Pentecost B – 24 May 2015 – “An Assembly of Saints”
(Note: Today at St. Vincent de Paul Church, Albany, NY, we will be blessing eight newly installed original icons written by Christine Simoneau Hales (Philmont, NY). This installation marks the conclusion of the enhancement of our church interior. The subjects for the icons, chosen by the parishioners, include Elizabeth Ann Seton, Dorothy Day, Francis of Assisi, John XXIII, Kateri Tekakwitha, Louise de Marillac, Rose of Lima, and Vincent de Paul. Come visit when you can to see this assembly of saints!)
This weekend Jews are celebrating an ancient grain harvest festival called Shavuot. Since biblical times the feast has been associated with the giving of the Torah, the five books of Moses, on Mount Sinai and the establishment of Israel as God’s people. During this weekend Jews read the Book of Ruth. The major theme in that Book is loyalty. It speaks of faithfulness arising from commitment between God and the human beings and between members of families and our communities.
Pentecost is a celebration of the outpouring of the Spirit God. Today’s gospel suggests that took place on Easter Sunday evening. The Acts of the Apostles places it on Pentecost – 50 days after Easter. Precision is not an issue here for the Spirit is always at work. Traditionally Pentecost marks the foundation of a church that extends beyond the women and men who followed Christ. It is a gift to whole world. Thus the reference to the diverse languages in the first reading this morning.
It would take team work to establish a church. Advocates working together. The second reading suggests that spiritual gifts are diverse and revealed in many forms. The Spirit of God cannot be contained or even defined. Certainly it is not something that only a few people possess. The author here is urging the readers to reflect on what it means to live a new life in Christ.
Discovering the Spirit in one’s own life may take time. Once that Spirit is uncovered and allowed to flourish it can change a person’s life. Learning to use that spirit can strengthen us and enable us also to contribute to the common good. It is used to build up the community in the hopes that the strength of that community would, in turn, build up and sustain humanity.
Long before the young church became organized in hierarchical and clerical ways it relied on the different gifts of community members to advance the message of Jesus of Nazareth. Not all gifts were appreciated then. Not all gifts are acknowledged now.
It is a tradition in most world religions to recognize and revere women and men who have been inspiring and instrumental in spiritual, physical and mental ways. This past week the Vatican identified different men and women who continue to spark our own initiatives in the public square.
Oscar Romero from El Salvador was beatified yesterday. He was a critical public voice for victims of human rights abuses and a threat to the authorities. Some churchmen still seek to block this honor thinking it would be an endorsement left-wing Marxist ideologies.
Two of the four women religious who were named saints earlier last week lived in 19th century Palestine. Sisters Bawardy and Ghattas were signs of hope and encouragement when violent persecutions drove Christians away from Jesus’ homeland.
Most often these sacred ancestors of ours are closer to us than we think. They are our grandparents, parents, guardians or teachers we had in school. They are our close friends or co-workers. They are the strangers we encounter who live on the edges of society. They are members of our parish. I drew these examples of saints in our midst from suggestions sent to me by readers of my homily blog. Thanks to each of you.
Today we blessed these eight icons just installed in our church building. Let’s get to know them better and introduce our children to them. They complement this circle of sainthood made up of ordinary people like you and me.
Icons are not like other graphic images. They are not painted but written like holy scriptures. They do not intend to call attention to themselves. We look through them to find a deeper meaning perhaps something more of ourselves. Who were these women and men, what did they believe, what did they do, what made them do it? We peer at them but let us not forget they are are looking at us. They wonder who are we, what do we believe in, what are we doing, what made us do it?
The Catholic catechism asks this question. “What is the church if not the assembly of saints? The communion of saints is the church.” (No. 946) This teaching is a reference to us. How will we join those first Pentecost saints in building up the church so that we can build up the kin-dom of God?