There are very many things that we could reflect on when it comes to this feast of Pentecost. I think, in a certain way, we overlook how important this feast really is in our own spirit life and what it has meant in the history of the church. Saint Luke, in the Acts of the Apostles, describes for us, in a very symbolic way, what happened on that first Pentecost. He's not recording history. The history probably was closer to what's in the Gospel of John -- that Jesus came on Easter Sunday night and gave the disciples the Spirit.
But Luke wants us to appreciate the full depth of the meaning of this feast, so he goes back to other Scripture passages. He wants us to see what happened here on that Pentecost or Easter Sunday night as like what happened at the beginning of creation. He wants us to see this is a new creation. In the book of Genesis, it's described as, "Before the worlds were made there was chaos and a terrible wind blowing through that chaos."
"That's the wind that comes down upon the house," as Luke describes it, "Shaking the walls, this wind." The word "spirit" in Hebrew is wind. Luke is trying to get us to remember what happened. Now we know, not in seven days, day by day, but with a big bang out of nothing, God brings forth the beginnings of the universe. Now we know that this was billions of years ago. God's creation has been going on now, these billions of years.
The more we learn about it, the more soundly we understand that it is what God has done. We look up at the sky and we see the Milky Way and we think, "What an extraordinary event that Milky Way is." It's only one; there are thousands. God is continuing to create. The universe is expanding, going on. There could well be other places in this huge universe where there is human life like our own. It's a wondrous, extraordinary thing what God began -- that creation from nothing.
The more you think about it, the more astounding you begin to understand that it is. But there's a little more to it, the way Luke describes that first Pentecost -- the fire. That's because he's relating it to what happened in the Sinai Desert when the first covenant was established between God and the chosen people. Do you remember the burning bush -- the fire, it was never extinguished? Moses was amazed at that fire.
That's when God entered into a covenant with the chosen people. Now that covenant still goes on, but there's a new covenant, the covenant in the blood of Jesus. Luke wants us to realize that as astounding as that first covenant was, "I am your God; you are my people," this new covenant, through Jesus, makes all of us God's new people. Luke wants us to realize that just as God entered into covenant with the chosen people in Sinai Desert, so now on this feast God renews with us God's covenant.
That covenant takes us even beyond what happened in the first covenant because, as we hear in Paul's letter to the church at Rome, when we're filled with the Spirit, we become the very sons and daughters of God. We enter into a deep, personal, intimate relationship with God. Like a little child we can cry out, "Daddy," to God. That's amazing. God is so other and yet we're drawn into this life with God through the Spirit who's given to us. The Gospel lesson also shows us the importance of this feast.
Jesus breathes on them. You remember again in the story of creation when God created the first human being, God breathed on what God had made and it became alive. Human life was created through that breath of God. Now the Holy Spirit, who is God breathing on us, brings us alive as sons and daughters of God. It's amazing what we recall in this feast. We must never take it for granted. This is something we can pray about, reflect on, think about, and then try to get some grasp of how important the events of that first Pentecost were and how important those same events are for us as God renews all of this in our spirit life.
But then also as we reflect on the lessons today, I hope we hear and pay attention to what Jesus says to those first disciples. After he breathes on them to receive the Holy Spirit, what does he say? "As God has sent me, I send you." God, through Jesus, is calling us to carry this message of Jesus, this message of love, the message whereby God makes us sons and daughters of God and spreads God's love throughout all of the world and all of the universe.
We're called to do what Jesus was asked to do, to proclaim God's good news, the message of love. Isn't it significant when Jesus says to those disciples, "You must do what I have done. As God sent me, I send you"? What's the real work that Jesus is calling us to? It's the work of reconciliation. "The sins you forgive, they're forgiven. The evil you restrain, it's restrained. You bring peace and reconciliation into the world." Isn't this a message that we need?
It seems almost that this is the most important message of the Gospel. We must break down those barriers of hatred that separate us from one another in this world, that bring about so much violence and killing. In many parts of the world we're involved in it, threatening even more. Can you imagine Jesus threatening to carpet bomb someone? That means to destroy a whole city, block by block, utter destruction and killing of innocent people.
Yet that's proclaimed as what we need to do. How many of us are just abhorrent at that to think that anyone could suggest that that would be a right thing to do. No, the right thing to do is much more like Pope Francis. I mentioned this before; perhaps you've heard me, but it's so extraordinary. When he went to the Central African Republic, a place where there was violence and war going on, he sent a group from the Community of Sant'Egidio, a community in Rome, to prepare the way by trying to begin negotiations for settling the struggle. It was a struggle between Muslims and Christians.
They began and when Pope Francis got there he made a point to visit with the imam at the mosque. He didn't go with armed guards; he went just by himself, unarmed into the midst of this violent situation. Since then, they've been working out a path of peace. That's an extraordinary witness for us and for the whole world. It's a witness that Jesus calls us to begin to do, not that we can go to the Central African Republic or go into Afghanistan or into Syria or places like that, but we have to try to help the leadership of our government find ways to bring peace without violence and killing and war. It's possible.
But also we have to build up in ourselves the spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation and peace. That means within our families, and in our neighborhoods, and how important that is. Do you know that two weeks ago in the city of Detroit there were 21 shootings over the weekend, seven people killed? This past weekend in Chicago, 50 violent killings, the use of guns in the city. How can that be when we claim to be followers of Jesus?
There's so much violence. We're the disciples of Jesus to whom Jesus said, "As God has sent me, I send you." It's so important that we embrace the truth about Pentecost, the truth that God makes us God's sons and daughters and asks us to carry on the work of Jesus and then begin to find the way to build peace, starting within our own spirit, our own heart, within our own family, within our own community and building that spirit of peace until it extends to all the world.
That's why Jesus breathed on those first disciples and gave them the Holy Sprit. That's why Jesus breathes on us and gives us the Holy Spirit, so that we can carry on the work of Jesus in our world. I pray to God and I hope all of us pray to God that we will be filled with the Spirit of Jesus and accept the responsibility to carry on his work of reconciliation and love that will bring peace.
[Homily given at St. Philomena Parish, Detroit, Mich. The transcripts of Bishop Gumbleton's homilies are posted weekly to NCRonline.org. Sign up here to receive an email alert when the latest homily is posted.]