Pentecost (A) 31 May 2020

Dear friends, I read recently about some missionaries who were sent to the vast Yukon Territory in Canada. They soon realised they needed a translation of the bible in the native language of the Inuit peoples. But they encountered a problem. Remarkably, the local language had no word for ‘joy’ as we do in English. So when the translators came to the Gospel passage we heard today, they struggled translating the sentence: ‘When the disciples saw the Lord, they were filled with joy.’ They set about searching for an equivalent concept in the culture of the people. The closest they found was the expression the people used to describe the apparent happiness shown by a dog. And so, in their translation, the Gospel of St John, Chapter 20 verse 20, reads: ‘When the disciples saw the Lord, they wagged their tails.’

To be a Christian is to be a person of joy. And Christian joy is the fruit of the Holy Spirit. It’s a hallmark of discipleship. A Christian without joy is like a light that cannot shine. But the joy that comes from living in the power of the Holy Spirit is more than superficial cheeriness. It doesn’t mean fake smiles and papering over the cracks. No. They joy of the Holy Spirit comes from deep within, from the core of our being, from what the Scriptures call ‘the heart.’

The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, promised by the Lord Jesus, confirms in each one of us the joy of the Good News: that we are, each of us, a precious child of the Father; that our life is held in God’s hands; that we can be forgiven; that we were created for the eternal life of heaven. Being joyful in the Holy Spirit flows from knowing God’s Son, the Lord Jesus, as our friend, as our Lord, and as my Saviour.

‘The disciples were filled with joy when they saw the Lord…and He breathed on them saying ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’ This great feast of Pentecost is the feast of joy in the Holy Spirit, and, with this joy, all the other blessings the Holy Spirit brings: love, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control, to name but a few. Interiorly, in our hearts, disciples should always be ‘wagging their tails.’ Why? Because the Lord Jesus has destroyed everything that can separate us from God’s love, whether that’s sin or death or anything else. Nothing – nothing, nothing, nothing – can divide us from the love of God in Christ. We are united to Him through the Holy Spirit, the bond of love. And as the Father sent Him, so He sends us. We are ambassadors for Christ, ambassadors of joy.

Dear friends, todays’ Scriptures take us on a Pentecostal pilgrimage. We begin with the apostles, gathered behind closed doors, on that first Easter day evening. Into their fear and isolation, the Lord Jesus enters in His risen body, bearing the marks of the cross. Just think about this for a moment. As far as those apostles were concerned, all they knew for certain was that Jesus was dead and buried. No wonder that, when they saw the Lord, they were filled with joy. His presence changed everything. His presence changes everything. But there’s more. First, the Lord Jesus speaks words of peace. And then, foreshadowing Pentecost, He breathes the Holy Spirit on the apostles. By His presence, by His word, and by His breath, the Lord makes all things new. And here’s a truth: by His presence, by His word, and by His breath, we, the Body of Christ, are being made new. The Church is always in this state of Pentecost.

Our pilgrimage then shifts to the Acts of the Apostles and the day of Pentecost itself. Again, gathered in one room, praying together, the Spirit of the Lord is present as the breath of a mighty wind, and tongues of fire, which give the apostles the gift of speech, the power of the word. Through presence, breath, and word, the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life, makes all things new. In us, through presence, breath, and word, the Holy Spirit, is making all things new.

Our third Pentecostal pilgrimage site is St Paul’s First Letter to the Christians at Corinth. The reality of the Church then is the reality of the Church now. It is a perpetual Pentecostal pilgrimage. We who form the Body of Christ are many parts, many facets, beautifully so, but all necessary and all united in the one Spirit. The gifts and talents, manifested so diversely by the Holy Spirit in each of us, are essential to the Church’s continuing pilgrimage to serve the renewal of the face of the earth. You are essential to the Church’s mission. And those of us who know the Lord, who seek to live in the strength of the Holy Spirit, must always travel as pilgrim witnesses of joy.

My brothers and sisters, in a few moments we are going to renew our baptismal promises. Then I will bless the Holy Oils which will be used for the celebration of the Sacraments in our parishes and chaplaincies. Normally, this takes place during the Chrism Mass in Holy Week, but it was postponed this year because of the Covid-19 Pandemic. It is very fitting that we bless the Oils on Pentecost Sunday at the culmination of Eastertide

But before this, I want to say a special word to the catechumens and candidates in our Archdiocese who, since before Easter, have been ready to be baptised, to be received into full Communion with the Catholic Church, to be confirmed, and to receive the Eucharist. Dear catechumens, dear candidates, I long for the day when our churches can open again for individual prayer and then the public celebration of the Sacraments of new life in Christ. We pray that, with all the necessary precautions in place, this will happen very soon.

In the meantime, please do not be discouraged. The day will come when you can receive the Sacraments of Initiation. And what joy there will be for you, for your families, and for your parishes. What joy there will be for me, as your Archbishop, knowing that you are fully part of the Catholic Church and one with us. Be absolutely certain of the Lord’s love for you, and of my love for you in Him. Know that I am praying for you each day as you move closer towards sacramental union with Christ and His Church.

On Pentecost day, as a successor of the Apostles, I want to pray for each of you joining with me in this celebration of Holy Mass. If you would like to, please close your eyes and allow me to pray with you. Take a moment, in the quiet of your heart, to pray ‘Come, Holy Spirit; Come and fill me with your gifts and fruits.’ And if there is a particular grace you need, ask the Holy Spirit to release this into your life.

With the desire for an outpouring, an outburst, of the Holy Spirit, receive these words in faith:

May the joy of the Holy Spirit fill your heart;

May you experience anew the presence of the Risen Lord in your discipleship;

May you hear the Lord speak His peace into your life, especially into your worries and fears, your struggles and doubts;

May you know the beauty of the gifts given to you through Baptism and Confirmation, and in the Holy Eucharist;

May the breath of the Holy Spirit rest upon you, whether as a thumping gust or a mellow breeze, or anything in between, according to your need.

May mercy and forgiveness find new roots in your heart, so that the blossom of compassion and conversion might draw you closer to the Lord and the people He calls you to serve.

Come, Holy Spirit. In the name of Jesus the Lord, may the Holy Spirit give you joy. Amen