Homily for Mass for Pentecost, Year A
Livestreamed from St. Mary’s Cathedral Basilica, Sydney
In January this year NBC premiered a sit-com about a young computer programmer who, through a freak accident, develops the power to hear people’s innermost thoughts and feelings as classic songs. Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist is a quirky, funny series that doesn’t shy away from deeper questions raised by people’s ‘heart songs’, as Zoey calls them.
For all the song-and-dance, the show has a strong message that there’s more to us than what people can see: our physical appearance and external actions. This is nowhere more apparent than in Zoey’s father, Mitch, who is dying from a rare neurological disease that means he can barely move. Before Zoey’s powers revealed themselves, the family was losing hope, wondering if their husband and father that they loved was really there anymore. But through the heart-songs she hears, Zoey realizes just how much is going on beneath the surface, and the whole family begins to reconnect with Mitch.
In due course the family gets him a full-time carer. But at interview one applicant seems too casual and jocose – even if it makes Mitch laugh. The family plum for a more professional-looking, long-experienced nurse. It soon becomes clear she only sees Mitch as a case; she manages his physical ailment but refuses him comforts like chocolate milkshakes and TV. When Mitch’s wife Maggie objects, the carer officiously tells her what matters is keeping ‘the patient’ alive as long as possible and, so, giving him what he needs, not what he wants. “I think I know what my husband needs,” Maggie replies, and she switches to the more casual carer. Mitch is soon noticeably happier and the family realise there is more at issue than physical illness: there’s a man, with emotional, social and spiritual dimensions.
Which brings me to Pentecost. The explosion of grace on that day (Acts 2:1-11) changed people forever, changed how they thought, spoke, related. Frightened fishermen cowering in the cenacle became fearless evangelists who gave the testimony of their lives. They might have looked the same and kept the same day job. But inside they were different people after that, and so was the world once their Church burst upon the scene. The story of Pentecost is a story of the power of the spiritual, the importance of feelings, relationships and religious dimensions of the human person and of the universe.
In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, our community has on the whole responded very responsibly. The focus of our civic leaders has been very much on our physical and economic security. But what about friendship, intimacy, meaning and purpose? Such matters might be uncomfortable for public health authorities but, as the lockdown has highlighted, human beings have these other needs also.
Putting such needs in the ‘mental health’ basket doesn’t help. If we’re lonely or anxious, grieving or spiritually dry during the lockdown, if we miss being hugged or being around our extended family and friends because of the lockdown, it’s perfectly healthy. It would be unhealthy if we didn’t feel that way! Today’s inbreaking of the Holy Spirit speaks to that: quarantine and financial stimulus are not enough, even in a crisis, perhaps especially in a crisis. There’s the true and good and beautiful to consider, there’s loving and being loved, and there’s all we hold sacred… Deep down we all cry out: “Come Holy Spirit”.
“Come Holy Spirit.” This simple prayer goes to the core of our being. It is our soul reaching out to the divine, our heart speaking to the Sacred Heart, our spirit inspired by His. For, like God, we are spiritual beings, even if like Christ we are bodily beings also. There is more to us than biology and money, important as these are. It is our souls that inform our bodies, making them live bodies, human bodies, our bodies; it is our souls that ground our consciousness, rationality and freedom, enabling good choices or ill, salvation or damnation, prayer and blessing, creativity and art, sympathy and immortality.
In today’s Gospel (Jn 20:19-23), Jesus by-passes the barriers of isolation and distancing, and re-joins His lonely disciples in the flesh, even letting them see and touch His hands and side. But first He says “Shalom! Peace be with you” – God’s Peace and Presence be with you. He breathes the Holy Spirit of Peace and Presence over them. At Pentecost that Spirit returns, to warm their cold hearts, enflame their tepid souls, fuel a deep passion for the things of God and the service of people, sufficient to carry the Good News of Jesus Christ to the very ends of the earth.
That same Spirit comes today into the hearts of our catechumens, who’ve been preparing to receive Him in Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Communion. Like those first disciples at Pentecost, like all of us during the COVID-19 lockdown, they know there’s more to us than life-signs and bank-balances. Their hearts have sung the songs of Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, songs of longing, suffering or hope. Though we each have our own tune, though there are all sorts of songs to be sung and things to be done, as Paul says in our epistle (1 Cor 12:3-7, 12:13), yet it’s all for the one Lord Jesus; it is the same God the Father working in various ways in different people; such that the Holy Spirit is given in a particular way to each person for His good purposes. Come Holy Spirit! Make our heart-songs love songs and hymns of praise!
ANNOUNCEMENT IMMEDIATELY AFTER THE AGNUS DEI
Because current circumstances continue to impede attendance at Mass and reception of Holy Communion, I invite you now to ask God that by spiritual communion you might receive the graces of sacramental communion. Offer this Mass and your hunger for the Eucharist for the safety of your loved ones, yourselves and of all the world.
INTRODUCTION TO MASS FOR PENTECOST, Year A
Livestreamed from St. Mary’s Cathedral Basilica, Sydney
Welcome to the Solemn Mass of Pentecost, livestreamed from St Mary’s Basilica in Sydney. As the COVID-19 pandemic recedes and public health restrictions are relaxed, we remain grateful and determined for this gradual improvement to continue. I exhort you to download the CovidSafe app, observe public health advice and Church directives for safe worship. We can also avail ourselves of online spiritual resources, counselling and practical assistance. Above all, we should pray that God keep us safe and that we will carry each other through. My thanks to all who joined the campaign to reopen our churches on the same terms as other venues. That has been achieved in NSW but not yet nationally, and so you can still sign on to that campaign at:
Today we celebrate the culmination of Christ’s Easter gift of salvation and the birthday of the Church. By ancient tradition those catechumens not baptized at the Easter Vigil but ready for baptism were baptized on the last of the fifty days of Eastertide, at Pentecost. Due to the COVIDSafe shutdown, all the catechumens around Australia have had an extra-long wait to receive the great graces of Holy Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Communion. It is with great joy, therefore, that I welcome today our first tranche of candidates for Baptism here at St Mary’s Cathedral: Finsen soon ‘Anthony Benedict’ Alexander; Merry now ‘Mary Rose’ Cen; Eve ‘Amandus Teresa’ Smith; and Sida ‘Raphael Joseph’ Zhao. Bonny Chen is also being received into the Church. I acknowledge also our candidates’ godparents here today and all those who influenced or prepared them including Fr Gerald and all the RCIA team here at the cathedral, and their loved ones watching from home.
To everyone else joining us via livestream, it is great to have you with us.