0255136 (7/15/97)
  • Christopher Roseboro #0352024 (8/29/97)

----Central Prison, 4285 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-4285

For more information on the Catholic position on the death penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network: http://catholicsmobilizing.org/resources/cacp/

Also, check the interfaith page for People of Faith Against the Death Penalty:  http://www.pfadp.org/

DONATIONS

"First Impressions" is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like "First Impressions" sent weekly to a friend, send a note to fr. John Boll, OP at jboll@opsouth.org.

If you would like to support this ministry, please send tax deductible contributions to fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P.

St. Albert Priory, 3150 Vince Hagan Drive, Irving, Texas 75062-4736

Make checks payable to: Dominican Friars. Or, go to our webpage to make an online donation: http://www.PreacherExchange.com/donations.htm

ANNOUNCEMENTS

1. We have compiled Four CDS for sale:

  • Individual CDs for each Liturgical Year, A, B or C
  • One combined CD for "Liturgical Years A, B and C."

If you are a preacher, lead a Lectionary-based scripture group, or are a member of a liturgical team, these CDs will be helpful in your preparation process. Individual worshipers report they also use these reflections as they prepare for Sunday liturgy.

You can order the CDs by going to our webpage: www.PreacherExchange.com and clicking on the "First Impressions" CD link on the left.

2. "Homilías Dominicales" —These Spanish reflections on the Sunday and daily scriptures are written by Dominican sisters and friars. If you or a friend would like to receive these reflections drop a note to fr. John Boll, O.P. at Jboll@opsouth.org.

3. Our webpage: https://www.PreacherExchange.com/ - Where you will find "Preachers’ Exchange," which includes "First Impressions" and "Homilías Dominicales," as well as articles, book reviews, daily homilies and other material pertinent to preaching.

4. "First Impressions" is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like "First Impressions" sent weekly to a friend, send a note to fr. John Boll, OP at the above email address.


Thank you and blessings on your preaching,

fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P.

Jude Siciliano, OP - Click to send email.

 

St. Albert the Great Priory of Texas

3150 Vince Hagan Drive

Irving, Texas 75062-4736

frjude@judeop.org

972-438-1626


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