Francis J. Caponi, O.S.A.
Acts 2: 1-11
Ps 104: 1, 24, 29-30, 31, 34
Cor 12: 3-7; 12-13
Jn 20: 19-23
Today is the feast of the gift of the Holy Spirit; today is the feast of the birth of the Church; today is the feast of more. Pentecost is the celebration of the fact that we are now, all of us, more than what can be measured by sight, more than what can be discerned through earthly assessment. We are more than what we give the I.R.S.; more than what we tell the pollsters; more than the sum of our transcripts, credit reports, and résumés; more than the rude reckonings of our bathroom mirrors and our bathroom scales. Yes, we are all that, yet we cannot be properly appraised by human wit alone. We are more.
Of course, there are two kinds of more: The “more” that God makes possible, and the “more” of pride and earthly goods, the self-centered “more” we claim for our own satisfaction alone. Our Scripture readings depict the difference. We all know the story from Genesis of the Tower of Babel, and the ancient human longing for self-glory: “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the sky, and so make a name for ourselves...” The men and women of Shinar do not plan a temple to the LORD, or a hospital, or a school, or a library. They do not build that God might be praised, the sick might be healed, the young might be taught, or that wisdom might be shared. They want a tower to their own glory, that other peoples and nations might look upon it an exclaim, “More wonderful than any other is this tower! More blessed than any other is this people!” And the Lord puts an end to their presumption, scattering them, dividing them, making them less than what they were.
Today, God puts an end to that. Today, God begins to unify the human race. He does this by establishing His Church. And He establishes His Church by the gift of the Spirit, the gift of the divine “more.” Who are these men upon whom the Spirit descends? At the beginning of the Easter season, we heard about them cowering behind locked doors, terrified that the fate which met Jesus might also come to them. Throughout the Gospels, we hear of them as weak, ambitious, vengeful, and cowardly. But the Spirit makes them more. Now, they speak in more than just one language, and all can understand and hear the Gospel. Now, they act for more than just their own good, accepting persecution and prison that the Gospel of Jesus Christ might bear good fruit. Now, on Pentecost, the apostles begin to live not for themselves, but for Him. The Spirit brings a gift which does more than allow the apostles to be all that they can be. It makes them more than they ever thought they could be, more than what their parents thought they could be, more than what their childhood friends and neighbors imagined they could be. Today, children and churches are named for these men. Today, they are commemorated with feast days and honored with statues and processions. How are such things possible? Only through the Holy Spirit, who calls the apostles to take their seats at the banquet Christ has laid, to be honored guests at the “Feast of More.”
Like the apostles, “we were all given to drink of one Spirit.” The Spirit is always about more: doing more, believing more, saying more. And this is how we know we have received the Spirit. In any month we find ourselves being more generous to the poor than we were the previous month, there is the Spirit alive in our hearts. On any day we find ourselves being more patient with a sick parent or troublesome child than we were the day before, there is the Spirit alive in our hearts. At any hour we find ourselves struggling to turn away from lust, greed, and vengeance, there is the Spirit alive in our hearts, and then “the Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”
Is such forgiveness possible? Does the Spirit really move in our hearts, bringing refreshment, peace, consolation, and forgiveness? Are these no more than pretty, naive words, quaintly out of touch with the iron limits of life in the “real world”?
I think of my first assignment as a parish priest. In the church, on the door of the reconciliation room, there was a poster, and at the bottom there was a listing of the times for confessions. The poster itself was the picture of Pope John Paul II, meeting with the man who shot him. It’s a famous photo, perhaps you have seen it: The Pope is sitting, talking with the man who almost succeeded in killing him thirty-five years ago. The Pope offered his would-be assassin forgiveness. As I stood there, in the quiet, empty church, I was overcome, brought to tears at the thought of this good and holy man imitating Jesus Christ by forgiving his persecutor. The Pope forgave the man who tried to kill him. Me? I still hold a grudge against the first person who cut me off in traffic, back when I was learning how to drive. I remember his license plate After all these years, I sometimes look for that plate, and daydream about telling the guy off.
The Pope forgave his assassin.
In the Incarnation, a virgin’s womb brings forth more than a single life, but Life itself. Throughout his life, Jesus moves beyond the boundaries of custom and caution to care for the sick and the outcast. On Easter morning, Christ leaves behind his burial cloths, the walls of his tomb, and death itself. In today’s Gospel, Jesus moves through the locked doors of the upper room. In the reading from Acts, the apostles break through the barrier of language. In baptism, the Holy Spirit makes us more than a society for good works, more than a club of the likeminded. We are made the body of Christ. Like the apostles, we are made more and we are made great not by our own accomplishments but by the love of the Holy Spirit which has been poured into our hearts.
Thus it is that everything about our faith cries out “More!” Jesus is a man and he is more, the Church is a human society and she is more, this Mass is a conjuring of sinners and the temple of the risen Lord. In this Mass, the bread and wine become more than mere food and drink, more than the work of human hands. They look and taste no different, but they are infinitely more. Like the bread and wine, we look the same. A single photograph could not register our marvelous increase, the most skilled portrait could not capture our glorious expansion. The apostles do not receive a message telling them of the Spirit’s arrival. A driving wind, a shaking house, pulsing flames, unlocked tongues, and magnified faith give witness that these men now have more than blood in their veins and air in their lungs, but God Himself now pumps their hearts and powers their words. So, too, our gracious ecstacy becomes visible only in faithful action: we care for the poor, comfort the mourning, teach the lost. We know the Spirit dwells within us when we cry out with praise and forgive those who trespass against us. We know and can proclaim to others that we are more than our sins, more than our failures, more than our wounds, because Jesus Christ offers himself on that altar for us, and so strengthens us to become more chaste, more compassionate, more forgiving.
What more could a person want?