Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the Solemnity of Pentecost in Year A 2020 at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta
Readings: Acts 2:1-11; Cor 12:3-7; John 20:19-23
31 May 2020
Pentecost 2020: Embodying the Spirit who transcends all divisions
Dear brothers and sisters,
We live in a world where fear seems to stifle love. In fact, if perfect love casts out fear as we Christians are called to do, the opposite seems to prevail: perfect fear casts out love. It is the fear of losing one’s privilege, status and power that gives rise to systemic inequality, entrenched poverty and even brutality.
We can see the manisfestations of this fear in the dramatic events that are taking place in America. As the coronavirus death toll passes a 100,000 milestone, the country has erupted yet again with violent protests. The pandemic has exacerbated the country’s existing racial tension. And now the death of another African American is the latest apparent example of the police brutality that sparked riots across the country. It is an indictment on a society that has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met.
Here in Australia, we should do well to hear the cry for freedom and justice from those cast away by fear. It seems that brutalising them in the name of the state has become a cottage industry. How can we be indifferent to the institutional failure that dehumanises the victims and makes us less than ourselves? How can we enjoy one of the best living standards in the world while some of the most marginalised, including our fellow citizens are condemned to a cycle of hopelessness often through deep systemic injustice? As we celebrate Reconciliation Week, we must move with resolve to a more dignified and more just future.
The feast of Pentecost inspires us to do this. The first Christian community was above all a community that endeavoured to move from fear to perfect love. We are told that after the crucifixion, the disciples gathered in a state of fear and disarray. There was pressure from outside. They were marginalised and persecuted by many hostile forces. But there was also a deep sense of failure and betrayal from within. The disciples were confronted with their own misguided ambitions and weaknesses. Yet, it was into this very moment of vulnerability that the Holy Spirit came and transformed them into a leavening force for the Kingdom.
The Acts of the Apostles tells us that after the tongues of fire had rested on them, they began to speak in the languages that people from all over the world could understand. Pentecost thus reverses the situation at the tower of Babel where people were divided on account of their differences. The Church as a community of disciples is given the task of bridging the gaps and bringing down the barriers that separate people. We are called to embody the Spirit who transcends all boundaries and divisions.
The early Church was poor, few in numbers, marginalised by the dominant society and persecuted by the power that be. Yet it was a powerhouse of prayer, love and solidarity. It was a community that supported and cared for the most vulnerable. It was a community of unity in diversity, radical equality and inclusion where old boundaries were transcended. They showed to the world that it was possible to live with fraternal concern, compassion and communion.
The Church today must honour this founding memory by its radical outreach and witness. We too must seek fresh ways of transcending artificially constructed boundaries and embodying God’s all-embracing love. It is our Pentecostal mandate.
We are living in a world that at times resembles the division at Babel rather than the harmony at Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. In a world, which is increasingly hostile and intolerant towards differences, we need to be connected with the same spirit who transcends all divisions. Thus, Pentecost commits us to being messengers of peace and reconciliation. Pentecost challenges us to be a Church, which is a model for the wider society. In other words, we are called to be a community where the spirit of unity in diversity is evident. We need to demonstrate in practical terms that our common faith, common baptism, common spirit does bind us in a bond of love and friendship.
At Pentecost, Mary and the disciples of Jesus gathered and discerned their future in the light of Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension. The Holy Spirit emboldened and launched them forward as a leavening force in the world. As we gather today and discern our life of faith, may we also be bolstered by the fresh energy that the Holy Spirit. May we also be emboldened to go forward and witness to the reign of God, becoming the sign of hope and reconciliation for the people of our time. Let us show the world like the first Christian community did that we can move from fear to perfect love through the power of the Spirit.