Richard S. Vosko

Musings on religion, art and architecture

Homily – 19 May 2013 – Pentecost Sunday – The Fire in Our Bellies


Pentecost May 19, 2013 – The Fire in Our Bellies

Acts 2:1-11; 1 Cor 12:3b-7, 12-13; John 14:15-16, 23b-26

The table was set for the feast. As was the custom in this ancient village a parent said to one of the children “go into the street and find a poor person and invite him or her to join us for supper.” The child went out and came back crying saying one of the neighbors was murdered. Before tasting any food the parents of the household sprang up from their table to help others bury the victim. Afterwards everyone returned to the table and ate the cold festive meal in sadness. 

The village was Nineveh. The parent was Tobit, a pious Israelite. The festival was Pentecost, a Greek word meaning the Feast of Weeks. It was originally known as Shavuot, a time to remember when God gave the Israelites laws on Mount Sinai. Jews celebrated Shavuot last week. 

Our story of Pentecost conjures up images of wind, fire and the gift of tongues. David Henson wrote, “On Pentecost, God gives divine voice to the languages of a bunch of nobodies and a crowd of commoners. It is an act of liberation, both for humankind and for God.” [1]

Pentecost ushered in a new age of hope for all peoples. The spirit of God broke language barriers, blew down walls of division and opened up doors of justice. It was a terrifying but strangely comforting declaration that things would be different after Jesus the anointed one. There would be a sweet spirit in the house of God that would make all of us rise up from our tables of plenty to reach and out and serve others. 

But where is that spirit today? The evils that Jesus worked to erase still haunt us. Patricia Chappel, Executive Director of Pax Christi, wrote “Pentecost People are deeply disturbed … confronting the devastating violence that we see daily because of a lust for greed and dominance over others.” [2]

Speaking at Spring Enrichment last week Fr. Anthony Gittens, CSsP, believes that the spirit is weak today because we expect God to solve our problems and that we have forgotten our dignity and our calling to be disciples. Gittens said the spirit inspires but also disturbs us. It moves us out of our comfort zones. Indeed. Tobit’s family feast at Pentecost was interrupted by tragedy in the neighborhood and they responded. Who has that spirit today?

Today’s second reading was addressed to early Christians who met regularly in their homes but came together weekly for worship and a covered dish supper. They often argued over issues of power and control; who had the better gifts and talents. The disciple Paul reminded them that the spirit of God is given to each person. 

The late John Kavanaugh wrote that this holy spirit is not found in one place, one group or one person. It does not reside only in laws, sanctuaries, hierarchies, sacraments, scriptures, or people who are rich or poor, powerful or weak. [3]

 No. The spirit of Christ cannot be contained. No one — no bishop, no priest, deacon or even a parish life director can give the spirit to us as if it were a commodity. The spirit of God is given at birth. It is given to all creatures by God to be developed.

This ever evolving spirit will continue to growl and grow inside everyone of us until at last all are transformed, liberated from whatever holds us down. You can ignore it but you cannot avoid it. If you are having a difficult time in life for whatever reason dig deeply until you find that inner, holy spirit and you will be lifted up. That spirit will challenge us to change as quickly as it loves and sustains us. How can you and I tap into the spirit dwelling within us, to develop ourselves, to work together for the common good?

Before leaving the disciples, Jesus urged them to remember everything he taught them. He said they would soon get some help (an advocate) so they could cultivate his spirit within themselves. The holy spirit Jesus spoke of was the fire raging in his belly, the same fire entrusted to us to keep burning inside ourselves. It’s the bright light of the risen Christ. 

[This is why we are so happy for our young children who will share the eucharist with us for the first time on this Pentecost day. At this banquet they are nourished by the holy spirit, the body of Christ, this spirited people of God. We pray they will mature in that spirit and someday, as teenagers, confirm that they too have abundant gifts and talents.]

Pentecost is a feast of endless possibilities and discoveries. It is a time to thank God for the laws by which we try to live justly and humbly; it is a time to give back to God the fruits of the earth. It is a memorial of the spirit that possessed Jesus … one that can still challenge, disturb and inspire you and me. 


1 Henson, David. “The Divine Protest of Pentecost”

2 Chappel, Patricia. “Pentecost: A Feast of Listening and a Celebration of Witness” Pax Christi Letter, May 2013

3 Kavanaugh, John. The Word Engaged: Meditations on the Sunday Scriptures (Maryknoll: Orbis Books) 1997. 72-74.


Author: Richard S. Vosko

Richard S. Vosko, Ph.D., Hon. AIA, is an internationally known sacred space planner. He is a presbyter in the Diocese of Albany who enjoys the classroom as much as the pulpit. On Sundays he presides at worship at St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Albany, NY. For more information on Vosko’s background, his projects, publications and speaking engagements please go to his website. For his homilies and occasional musings about religion, art and architecture go to his blog. Comments, questions and suggestions are always welcomed there.

3 thoughts on “Homily – 19 May 2013 – Pentecost Sunday – The Fire in Our Bellies

  1. Your homily was right on point .It was great .Thanks for all your effort.


  2. What an outstanding message you offer us… I love that you used Tobit, one of my favorite pieces of Scripture. When I was newly back to church 23 years ago, still so unsure, something about Tobit (along with a few other things!) made me hang on. The story is one of hope for me, real hope.

    And Pentecost is about hope. And hope, as a theologian friend of mine, should not be confused with optimism, which can be more of a vice. That brings me right back to the same words said by Fr. Gittens, who was brilliant last Monday.

    So yes – amidst the discoveries and possibilities, the hope and the grace, let us be liberated by the Spirit and empowered to truly be alive.

    (PS- Congratulations to you on receiving the Bishop Broderick award!)


  3. Thanks again for your words and insight!


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