HOLDING ALL THINGS TOGETHER

Catholic Homily/Sunday Reflection

Solemnity of the Pentecost
May 23, 2010

I take my cue for today’s reflection from the Entrance Antiphon of the Mass during the Day: “The Spirit of the Lord fills the whole world. It holds all things together and knows every word spoken by man, alleluia” (Wisdom 1:7). Holding all things together … a beautiful thought, a heartwarming concept, an energizing pledge and promise for a world “waiting with eager longing for the revelation of the children of God” (Romans 8:19) … a world ripped and torn apart by so many conflicting allegiances and loyalties on all imaginable fronts, be they political, economic, social, ecclesial, religious and spiritual.

The Solemnity of Pentecost, the memorial celebration of diversity, of pluralism, of a mosaic-like reality of a human family originally intended by God, the Creator, to be a rich quilt-like tapestry of freedom and individuality, on the one hand, yet balanced by social solidarity, unity, and brotherly and sisterly love, on the other, touches the very core of society’s current day pressing need everywhere …

The world of politics, on both sides of the Pacific (in the U.S and in the Philippines), is mired in rough and rackety plurality instead of healthy pluralism. All issues are now subjected to the paralyzing scrutiny of contending and conflicting parties. Even moral issues, which ought to remain precisely that – moral issues – have all been hijacked by partisan politics and used endlessly as stepping stones for more political mileage. The capacity for objective moral reflection has become all but impossible, in a society that has reduced the discussion on morality to a simple discussion on whether one belongs to the political right or the political left, where an individual Bishop’s pronouncement is readily pounced upon and immediately denounced as meddling with politics. In the religious scene, the mystical Body of Christ seems farther than ever from the Risen Lord’s dream and fervent prayer: “That they may be one, Father, as you and I are one.”

Today, that vision and prayer of one who gave all of himself and all that was in his power to give and do during his earthly life is a reality for the whole world and the whole church to celebrate and extol. Today, Solemnity of Pentecost, the whole believing world is invited to “see and believe.” Today, too, all of us followers of him who offered his life that we might all be one, are invited to feel the gentle whispers of the indwelling presence of the Triune God, made real and complete by the sending of the Advocate, “who will teach [us] everything and remind [us] of all that [Jesus] told [us].”

The Pentecost is God’s way of telling us today as Jesus, His Son, told his disciples: “Be not afraid. It is I.” The Pentecost is God telling a people caught up in so much moral and social confusion, in a world battered and tattered by complicated and unhealthy plurality and conflictuality: “Peace be with you.” The Pentecost is God’s way of healing a possibly broken people, killed in spirit by so much terrorism and murderous wars, wounded all over by so much inhumanity and cruelty of people to one another: “Look at my hands; look at my side; touch my wounds and be healed.” The Pentecost is God’s way of encouraging a possibly discouraged body of believers, despondent over the reality of so much divisiveness and bitter enmity between political candidates, political parties, and between civilizations separated by religious beliefs and creedal persuasions: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always.”

My heart bleeds for many reasons. Although the recent elections in the Philippines, fully automated for the first time, was in many counts successful, the acrimonious exchange from all sides of the political spectrum continues unabated, even before anyone has taken office. My sadness at the realization that the voice of Catholic bishops and that of the Catholic Church in general, has been effectively muffled by so many factors, not excluding political correctness and fear of reprisals after the priests’ scandals, only grows by the day. I am saddened at the growing realization that preaching in most places, has been reduced mostly to “feel-good” pep talks with little or doubtful theology, which avoid by all means the difficult teachings that are bound to offend people, and cause the “law of diminishing returns” at the collection plate.

I am saddened that the Holy Father, in his old age, almost has to act like John the Baptist, “a voice of one shouting out in the wilderness,” navigating a delicate balance between preaching the reality of sin that has engulfed some members of the hierarchical Church, on the one hand, and the equally reprehensible and irresponsible use of the media by certain elements who have an axe to grind against the institutional Church.

But no! Today’s solemnity holds me in check, and lifts me up from this despondency. The heart may have its reasons to feel this way, but Christian faith has its powerful convictions that cannot be defeated by such “grief’s gasping, joyless days, [and] dejection” (Hopkins). Today’s celebration is much too powerful to be ignored; much too clear to be glossed over.

The celebration of the reality and fulfillment of the indwelling presence of the Advocate, the Spirit, in the Church and in the world and in every one of us believers, ought to be the grounding of this courageous thrust towards a future that Christ has assured us of so glowingly: “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.”

Yes, the Spirit has come to dwell with us, as Jesus has come to “pitch his tent in our midst.” In the midst of so many cogent reasons for despondency, in a Church that seems to be characterized all over by a pervading culture of dissent both from the vociferous ultra liberals, and the low-key but all the same harmful conspiracy of silence of the “soft liberals” who never teach the fullness of moral truth as the Holy Father teaches, and the unbalanced and equally harmful confusion sown by the ultra conservatives who think that Vatican II was the work of the devil, we see and feel “a fresh, fresh wind that blows the new direction of time” – the silent work of the Spirit who raised up a John Paul II, of happy memory, or a Benedict XVI, the same Spirit who still raises up women and men of moral conviction and faith who are willing to stand up for the truths of God. There is enough in the list for one to drool with exultation … Scott Hahn, Patrick Madrid …(Bo Sanchez and company in the Philippines) … all those lay people and converts to catholicism who were “surprised by the Spirit” and who listened to the Advocate, who led them to the truth and were captivated by that truth. And don’t forget the hundreds of thousands who belong in the Philippines and elsewhere, to so many charismatic renewal communities who find meaning and solace in their faith and obedience to the Church’s magisterium!

As I go through my daily routines at the school where I work, where the young show little concern and appreciation for the holy things, in a school where young people seem to be attending a perpetual superbowl game some place, I sometimes feel sad. But that sadness never lasts. That sadness becomes overwhelming hope when my thoughts go right back to these and so many other people, whose fidelity, to use the words of George Weigel, “unapologetic, unambiguous, enthusiastic fidelity to the fullness of Catholic truth,” gives me and so many others in the Church that we all love, the “courage to be catholic.”

The Spirit fills them and the whole world. The Spirit holds them close and, indeed, “holds all things together.” ALLELUIA!

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