Saint Peter the Apostle Parish Naples, FL May 24, 2015
Acts 2, 1-11 Psalm 104 1 Corinthians 12, 3-7, 12-13 John 20, 19-23
There are two versions of the Spirit’s coming in the Gospels, Luke’s and John’s. We heard Luke’s with the first reading, and John’s with the Gospel. I don’t know about you, but I much prefer the second version from John’s Gospel. That wind and fire stuff is too disturbing and confusing. It distracts me. I would rather be breathed on than face a hurricane or tornado. We are never going to know what actually happened in that fear filled room with doors closed and locked, but here we are again in that room today in both versions. The friends of Jesus are afraid. Fear is all they feel now, a fear so strong that the meaning of his death and the news of his resurrection means nothing to them.
Perhaps what really matters in the details of the Spirit’s coming is the consequence of what happened in that room rather than any of the details from John or Luke. Whatever it was, breathing or an indoor firestorm, something changed, and fear is gone. Whatever it was, something new is happening, but newness is always challenged by fear because we always feel more secure if we have everything under our control and plan our lives with our own ideas and preferences. It is the same when it comes to God. We follow and accept God’s plan but only up to a certain point. We are afraid that God will force us to strike out on a new path leaving our narrow, closed and selfish horizons in order to become open to God’s plan. Yet the history of salvation tells us that whenever God reveals himself, there is newness and change demanding complete trust. Noah, mocked by all, builds an ark and is saved. Abram leaves his land with only a promise in hand. Moses stands up to the might of Pharaoh and leads people to freedom. The apostles break out of that room with courage and a message. When the Spirit of God is present, there is something new, and fear will not do. People who live by the Spirit cannot be afraid of anything new, and they know that there will be surprises when God is near. They are not afraid because they know that God loves and desires only our good.
In fear, we like things to be uniform and predictable. We want standardization and feel better when we are surrounded by people like ourselves which closes us up and makes us different from others. Division is the consequence. But Spirit filled people find no threat in the fact that different people have different gifts; and for them diversity is a source of great wealth, because the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of a Unity that is harmony not uniformity. When the Spirit of God is present there is always harmony. When we let the Spirit guide us richness, variety and diversity never become a source of conflict because the Spirit leads us to communion.
After Pentecost we never hear again about closed and locked doors, because these people are not afraid. Something new, or a change from what has always been does not frighten them or threaten them. The early church, led by the Spirit, had to work hard at unity with the diversity that the mission of Paul and others like him brought into the church, but the Spirit led that church just as it leads our church and this church in Naples to find strength in diversity, joy in hospitality, and wisdom in learning from others different from ourselves.
The events that took place in Jerusalem almost two thousand years ago are not something far removed from us; they are events which affect us and are a lived experience in each of us. Without that Spirit we tend to stay closed in ourselves, on our own group, preferring to surround ourselves with people who look like us, talk like us, and think like us. If the Apostles had given in to that kind of safety, we would not be here today. When we say: “Come Holy Spirit”, we are opening our hearts and minds to endless possibilities for the future, and countless surprises as the Will of God becomes our own will.
Our prayer in this liturgy today is the great prayer which the Church in union with Jesus lifted up the Father asks to be renewed by the Holy Spirit. We pray and sing within the harmony of the Church with every group, every movement, every culture, and every tongue; and in union with Mary, mother of the church, we cry out: “Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and kindle in the fire of your love! Amen.