Fr Frank Brennan SJ - Pentecost Homily 8-9 June 2019
Pentecost Sunday Homily
St Peter’s Parish, Pambula and Eden
8-9 June 2019
Fr Frank Brennan SJ
John 14: 15-16, 23-26
That’s quite a collection of names, places and peoples described in our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, at that first Pentecost for the Christian community: ‘Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene, as well as travelers from Rome, both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs’. And they all got to hear and comprehend the mighty acts of God occurring in their lives and in their world.
The week before last, I was in the Philippines. I was there to teach a one week intensive unit on Catholic social teaching and human rights. I walked into the lecture theatre at the East Asian Pastoral Institute in Manila and met 50 students. They were from Tanzania, Kenya, South Korea, Sri Lanka, India, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Macau, Hong Kong, Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Tonga and Fiji. They had a range of proficiency in English. They had a range of pastoral experiences and a wide range of educational qualifications. What to do? How to teach? How to engage everyone for many hours a day for a full week in this learning tower of Babel?
I realised that Pope Francis had already visited several of their countries – South Korea, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myanmar and the Philippines. I asked people from those countries to share with us their experience of the Pope’s visit to their country. The presentations during the course of the week were very moving. Pope Francis, like all popes, always meets with the big wigs. But he also meets with those who are poorest and most marginal in society. He loves getting close to them. It’s that proximity to the poor that gives his visits such colour and poignancy.
When he went to Myanmar, everyone was waiting to see how he would deal with the military leaders and what he would do or say about the Rohingya – the Muslim refugees who were being displaced across the border in their hundreds of thousands by the military. Pope Francis gave a very measured address to the military leaders speaking about all the right ideals – democracy, peace, justice and human rights. He said that no one should be excluded. But he did not mention the Rohingya by name. His critics, especially those in the western media, said, ‘There you go. He is a leader with feet of clay. He dare not offend the military because he wants to protect his own Christian minority in this largely Buddhist country under military rule.’ He then went next door to Bangladesh. He asked to meet with some of the Rohingya refugees. He openly wept. In company with other religious leaders, including some imams, he prayed with them. His last words in his last public appearance were: ‘The presence of God, today, is also called Rohingya.’ The spirit of God, the spirit of Pentecost, is found in the poorest, in the most marginalised, and in the most complex, messy and irresolvable situations.
On the plane on his way home to Rome, Pope Francis gave a press conference. He told the journalists, ‘I knew that I would be meeting the Rohingya. I knew neither where nor how, but that this was a condition of the journey’. When asked why he did not mention the Rohingya when in Myanmar, he explained, ‘I saw that in the official address [in Myanmar] had I said that word, I would have been slamming the door in someone’s face. But I described the situations, the rights of citizenship, “no one excluded”, to enable myself to go further in private meetings. … I did not have – so to speak – the pleasure of slamming the door in someone’s face, publicly, a condemnation, no. But I had the satisfaction of having a dialogue, of allowing the other person to speak, of saying what I had to say and in this way got the message across.’ The spirit of God, the spirit of Pentecost, allows us to bridge gaps and to speak and listen respectfully even with those with whom we passionately disagree, and for the best of reasons.
When Francis visited the Philippines, he celebrated mass for the largest crowd ever to gather in human history. But he also met with 30,000 young people. At that meeting, a young girl described a life of poverty and deprivation marked by violence and drug abuse in her family and in her neighbourhood. The Filipina woman in our class wept as she told the story of the young girl weeping as she asked the pope: ‘Why did God let this happen to me?’ The pope did not pretend to have an answer. He told her: ‘The nucleus of your question almost doesn’t have a reply.’ He went on to say, ‘Certain realities in life we only see through eyes that are cleansed through our tears.’ On the way home on the plane, journalists quizzed him about his inability to answer the little girl’s question. He replied, ‘We Christians must ask for the grace to weep. Especially wealthy Christians. To weep about injustice and to weep about sins. Because weeping opens you to understand new realities or new dimensions of reality.’ The spirit of God, the spirit of Pentecost, allows us and strengthens us to confront the injustices and sin in our world. Some situations seem so immune to justice, truth and compassion. But the spirit empowers us to hope and to work for justice, truth and compassion in precisely those situations which bring us to tears.
Like the Romans, we hear Paul’s message today that we have not received ‘a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but we received a Spirit of adoption, through whom we cry, “Abba, Father!”’ In the spirit of Pentecost, we celebrate that we are all children of God, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ – enduring the suffering of injustice, lies and hostility but with the hope that there might be justice, truth and compassion for all. In John’s gospel, Jesus promises that the Father will send us the Holy Spirit both to teach us everything and to remind us of all that he told us.
This Pentecost we rejoice that all people regardless of language, culture, social situation or deprivation can hear and appreciate the mighty acts of God in the mess and complexity of our world.
Come, Holy Spirit, come!
And from your celestial home
Shed a ray of light divine!
Come, Father of the poor!
Come, source of all our store!
Heal our wounds, our strength renew;
On our dryness pour your dew;
Wash the stains of guilt away:
Bend the stubborn heart and will;
Melt the frozen, warm the chill;
Guide the steps that go astray.