Short reflection on Pentecost Vigil
St. Stephen, 8.6.2019
Acts 2: 42-47; 10, 34-48; Gal 5: 16-26; Mk 16, 15-20
First of all, I greet all those present and thank the Dominican fathers for having once again hosted us in this beautiful church for this moment of prayer for the whole Church of Jerusalem.
Last year it was the Seminary that prepared this moment. This year it was the young people of Palestine. I therefore thank them, the shabibeh, who have prepared this prayer vigil.
Five years ago, the Holy Father visited the Holy Land and in the context of his visit he invited the then presidents of Palestine and Israel to meet and to pray together for peace. The meeting took place in the Vatican exactly five years ago, like today. It was an incredible moment of hope, but also an important indication of method. Then we all hoped that something could change. Instead we saw that immediately afterwards an incredible violence broke out. Still today the political situation remains the same as always. But we’re not here to talk about this. That very moment, which may perhaps be considered to be a parenthesis of utopia, nevertheless gave us an important indication: in the face of evil and violence, faced with the many forms of abuse and oppression we are witnessing, the believer must first set his mind on things that are above. Praying and interceding does not mean renouncing to speak with parresia in the face of evil, nor does it exempt us from working to concretely build peace and solidarity. In short, it is important not to have a consumerist approach to prayer, which produces no results, and never immediately. The prayer addressed to the Father introduces to an attitude of serene hope and sincere desire of encounter. Prayer does not produce anything; prayer generates. It does not replace the work of man but illuminates it. It does not exempt from the path but indicates it. And in this sense, the Rome meeting was and remains a powerful, strong and binding sign. It is the image to which we refer and which gives hope to those who are not resigned to the sad reality of our days.
I also wish at this moment to address a particular thought to our Church, the Church of Jerusalem. At Pentecost, here in Jerusalem, the Church is born. All the churches spread around the world are originated from the “yes” to Christ said right here in Jerusalem by few fisherman and some of their friends. They were few, scared, unprepared, with profoundly different ideas about Jesus, about His mission and consequently about their own mission (should we also welcome the pagans?). They were also persecuted and misunderstood by most.
And yet, if we are here today, it is because of them, who could not have done anything striking from the human point of view.
It seems – if you allow me – that the description of our Church of Jerusalem today is: we are few and without any human power, divided, with profoundly different ideas about the mission of the Church, about politics and about many other things; we are not persecuted, but certainly we cannot even say we are loved. We do not have a great missionary thrust for announcement. Sometimes we seem more like the disciples still closed in the Cenacle out of fear, more than Peter who with parresia announces to everyone that Christ is the Lord, as we see him in the reading of today.
We really need the Spirit, that power which can only come from above (cf Lk 24.49), which enables us to become Christians again, builders of a new way of life.
The first reading chosen by our shabibeh shows us the method: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers… were together and had all things in common; they would … distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need… ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people”.
The second reading reminds us to open ourselves to the newness of the Spirit. It is not just for us, we are not the owners of the Holy Spirit, but the opposite. Like the first community of Jerusalem, we too – their heirs – are invited to grasp the presence of the Spirit of God in every man, in every person, without jealousy. We must not fear novelties, or that the Spirit given to others could take something away from us, deprives us of something, of a position, of a privilege, because everything in Christ is a gain (cf. Phil 3: 8). In our city, where we are always so jealous of our spaces and borders, this is always a fundamental indication of methodology.
The boys who prepared this liturgy remind us, through the letter to the Galatians of St. Paul, the way to walk according to the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control”. (Gal 5 , 22).
They also invite us not to be afraid, because we are not alone. Even if we pick up serpents or drink deadly things, we will have no damage (cf. Gospel). They remind us that we have a life that no one can take away from us: the life in Christ. They remind us that we have a life that no one can take away from us.
All this is very beautiful, but it seems very far from what we live. And this is why we are here, to ask for the gift of conversion and the gift of the Spirit, in order to change our hearts first and enable us to believe that even through us, despite what we are, it is possible to bear witness to the Peace of Christ, which cannot be the fruit of human initiative only. Only if we are conquered by the love of Christ can we contribute to the construction of new models of coexistence.
I am convinced that our Church has a special vocation and a mission, within the one only Church of Christ spread throughout the world: to witness that it is possible to live and build relationships of peace even in the midst of conflicts, tensions and divisions of every kind, even when it seems that talking about hope is just a slogan.
“Peace” is the greeting of Christ, when He came to the apostles in the Cenacle after the resurrection: and it is to this renewed and constant gift of peace that we must pay tribute today, letting it descend into our consciences, letting ourselves be educated by its needs, letting it convert our hearts, so that in us and around us, in our cities and in Jerusalem, there may be peace.