Archbishop Peter A Comensoli
Homily: Pentecost (Year A)
Here’s a question to ask yourself: What did the Holy Spirit give as the first gift to the disciples at Pentecost?
We might be tempted to focus on how the Spirit was experienced by the disciples: we hear of the wind; we are told of the fire; we learn that the disciples experience a fullness of the Holy Spirit. But notice that none of these are what the disciples received as a gift to have as their own; these are, rather, manifestations of the presence of the Holy Spirit. The gift came as a result of the manifestation, and it was quite specific: “… they began to speak in foreign languages, as the Spirit gave them the gift of speech.”
Of course, the disciples could already speak naturally. And some of them, we know from the Scriptures, were particularly talkative. Just think of all the times St Peter had something to say! So, it wasn’t a natural talent being given. What, then, was so particular about this first gift of the Holy Spirit? Again, let’s be careful not to jump too quickly to the sudden capacity of the disciples to speak other languages. Certainly, this was a pretty amazing thing (and a skill I would dearly love to have!) But this isn’t the gift itself; it is solely a means of making the gift present.
So, what was the first gift of the Holy Spirit, if it wasn’t the manifestations of the Holy Spirit, nor the means by which the Holy Spirit made the gift available? The answer comes at the end of our Gospel today, when those who were the other recipients of this first gift had their say: “… we hear them preaching in our own language about the marvels of God.”
So there it is: the first gift of the Holy Spirit was, in fact, a threefold gift: the gift of boldness to tell others (“preaching”) of the Good News of the Lord (“the marvels of God”), in ways that could be received by anyone (“in our own language”). Language, as we know from our terrific Auslan signers here at the Cathedral, is not just the speech of sound. More importantly it is the ‘voice’ of meaning, which transcends any vocal articulation. Proclaiming the Gospel is not restricted to sounding out words.
In fact, what matters is the going out with our Spirit-filled voice, however it sounds. The disciples did not stay in the upper room luxuriating in the experience of the Holy Spirit. Instead, they immediately went out – with boldness – to share the reason for their joy and hope. Pope Francis calls this missionary discipleship. We might say it’s the state of 'going outness' – of taking our gospel faith to others.
As Christians – friends and disciples of Jesus – you have received this same first gift of the Holy Spirit. You may think otherwise, but it is true; you, too, have been gifted with all the boldness and means you need to proclaim the gospel to those around you. You are, as St Paul said, one of the many parts of the one Body of Christ. And as a full and living part of that Body, you share with other disciples in the life of Christ; and that life is given to you so that it can be received by others. So, if someone asks if you have the gift of tongues, you can honestly say: "Yeah, I do, because I belong to Christ’s Body, who speaks all languages!"
Pentecost Day is truly our day, every day. It is the principle day by which we are constituted as part of the Body of Christ. The boldness of the Holy Spirit to proclaim this Gospel is ours, spread throughout our Body. We may each give expression to this gift in differing ways, but it is ours nonetheless.
So friends, can I encourage you today – and can I ask that you encourage me in turn – to be givers of the first gift of the Holy Spirit. We each have this gift, to be boldly used with humble gratitude. We are Pentecost People – proclaimers of the Good News of Jesus Christ, in ways that may reach into the lives of anyone and everyone.
Image: Spirit who raises us by Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P.