Catholic Contextual urban Theology, Mimetic Theory, Contemplative Prayer. And other random ramblings.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Sermon at Parish Mass Pentecost 2016

Acts 2.1-21
Romans 8.14-17
John 14.8-17, 25-27

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful people, and kindle in us the fire of your love.
“Whoever has seen me has seen the Father”, Jesus tells Philip in today’s Gospel. What does Jesus mean? Surely not that God the Father has two eyes, a nose and a beard. God has no form or appearance, for God is Spirit, as Jesus says elsewhere.
In John’s Gospel, “seeing” always means seeing deeply, seeing the meaning beyond the surface of things, seeing with the eyes of the Spirit. So Jesus explains what he means. To see the Father you need to hear the words of Jesus and see his works. Jesus shows us who the Father is through what he does. The Father is in him, working through him, and he is in the Father.
When we read the gospels, or if we are fortunate enough to visit the holy land, we can think how great was the privilege of those who saw Jesus in his earthly life and saw his works, the works the Father did through him. That has not been our privilege.
But in fact the earthly life of Jesus was a preparation for what came after. The disciples during the life of Jesus knew him as someone standing in front of them and alongside them. They knew him and saw and heard him in an exterior way. But his great desire is to dwell, not outside us, but within us, in our hearts, so that we can share in the life that he shares with the Father. He who is Son of God by nature wants us to be Children of God by adoption.
Jesus has returned to the Father through his resurrection and ascension. But we are not left as orphans. He has ascended to fill all things. He is not absent, but more immediately present. He dwells in his fullness in the Cosmos, in the Church, in the Sacraments and the Scriptures.
And from the Father’s throne he sends the Holy Spirit, so that he can dwell in our hearts by faith. So that humanity can be drawn into the life of God. The Spirit, in fact, deifies us, so that we become one with God by grace. Is that too much to say? It is what the scriptures say. The Spirit within us cries out “Abba, Father!”, and children share the same nature as their Father.
The Spirit within us draws us into the life of God, so that the Church becomes the image of the Holy Trinity, many persons sharing one Divine nature.
It is for this reason that Jesus says that the disciples “will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these”. After the Ascension the Church takes the place of Jesus as the visible sign of God’s Kingdom in the world. As the Father has sent me, so I send you, says Jesus. As we heard in our first reading, on the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit descended visibly on the Church just as he did on Jesus on the day of his baptism. And, like Jesus, the Church then began to proclaim the Kingdom of God in word and deed.
From now on, those who see the Church should be able to see the Father, too. Not that the Church is identical with the Father. But by the Holy Spirit in our hearts we are being transformed into the image of Jesus, and so, like Jesus, the Church shows the world what the Father is like. Like Jesus, the Church must show the Father to the world through the word of forgiveness offered freely to sinners, through works of healing and mercy, through touching the untouchable, through compassion and love.
Now we might think that is a bit removed from the reality of the Church as we experience it, with its divisions and bickering, the all too evident human ambition and desire for control that we sometimes see, and the lives of its members which too often show sin to the world rather than holiness.
But the Church is an organism, the body of Christ. A body does not appear instantly perfect and complete in all its parts, but grows and develops gradually, through time. The promise of Jesus is that the Spirit will lead us into all truth, not that we will arrive at its fullness instantaneously.
This applies both to the Church and to us as individuals. Christ dwells in us by faith. His image is formed in us by our baptism, by which we are adopted as children of God. But that image needs to grow in us, and we to grow into Christ, and this is the work of the Sprit in us. 
This does not happen in us automatically, but by grace. We do not transform ourselves into Christ, this is God’s gift to us and in us through the Spirit. But we need constantly to open our hearts to that grace, and co-operate with it.
How do we do this? There is nothing extraordinary about it. It is simple: repent, pray, receive the sacraments.
We need constantly to be repenting, turning towards the Lord and away from our sins, so that Christ comes alive in us in proportion as our sinful nature withers away and dies.
By prayer we breathe the breath of God, his Spirit – the word means “breath” – praying in us and filling us with Divine life.
And Jesus himself gave us the sacraments to be the ordinary means of grace by which we grow in him, and he in us. In the Eucharist he feeds us with himself and transforms us more and more into his image. The sacraments of reconciliation and the anointing of the sick restore his image in us when it has been wounded by sin, sickness or the accidents of life. The sacraments of confirmation, marriage and ordination bring out in those who receive them some particular aspect of the image of Christ, not the same in each but so that all can work together to build up the Church, the people of God, whom St Augustine calls “the whole Christ”.
This is what the Holy Spirit does in us, the breath of God who transforms us into the image of Christ and draws us into the life of God as his children.
St Paul expresses this well in his prayer in Ephesians chapter 3. We can make his prayer our own on this day of Pentecost:  
“I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

We pray this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

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