Pentecost Sunday - Fr. Pete Iorio
May 31, 2020
Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit upon Mary and the disciples, the birthday of the Church.
Why is Pentecost relevant to us today living in the United States of America in the Year of Our Lord 2020?
Pentecost is about diversity. Pentecost is about bold proclamation. Pentecost is about courage. Pentecost is about change which is conversion.
Pentecost is about diversity. In Acts we hear that the Holy Spirit empowered the disciples to speak different languages that they never studied. There are 14 different places mentioned and all those people were together in Jerusalem hearing the apostles speak to them. As a church that celebrates Pentecost as its birthday, we need to evaluate whether we hold that as a value – our diversity. Do we appreciate those who are different than we are or do we complain saying that I cannot understand someone because of their inability to speak MY language or have an accent that I cannot understand because it takes an effort to do so.
In the Acts of the Apostles, the Spirit came upon the apostles, and it enabled them to proclaim. Instead of hiding from Jews who persecuted them as we see in today’s Gospel passage, the Holy Spirit empowered them to speak publicly a challenging message.
The Church and members of the Church do this bold proclamation when we speak out against racial injustice; when we act in solidarity with those who are marginalized and oppressed, and when we care about victims of wars and victims of violence. We don’t just stand idly by and accept it or say that it is somebody else’s responsibility. As I have said before from this ambo, quoting the bishops in their letter on racism: Racism is a sin that divides the human family. Let us look at it from the Biblical perspective:
The revelation of God in the Bible is written from the perspective of the oppressed. The Bible reveals a liberating path of humility, compassion, and nonviolence in the face of oppression that culminates in the life, ministry, and state-sponsored execution of Jesus.
We see in the Gospels that the people who tend to follow Jesus are the ones on the margins: the lame, poor, blind, prostitutes, drunkards, tax collectors, and foreigners. He lived in close proximity to and in solidarity with the excluded ones in his society. Those on the inside and at the center of power are the ones who crucify him: elders, chief priests, teachers of the Law, scribes, and Roman occupiers.
Pentecost is about courage. Courage is the ability to do something that frightens you. The Holy Spirit empowered the apostles not to be afraid to proclaim Jesus Christ Crucified and risen from the dead and to be in solidarity with all of those people they could communicate with. They were not afraid to undergo suffering in their own lives to share the loving message of hope and compassion that Jesus taught them and showed them. The root word in courage is the Latin word cor meaning heart. People with courage have the heart with its life force and also have the heart which symbolizes love to do as Jesus did by having a preferential option for the poor.
Pentecost is about change. Jesus radically changed the lives of his disciples who as I said were mainly on the margins. Our first step to conversion to solidarity is to have basic compassion for the poor in general, or one poor person. I will be using the word “poor” in a very specific way—those who are powerless, dismissed, or considered lesser in society. This is far larger than mere economic poverty. Sadly, there seems to be many Christians who don’t even have basic compassion for the poor. In the United States, we are pretty much trained to blame people who are poor, immigrants or refugees, victims of violence. Far too many seem to think, even if only to themselves, that if “those people” would simply work a little more, do things the right way, change their minds, stay hidden, or just “pray a little harder,” we’d all be better off. The first conversion is where we must begin. Our hearts must be softened, and we must experience basic sympathy, empathy, and recognition of another person’s pain.
At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit empowered them to go out and be the change they wanted the world to be… a world of peace and justice for all people, to live in radical poverty and to share things with all in the community so that no one would go without. Change is hard because it forces us to grow and move out of our comfort zones. Pentecost is about being open to letting go of control and allowing God to be in total charge of your life.
Our second step to conversion to solidarity is anger at the unjust situation that caused their poverty. When we are in the middle or upper tier of privilege, it is almost impossible to see the many ways the system helped us succeed. We cannot recognize or overcome this “agreed upon delusion” as isolated individuals, mostly because it is held together by the group consensus. The dominant group—in any country or context—normally cannot see its own lies. We have to pay attention to whomever is saying “I can’t breathe” to recognize the biases at work.
This often only changes when, through friendship with people of different backgrounds and life experiences, we witness mistreatment and marginalization. We get to know someone outside our immediate social circle.
Anger is a necessary, appropriate, and useful response to this kind of injustice. We remember the angry beginning of our country with the Boston Tea Party and see the same dynamic going on with the riots in our cities. But anger can be dangerous, too. When it becomes violent, it becomes self-defeating. Then it distorts the message it came to offer us. We can become so intent on pointing out problems that we are never actually willing to be part of the solution. The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better, not more criticism! The question of true conversion and solidarity is, “how can I work through my anger and get to the other side, so I can be a life-giving presence with and for those who are most suffering?”
For oppressed communities, however, anger can be a form of survival, a necessary stage on the path towards healing. Listening to such anger with compassionate friendship can itself be a form of solidarity. Barbara Holmes is a black minister, teacher and lawyer who has taught me much about the Gospel from the perspective of being oppressed because of her race. She writes:
Many spiritual traditions warn us against anger. We are told that anger provides fertile ground for seeds of discontent, anxiety, and potential harm to self and others. This is true. However, when systems of injustice inflict generational abuses upon people and communities because of their ethnicity, race, sexuality, and/or gender, anger as righteous indignation is appropriate, healthy, and necessary for survival. . . Until the killing of black and brown people stops, all peaceful methods of resistance are appropriate. Right now, our anger is our truth, and our anger is a sacred part of our humanity and our faith. 
As if COVID 19 were enough to deal with together. So must we all recognize that we are one big diverse family that needs to call upon God and deal with our many problems together so that there truly is justice for all. Let us not be afraid to dialog in a spirit of love, to be converted, and to build the Kingdom of God. Come Holy Spirit Come!