Pentecost and Homily 2016
Good afternoon (morning)! Today the Church celebrates the Solemnity of Pentecost – the coming of the Holy Spirit and the 1983rd birthday of the Church, which began in the year 33 AD!
The Church recognizes two forms of revelation – Sacred Scripture –the Written Tradition as revealed by the God the Father and God the Son, AND Sacred Tradition (aka Oral Tradition) as clarified and explained more fully by God the Holy Spirit!
Pentecost is the beginning of Sacred Tradition! The work of the Holy Spirit in the Church, as first revealed to the apostles – the first pope and first bishops, and continues to the end of time with their successors, the pope and bishops in union with him!
It is only to the pope and the bishops in union with him, and only them, does the guarantee of unbroken line of Truth and authoritative interpretation of divine revelation reside!
“The Advocate, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.”
A writer has an idea for a book. He or she nurses it along in his or her mind where it might “exist” for a long time. After many long hours of hard work, the idea becomes a book, and the idea can now be touched, seen and heard. As a book, the idea generates energy – an energy that affects all who read it. The energy released by the book may even change the lives of some of its readers.
And while some may like the book, others may dislike it so much they will do their very best to destroy it, by bad reviews, or whispering campaigns, or even burning it in the public square. In spite of the attempts to destroy the book, the book’s appreciative readers draw ongoing power from it, sharing its message with others. Some will remember parts of the book; some will write down everything they learn from the book; and some will tell all who will listen, the wonderful story or facts contained in the book. The power released by the book endures long after its pages are no more.
In today’s Gospel by St. John, Jesus speaks about the Holy Spirit guiding us to all Truth. Jesus tells His disciples that He has more to tell to them, but that they are not presently able to understand it with full clarity. But He adds that the Holy Spirit will explain all Truth to them in a fuller and clearer way. To Jesus, the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth, whose great work is to bring God’s truth to all people. We have a special name for this bringing of God’s truth to us; we call it divine revelation – (aka Written and Sacred Tradition), and St. John’s gospel shows us what we might call the principles of divine revelation – (aka Written and Sacred Tradition).
First, divine revelation (aka Written and Sacred Tradition) is bound to be a progressive process. In today’s passage from St. John’s gospel, Jesus told His apostles and disciples that the Holy Spirit will remind them of all that He had told them. In a later chapter from St. John’s gospel, Jesus states quite clearly that He has much more to tell the apostles, but that they can’t bear it now. But when the Holy Spirit comes, that same Holy Spirit will guide them to ALL Truth! This is what is referred to as Sacred Tradition!
You see, it’s only possible to tell a person as much as they are capable of understanding at a particular point in time. We don’t start with algebra when we try to teach a child about arithmetic; we work up to it. We don’t start with calculus when we try to teach a student about geometry; we approach it gradually. We don’t start with conversational forms of language or slang when we try to learn a second language; we begin with simple vocabulary. God’s revelation to us is like that. In some cases, it takes time, sometimes centuries, to better understand what God is teaching us. For example, in the Old Testament there are many passages which call for the wiping out of men and women and children when an enemy city is taken. At a deeper understanding of these passages there is the idea that Israel must not risk the taint of any heathen and pagan religion. To avoid that risk, in the minds of the Jews, those who did not worship their God must be destroyed. That is to say, the Jews had at that point in their particular time grasped the fact that purity of religion must be safeguarded; but they wished to preserve that purity of belief by destroying the heathen. But when Jesus came, He came to see that the way to preserve that purity of belief was to convert the heathen not destroy them. The people of the Old Testament times had grasped a great truth, but only one side of it. Revelation has to be that way; God can reveal only as much as a person can understand at a particular point in time.
Secondly, there is no end to God’s revelation (aka Written and Sacred Tradition). Even though Jesus is the perfect revelation of God, and even though nothing new can be added to the deposit of faith given to us by God the Father and God the Son, the Holy Spirit is always active by continually leading us into a fuller and clearer understanding of what God means. God did not speak up to the first century and is now silent. The Holy Spirit is still revealing the fuller and clearer truth to us. One of the great mistakes we sometimes make is to identify divine revelation only or solely from the Bible. That would be to say that since the first century, when the last book of the bible was written, that God ceased to speak. Jesus is the supreme and unsurpassable revelation of God; but Jesus is not just a figure in a book; He is not dead, but He is still a living person, and in Him God’s revelation continues through the Holy Spirit in the Church.
And lastly, divine revelation (aka Written and Sacred Tradition) is the taking of the things of God and revealing their significance to our modern culture. We can certainly apply this to modern medical ethics. Certainly, in the first century, the followers of Jesus had neither knowledge nor understanding of DNA and genetics, among other things. But part of the greatness of God is His inexhaustibleness. No one has ever grasped all that God came to say. No one has fully worked out all the significance of His teaching for life, for the individual, and for the world. Yet divine revelation (aka Written and Sacred Tradition) is the continual opening out of the meaning of God and applying it to the modern culture.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, in my opening story, God is the writer with the idea – called divine revelation – for a world of men and women created in His image. This revelation takes the form of a “book” – and Jesus, the human “face” of that idea. Despite the failed attempts of some to destroy the book, the energy of divine revelation endures, and it takes on a power that “rises” above those who seek to “crucify” it.
In His infinite wisdom and mercy, God has given us the means to maintain a continuity of Faith and achieve a fuller and clearer understanding of the things God spoke of and taught about in the Bible. This is referred to as Sacred Tradition, which is the work of God the Holy Spirit in the Church, that gives a clearer and deeper and fuller understanding of what the Father and the Son have already revealed from the beginning without adding or subtracting from it! God has not left us orphans, but has given us the unbroken line of truth through His apostles and their successors, the pope and bishops in union with the pope. This Magisterium, as it is called, has the obligation to safeguard and authoritatively interpret the deposit of faith first given to God’s chosen leaders. Just as the first pope, St. Peter, and the bishops and theologians, the apostles and disciples, gathered together in the first century to resolve difficult matters of faith in Jerusalem, so have their successors gathered together at various times in the Church’s history, under the guidance and influence of the Holy Spirit to resolve and explicitly define a variety of difficult truths of the Faith implicitly imbedded in Scripture. For instance, in the fourth century, the pope, the bishops, and their theologians gathered to resolve the questions about the divine motherhood of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In the fifth century, they gathered again to resolve questions about the two natures and the two wills of Christ. In the 16th and 19th centuries, they gathered again to finally define various truths, such as purgatory, indulgences, the infallibility of the pope, and other matters of Faith which were under attack.
In total, the pope alone, or the pope with the bishops, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit of Truth, have defined matters of faith several times over the course of the Church’s history; matter of faith, which required greater clarity of explanation, because they were not fully explicit or easily understood from using the Bible alone.
Since we find ourselves in the month of May, the month dedicated to honoring the Blessed Virgin Mary, we can especially appreciate this fuller and clearer development of divine revelation and continuity of Faith, since Our Lady is mentioned in such a limited fashion in sacred scripture.
Most of what we know about the Blessed Virgin Mary is through this progression of revelation by the Holy Spirit to the Church (Sacred Tradition): Her divine motherhood, Her perpetual virginity, Her immaculate conception, Her bodily assumption into heaven, and Her role as mediatrix and model of the Church.
So our prayer today and every day, is to ask Jesus, through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mother Mary, for the confidence needed to trust that the Holy Spirit will continue to guide our Pope and Bishops to be courageous in defending the Deposit of Faith entrusted to their care, for the patience and perseverance to stand firm in preaching and teaching these truths in the face of modern popular public opinion which embraces a spirit of compromise, and to act prudently in their governing office so as to give courageous Christian witness to all the faithful.
Mary, Spouse of the Holy Spirit, pray for us!
Pentecost Sunday – Cycle C
Sunday, May 24th, 2015
John 14:15-16, 23b-26