Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Sunday Homily - The Spirit of Unity

The following is the text for my homily given this past Sunday at a Mass in the Extraordinary Form in St. Anne's, Kitchener:

Today we celebrate the glorious Feast of Pentecost, a day when we give our focus to the Holy Spirit, or the Holy Ghost, whichever you prefer to call Him.  So often it seems that the Holy Spirit is the forgotten member of the Holy Trinity.  It's on occasions such as this one that I'm always a little envious of our brethren in the East.  The Eastern Rites of the Catholic Church, and those in the Orthodox traditions generally have a much better developed theology of, and appreciation for the Holy Spirit, than those of us in the West.  We seem to put all of our focus onto Christ, and certainly it is fitting, since we are his followers, but the Holy Spirit accomplishes so much, but we only seem to remember him on Pentecost and at Confirmation time.

We can certainly take much time, say a great deal about the Holy Spirit, so I will have to confine my reflections today to just one area, and today I would like to reflect on the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Unity.  The cause of division after all is sin, and it is through the work of the Holy Spirit that we can achieve unity again, and I would like to look at three different areas, moving from the general, to the more specific.

In the reading from the book of Acts, we hear of the Apostles, who had been gathered in the upper room for nine days, in prayer, fearful of the Jewish authorities, suddenly going out to preach the message of Christ after receiving the Holy Spirit, and doing so in many different tongues, many different languages.  This hearkens back to the passage in the book of Genesis about the tower of Babel.  The many languages of humanity all brought about through human sin; sin causes division.  When travelling through the world, in order to communicate with our fellows, we need to find some way to overcome the language barrier, someway to translate.  Communication is difficult enough let alone trying to spread the faith of Christ and the Gospel message.  Through the power of the Spirit though, unity is restored, and indeed as the passage continues we hear that 3000 people were baptized that very day and became members of the Church.

It is often said that the greatest scandal in the Christian Church is the divisions within it.  So many thousands of different Christian denominations, how can we possibly proclaim the one truth of Christ when we are divided amongst ourselves.  For the past several decades, the Ecumenical movement has sought to bring about unity among Christians, but we often hear the old refrain, Ecumenism is not about making everyone Catholic again.  Well, I think our Holy Father, Pope Benedict would respectfully disagree.  After all we see the recent creation of the Anglican ordinariates to allow members of the Anglican Church to return to the Catholic Church while retaining some of the distinctiveness of their own liturgical traditions.  Quite recently too we saw a symbolic, but certainly a significant gesture, as our Holy Father was presented with a new Papal Tiara, by a group of Catholics and Orthodox Christians.  It is being called the Tiara of Christian Unity.  Catholics and Orthodox coming together to present the Holy Father with what is ultimately a sign of his authority as Successor of St. Peter.  We pray that the Holy Spirit continue to guide the work of Christian Unity and the efforts of the Holy Father to achieve it.

Turning a little more specific now, we can look at divisions even in our own personal relationships.  Once again, it must be said that divisions which come between us as persons have their origin in sin.  We can look at one specific example that is very prevalent in our own culture, that of divorce.  The statistics tell us that roughly 50% of marriages end in divorce, but that's the general number.  When we look at couples who share a faith, and practice that faith actively in their lives the number drops significantly.  Now, it's not possible to generalize in a homily about all of the specifics of human relationships, but the numbers point to something important, and that could very well be the work of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Unity, helping to overcome certain things that would otherwise lead to divorce.

Getting even more specific now, we can look within ourselves.  One of the consequences of Original Sin was a division within each one of us, as St. Paul reminds us, our Spirits thirst for the things of God, while our bodies and minds so often incline us to sin.  However, through the power of the Holy Spirit, through the grace we receive from him, through prayer, through the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation we are given the strength to fight against this division in ourselves.  Through the grace of the Holy Spirit we can turn our bodies and minds to the things of God.  Make no mistake, the division will continue to be there, at least until our souls are reunited with our glorified bodies in the resurrection, but the grace of the Holy Spirit can help us overcome our divisions, our inclinations to sin, and draw us to God.

So we pray that the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Unity may come among us, to help us to overcome sin and the divisions it creates; that He may give us true unity, in our world, in our Church, in our homes, and in ourselves.

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