29.05. 2023 | Homily


The readings for Feast of Pentecost are available HERE.

“When Pentecost day came round, they had all met in one room”. But who was in that room on that day? When Jesus ascended to the Father in heaven, the Apostles walked back from the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem: it is not very far, a sabbath day’s walk. Saint Luke tells us that they went to the upper room, where they had eaten the Last Supper with Jesus. He names the eleven apostles who remained after Judas killed himself; he says that Mary and the brothers of Jesus were there, too. Other people joined them, because Luke says that about one hundred and twenty people were in the room, and they chose Matthias to take Judas’ place. This was the first Christian community, and it was these people who had met in one room on the day of Pentecost.

Luke tells us these things in the Acts of the Apostles. It is not surprising that he mentioned Mary, the Mother of Jesus, because his Gospel is the one which tells us most about her. Luke clearly respected Mary, and one of the oldest legends in Christian history tells us that Saint John took her into his home in Ephesus. After all, just before He died, Jesus had told his mother and the apostle John to look after each other after His death. Mary was at the heart of the first Christian community; she was there when something like tongues of fire descended on them, and “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak foreign languages as the Spirit gave them the gift of speech”. There must have been an amazing atmosphere in Jerusalem that day, when all the pilgrims heard the Christians speaking to them in their own languages about the marvels of God.

I want to suggest that we can do two of the things the first Christian community did on the day they received the gift of the Holy Spirit.

The first thing is to be aware that the Mother of God is at the heart of our community when we pray. You have probably noticed that, on Sundays, at the end of the prayers after the Creed, we pray to Mary in the words of the angel Gabriel: “Hail, Mary, full of grace! The Lord is with thee.” This is not part of the instructions for celebrating Mass, but it is a custom which developed about fifty years ago among Catholics in England. People knew Mary was there with the Apostles and the others in the Upper Room, and they pray that she will always be with us when we gather to pray as a community.

The second thing is to feel free to speak to God in our own language. Our parish includes people from many parts of the world, and we learnt to pray in our different mother tongues. In the story of the Tower of Babel, the Bible tells us that the fact that we cannot understand each other’s languages is a punishment for our sins, but on Pentecost Day it became possible to understand what we could never understand before. It also tells us that it is quite normal for Catholics to do things a little differently in different parts of the world. We don’t all have to do exactly the same things or express ourselves in the same way. You are free to pray the Lord’s prayer, the Our Father, the way you learnt it – in Polish or Tagalog or Cebuano or Tamil or Spanish or Faroese or Danish: in any language. God will understand us all, and the sound of many languages is an eloquent sign that our Church is universal. What God hears when we pray the Lord’s Prayer in different languages is not a cacophony, but polyphony, harmony. Perhaps we can learn to recognise unity in different voices.

Fr. Peter




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