Pentecost Sunday Homily
Listen: Joseph Nguyen Duc Hoa OP
My dear brothers and sisters
I am sure you have seen a deserted house or a house which has just been finished, but not lived; it may have everything in it : doors, windows, furniture, beds, tables, chairs, kitchen and other facilities. But it is just a house, not a home or a family because there is no life in it, there are no people living in it as yet. Only when a house is inhabited by people that it is called a home, a family.
Or you may have seen a corpse, a dead body; it has everything of a person : head, eyes, ears, nose, mouth, hair, hands, legs, even heart and lungs, but it is not a person, only a dead body because there is no life in it.
By analogy, before the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Church was somehow like a deserted house or a dead body. It had an appearance of the Church, but it was not the Church. The Church was then only a group tired, desperate and desolate people, not a living community of the people of God. The disciples of Christ and the first Christians were just a group of people with no faith, no hope and no solidarity. The Apostles were so timid and faint-hearted that they locked themseves up in closed rooms for fear of the Jews, others went back to their works in despair, still others ran away to hide themselves in isolated places.
But the day the Holy Spirit came, everything changed. The Acts of the Apostles tell us : “The Apostles and many others were all together in one place. And suddenly out of the sky came a sound like a strong rushing wind and it filled the whole house where the Apostles were sitting. There appeared tongues of fire which came to rest upon each of them. All were filled with the Holy Spirit and they began to speak other languages.” (Acts 2, 1-4).
Immediately, they came out of their room and began to preach fearlessly about the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Peter himself appeared at the central square of Jerusalem, addressing in a loud voice to the people, testifying that Jesus Christ, whom the Jews had crucified on the cross, has risen from the dead. His words were so aflame with the Holy Spirit and convincing that more than three thousand people were baptized on that day alone.
The Apostles also worked many miracles and cured all patients afflicted with different diseases. Sometimes, because the crowd was so big, the patients could not get close to the Apostles, so their relatives carried them and placed them along the way Peter was about to pass by, and every patient simply touched by Peter’s shadow was also cured.
Meanwhile the whole community of believers was of one heart and mind. No one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but rather they shared all things in common. And those who owned land or houses, sold them and brought the proceeds of the sale and laid at the feet of the Apostles to be distributed to those in need (Acts 4, 32-34).
My dear brothers and sisters, we know that hman beings, by nature, are usually selfish; they often seek their own benefit or the benefit of their family only. But here, in the case of the first Christians, they were totally different; they voluntarily shared their possessions with others to the point of selling their own house and land and placed everything in common. This change of nature could not happen naturally, except by the power of the Holy Spirit. Many of us here, for example, after many years learning English, we still find it hard to speak the language, how could these Apostles speak many foreign languages fluently, when they themselves were illiterate fishermen, and probably unable to speak their own mother tongue correctly ? How could this happen, unless acted upon by a superior force – the intervention of the Holy Spirit?
The book of Saints tell us the story of Saints Perpetua and Felicita, two women martyrs at the beginning of the third century. Perpetua was a noble lady, while Felicita a slave and was pregnant when she was arrested. They were imprisoned together. One day Felicita suffered a labor pain so acute that she screamed. The prison guard ridiculed her : “ You can not suffer your labor pain, how could you stand the torture later on?” Felicita answered : “ Now I suffer with my own strength, but later at the execution site the Holy Spirit will help me.” She was later condemned to a bull, which tossed her up and down. Finally she was killed by the sword.
Yes, my brothers and sisters, it is the Holy Spirit who does all these wondrous things in the Church and in each one of us. He is the life of the Church, the soul of the Church and the strength of every Christian. It is through the Holy Spirit that many martyrs and followers of Christ are able to do things that they would otherwise never dare to do, or even to think of. May the Holy Spirit continue inspiring our minds and enlightening our hearts today, so that we may bring hope, peace and joy to everybody and to the world.