Most Reverend Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.
Bishop of Scranton
Pentecost Sunday – June 4, 2017
Some of you may recall this story that I shared on the occasion of my episcopal ordination and installation as the 10th Bishop of Scranton seven years ago. A few days prior to the public announcement of my appointment to lead the Diocese of Scranton as its bishop, I visited my mother to share this news. Needless to say, her reaction was filled with words of pride, gratitude to God, concern for my well being and challenge to me to do the job well. When she finally settled into the reality of what I had shared, she typically became rather practical in her questions and observations. “When will the news of your appointment be made public?” she asked. “This coming Tuesday morning. There’ll be a televised press conference with Cardinal Rigali and with me,” I said. “And what time is that going to take place?” she inquired. “10:00 a.m.” was my response. “Good!” she said. “I’ll be able to watch it and still keep my hair appointment at 11:30!”
Her response so typically kept me grounded in reality. I must confess, however, that it was also a bit of a surprise! … And we all experience surprises at various points in our lives, don’t we? Sometimes they make us smile. Often, they catch us off guard. And occasionally, they challenge us to look at life differently.
And that’s exactly what the disciples experienced in today’s gospel. … For all that we have come to know and understand about the Pentecost event that we celebrate today, in its initial experience, the sending forth of the Holy Spirit into the lives of Jesus’ closest followers was a surprise. It was hardly an expected event despite all that Jesus may have said in the days leading up to his suffering and death.
Are you uncertain about such an assertion on my part? Then let’s return to the gospel for a moment. St. John’s description of the moment of Pentecost puts this assertion into clear perspective. Here’s what we encounter. The disciples of Jesus were hiding in fear behind closed and locked doors, shutting out the rest of the hostile world that surrounded them – a world that took away the life of their leader and friend – a world for them that was now filled with suspicion and accusation. They felt better and safer, huddled together in isolation.
Then comes the surprise! Jesus bursts into their isolation, despite the closed and locked doors. Surprised and fearful, the disciples are stunned. Despite the fact that, from our vantage point at least, we often believe that they likely understood that this moment would come and were waiting for it to occur, there’s nothing in the scriptures that leads us to conclude that they did. With Jesus’ death and burial, they thought it was all over between Jesus and themselves. After all, their conduct leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion had been anything but sterling with denials, betrayals and flight, leaving Jesus to face his crucifixion alone.
And yet, there he was in their midst. He sought them out in their weakness. He was there to speak of forgiveness and, above all, to give them the gift of the Holy Spirit: the Spirit of the second chance – the Spirit of a love greater than their shame – a Spirit that would break down doors and send them out, now as a community of wounded, forgiven healers, to preach the Good News of God’s love and mercy.
Simply put, through the indwelling of the Spirit of God, a frightened community of followers of a rabbi from Nazareth becomes the Church – an emboldened group of disciples who are sent to be the living, breathing presence of Jesus in the world for all ages. … An inarticulate band of fishermen and a tax collector become a source of goodness, justice, truth, and mercy. … Wounded and grieving souls go up against the powerful forces of a broken world and make certain that the hungry are fed, the homeless are given shelter, the sick and the dying are healed, and the sinful are forgiven and loved.
Pentecost proclaims that the same Spirit continues to breathe upon us through our experience of the Church – the faithful People of God – giving life and direction to our mission and ministry to preach the Gospel to all people.
It is not at all by accident that when the Church welcomes new members into its ranks and brings many of you into full initiation in the Church with the celebration of the Sacrament of Confirmation today, we do so in a public manner. While we all have our own individual stories of faith and relate to God very intimately in the quiet of our hearts, we are baptized into Jesus’ body, the Church. As Christians, we become part of a communion – a unique relationship with God and his people. We are inextricably bound to one another in and through the same Christ. … Saint Paul reminds us in his first letter to the Church of Corinth, “As a body is one though it has many parts, all the parts of the body, though many, are one body. And so also Christ.”
So when we speak of the transforming power of the Holy Spirit given to us in the Pentecost event, we speak of the love of God poured into our hearts – we speak of a love that calls us to look beyond ourselves – and we speak of a love that has the power to open our hearts to mission and the proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ in and through our service of our brothers and sisters. … The key for the unfolding of this love, however, is our openness to the Spirit.
Pope Francis has spoken often about the power of the Holy Spirit, inviting people to learn to listen to God speaking to us in the depths of our hearts. In his Pentecost homily two years ago, the Holy Father shared these challenging words, “The world needs men and women who are not closed in on themselves, but filled with the Holy Spirit. … The world needs the courage, hope, faith and perseverance of Christ’s followers. The world needs the fruits of the Holy Spirit: ‘love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control’ (Gal 5:22). The gift of the Holy Spirit has been bestowed upon the Church and upon each one of us, so that we may live lives of genuine faith and active charity, that we may sow the seeds of reconciliation and peace. Strengthened by the Spirit and his many gifts, may we be able uncompromisingly to battle against sin and corruption, devoting ourselves with patient perseverance to the works of justice and peace.”
My brothers and sisters in this portion of God’s Church that we know as the Diocese of Scranton, may we give the Spirit room in our hearts and so breathe God’s life and love into the world entrusted to our care.