Thursday, May 21, 2015

Pentecost: Homily: 2015 (updated)

Come, Holy Ghost, fill the hearts of thy faithful people, kindle in them the fire of thy love.

The infinite monkey theorem states that a monkey hitting keys at random on a typewriter keyboard for an infinite amount of time will almost surely type a given text, such as the complete works of William Shakespeare. This is one of the many attempts to dethrone human beings from their privileged place in the cosmos by insisting that even one of the most distinctive things about men is not at all that distinctive.  The most obvious problem among many other problems is that no real monkeys are infinite and they would be dead long before they had typed a single sentence. Monkeys do not have language. They may have some communication. But only human beings have ; language. According to the Bible it is that very distinctive thing which got them in trouble, got them dethroned from their privileged place in creation. Remember the tower of Babel.

St. Augustine has an interesting explanation of the Tower:  Why build a tower? Augustine says that the tower  was built to protect men from God just in case he tried to flood the world again. But from a spiritual standpoint the cause of the tower was pride. ““God saw their pride, and frustrated their purpose by causing them to not understand one another’s speech, and thus tongues became diverse through pride. If pride caused diversities of tongues, Christ’s humility has united these diversities in one. The Church is now uniting what that tower had divided”. Pride made one language into many; love made many languages into one.

Pentecost is the triumph of love over pride through the Holy Spirit. “Jews, devout men from every nation were bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. And they were amazed and wondered, saying, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?’ And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language?” Pentecost reverses Babel, not by the ingenuity of man, but the Holy Spirit, the very bond of love between the Father and the Son.  Just as the Lord and Giver of Life overshadowed Our Lady, when she conceived Jesus in her womb, so the Holy Spirit comes down upon Mary and the Apostles so that the Body of Christ the Church may be born.

So it should be no surprise at all that in the Creed what follows immediately after the bit about the Holy Spirit is ‘I believe in one, holy, Catholic and Apostolic church’.

The Church, St. Paul says in the Epistle to the Ephesians, is  ‘eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace’  Paul explains what this means by a long string of ‘ones’ -- ‘there is one body and one Spirit, one hope,   one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all’. A church which does not long for, work for and pray for Christian unity is quite simply not a church at all, it is sect.  That does not sound very ecumenical but what it really means is that the Holy Spirit is absent.

The Church in so far as she is faithful is burning with that fire of love.  There have always been divisions and schisms and now if anything many Christians and I am bound to say many Anglicans are determined to create more and more obstacles to the unity of the Church. I am afraid that this includes even conservative Anglicans, even those who call themselves Anglo Catholics. The embarrassing thing is not simply that we behave this way but we are shameless about it. The only thing that that demonstrates is the absence of the Holy Spirit, however often and loudly people may insist that the Spirit has led them.

In the Gospel twice Jesus says “Peace be unto you.” Then he breathes the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles  “For he is our peace, who has made us both (Jew and Gentile) one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace,  and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby bringing the hostility to an end’. 

The presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church is a rather sober thing , not as intoxicatingly wild and totally out of control, as some might think. In the Epistle today , we find St Paul describing --actually  prescribing — a considerable degree of order and stability: every disciple has his own gift, ministry, way of working: “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good”. The Church, pervaded by the Holy Spirit, already displays a certain shape, common aims and shared responsibilities. Moreover, Paul wants us to understand, no individual can proclaim "Jesus is Lord" except by the Holy Spirit. In Paul’s culture many people no doubt were polytheists. Now, for Christians, the Lord has  been  revealed to be Jesus. One might reject this as blasphemy, or even admire the figure portrayed in the gospels; but to see Jesus as Lord you have to see him with the eyes of faith, you have to be inspired by the Holy Spirit. That is how the Holy Spirit creates the Church and makes individuals Christians.

Throughout the Church’s history since the first Pentecost, there have been endless schisms and divisions that have weakened the unity and strength of her voice to the world by adding many other competing voices, in their effect like the garble of languages of Babel.  But Jesus promised that the ‘gates of hell shall not prevail against his Church’ or maybe better translated ‘the gates of hell shall not stand against the Church.’ ‘The unruly wills and affections of sinful men’ are to be expected but this does not mean that the objective unity of the Church, the supernatural unity of the Church is destroyed or can be destroyed.  As man through sin robs God of the glory He ought to have received, so division robs the Church of the clarity of its witness to its supernatural origin and unity. By the witness of the Church’s supernatural unity in charity, the world will know that Jesus is the one whom the Father has sent. Pentecost as the reversal of Babel calls us to pursue true peace and reunion with all those estranged from us; it lays upon us the ecumenical imperative and that most necessary prayer:

Come, Holy Ghost, fill the hearts of thy faithful people, kindle in them the fire of thy love.

The readers of Brian Cross’ blog ‘Called to Communion: The Reformation meets Rome’ will recognize that I have borrowed many ideas and words from him. If Anglo-Papalism is pretty much gone, at least the mantle has been taken by ‘Evangelico-Papalists’. 








No comments: