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Sunday Homily, 19 May 2024 - Fr Paul Rowse, OP

Pentecost is surely a threshold set before us by the risen Lord, which each of us must cross in turn.  Certainly, the risen Lord shows his faithfulness today by keeping his promise to send the Holy Spirit: we have received among us the Advocate who shapes our praying and desiring to keep us in the Lord’s love.  The Advocate sent, the Gift bestowed, is the Holy Spirit of God.  The Father received his Son at his Ascension, and together they sent their Holy Spirit.

With the descent of the Holy Spirit, all that was laid down during the Lord’s public ministry to be done by the apostles is set in motion.  With the Spirit’s descent, the sacramental life of the Church begins in earnest to effect what Christ wills for those with faith in him.  The Acts of the Apostles tells us that thousands of Baptisms and Confirmations are added to the apostolic celebrations of the Eucharist.  We cross the threshold now before us by attending to the purpose of the gift which is given at Pentecost: that is, by knowing what the Holy Spirit is for we can move from being only disciples of Christ to being also his members.  Why send us the Holy Spirit if Christ is with us always?  What’s the purpose of his coming?

The purpose of the Holy Spirit’s coming is to enable us to continue the work of Christ until he comes again.  We cannot adequately prepare ourselves for eternal life: it’s not in our nature.  Eventually, heaven and earth will pass away; everyone will receive their body back risen from the dead to go with their immortal soul; we shall truly start to live, that is, to live without death.  Our nature isn’t ready for that life.  We need help to prepare for it, even to envisage it and to desire it.  The Holy Spirit is that help.  The Father sends the Holy Spirit so that, what his Son began, others who are his adopted sons and daughters may also do, variously sure but together.  Thus, the Lord’s public ministry wasn’t a side show; it was and is the main event. By participating in Christ's work by using our spiritual gifts and receiving them from others, we are prepared day by day for eternity.

One key aspect of Christ’s ministry which we continue with by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is the forgiveness of sins.  The Lord readily forgave sins during his public ministry.  We remember the paralyzed man, laid out in his sins and lowered down before Christ.  We remember too the sinful woman who anointed Jesus’ feet at the meal.  To them and to so many others he says, “Your sins are forgiven.”  There’s no way that ministry of forgiveness comes to an end with the Ascension.  Being free from sins is essential to our happiness.  If we are free from sin when our earthly life is ended, heaven is opened to us.  Thus, Christ forgave sins away from Jerusalem because sins get in the way of human happiness.  His service of mercy doesn’t depend on bloody personal sacrifices in a single Temple; it depends on him.  Wherever he is, there can be found forgiveness of sins.

Thus, the risen Lord commits some of his divine power to the apostles so that others’ sins will be forgiven wherever they are.  The apostles act on his orders and with his power.  Not all the healings the Lord performed are performed by the whole Church.  The one healing which Christ performed during his earthly ministry and which the entire Church continues to offer is the one which is necessary for our salvation: the healing of soul through the forgiveness of sins.

We need therefore to believe that we are always in the grip of some spiritual power.  We know about brute strength when we open doors or jam jars.  We know too that beauty has a power of its own.  But sin and Christ hold sway over us.  Think of the transformation the people who received Christ’s forgiveness underwent: it’s truly amazing.  The paralyzed man walks after the forgiveness of sins.  The woman is reconciled to society after her one-on-one encounter with the Lord.  Christ has indeed the power to forgive sins: the changed lives of those he forgave are evidence of this.  All things are under his feet.  A man walked and a woman loved purely again after forgiveness.  Christ can effect great change in us by the forgiveness of sins.  He does this by bestowing the Holy Spirit on the apostles who ensures that they do as Christ did long ago.  The power which is his as true God is committed to the apostles for our good.  There’s no need to be afraid of him or what he can do.  He is re-creating us through the creative power of the Holy Spirit.

Christ promised to remain with us always.  One way he does that is by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, including those given to the apostles.  Why he does that is for our salvation.  We need him to work on us, and work on us he does today through his Church, beginning with the forgiveness of sins.  We cross the threshold into Spirit-powered action by first reaching out to him for forgiveness.  Then we shall see more clearly what is his will to be done on earth, as it is in heaven.

Fr Paul Rowse, OP Parish Priest

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