Sunday, May 28, 2023

Remembering to Breathe

Pentecost Sunday

Readings: Acts 2:1-11; Psalm 103 (104): 1, 24, 29-31, 34; 1 Corinthians 12: 3-7, 12-13; John 20: 19-23

Picture: By Kinga Howard on Unsplash

My dear friends, would you mind doing a very simple exercise with me? When I give the word, just gently take a deep breath and hold it in for a moment. Then slowly let it out. That’s it. Simple. Okay? Ready? Breathe in… Hold… Breathe out… How do you feel? What happened? At least three things, right? First, by flexing some muscles, we expand our chest. We make space for air to flow into us, for the breath to fill our lungs. But we don’t just keep the air to ourselves, we release it. As a result, we receive new life. Our bodies are renewed.

Inhalation, exhalation and renewal. Doesn’t something similar happen at Pentecost? For a start, it’s helpful to notice a word that keeps recurring in our Mass today. The word is fill. The entrance antiphon reminds us that the Spirit of the Lord has filled the whole world. In the opening prayer, we ask God to fill… the hearts of believers with divine grace. And in the first reading, not only does the noise of a wind fill the entire house, the disciples are filled with the Holy Spirit. And it’s worth recalling that the Hebrew word for spirit also means breath.

At Pentecost, the Spirit comes like a divine breath from heaven and fills the disciples. This doesn’t happen by accident. As we may recall from last Sunday’s reading, the disciples had prepared for it. They were praying steadfastly, and with one accord, in the upper room. And before that, the Crucified and Risen Jesus had been consoling, encouraging and guiding them. Helping them to release their guilt and grief, and make space for the Spirit. Teaching them to inhale the very Breath of God. All of which, by the way, has also been our experience throughout the season of Easter.

And just as inhalation naturally leads to exhalation, shortly after being filled with the Spirit, the disciples are led to share God’s Breath with others. Bearing witness to Jesus not just through their preaching, but also in the shared life they lead. Doing for others what Jesus does for them in the gospel. He breathes on them, and shares with them both his mission and the power to carry it out. A mission that benefits not just those at whom it is directed, but also renews the Church. Helping her become what she is called to be. Not just an accidental gathering of harassed weekend worshippers, but a single Body of Christ, made up of different parts, each uniquely gifted to offer fitting service to the Lord.

Inhalation, exhalation, and renewal. Isn’t this what the Spirit brings at Pentecost? Isn’t this how the Breath of God comes to fill and renew everything? And doesn’t our shiny modern world need this precious gift now, when so many of us often find ourselves either struggling to breathe, or even forgetting how? Too many still lack the most basic conditions for safe and dignified human living. While others are deceived into smothering themselves with the endless pursuit of superfluous things. Yet, amid it all, the Spirit continues to blow and flow, filling the world with God’s life and love. All we need to do is make space.

Sisters and brothers, how is the Spirit inviting us to breathe more deeply today? 

Sunday, May 21, 2023

Beyond the Market

7th Sunday of Easter (A)

Readings: Acts 1: 12-14; Psalm 26 (27): 1, 4, 7-8; 1 Peter 4: 13-16; John 17: 1-11

Picture: By Daniel Lloyd Blunk-Fernández on Unsplash

My dear friends, what’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word economy? Perhaps it’s money, or the stock market. Yet, as you know, the word economy actually comes from a Greek root, meaning house or household. And if we stop to think about it, this close connection between a house and a market or money makes a lot of sense, right? After all, isn’t the world our shared house? And what makes the world go round, especially today, if not money?

Even so, our scriptures invite us to ponder an alternative economy, a different kind of household. Consider this deep desire expressed so poignantly in the psalm: There is one thing I ask of the Lord… to live in the house of the Lord, all the days of my life. The psalmist longs to rest in the temple, the holy house where God dwells among God’s people. Yet when Jesus visits the temple, in the second chapter of John’s gospel, he ends up driving out the money-changers and sellers, telling them to stop making my Father’s house a market-place (2:16 [NRSV])! And when the authorities challenge him to justify his actions, he defies them to destroy the temple of his body, and in three days he will raise it up.

By his Dying and Rising, Jesus embodies an economy very different from that of the world. Today’s gospel indicates what this new economy looks like. One striking feature of Jesus’ prayer to his heavenly Father is the frequent appearance of the word give. It is the Father who gave Jesus his teaching and his mission, as well as all those who follow him. And Jesus, having given his disciples the Father’s teaching, now prays to be able also to give them eternal life, by asking the Father to give him glory through the Cross. Give… give… give… Unlike the world, the economy of God’s household is not that of buying and selling, but of solidarity and gift.

And isn’t this what the disciples in the first reading are preparing to receive? By persevering in prayer in one accord, they offer the Spirit a fitting place in which to rest. So that the Spirit might give them power to become, for the world, a life-giving household, with its own distinctive economy. And, as the second reading points out, the Spirit’s power enables disciples even to joyfully endure the inevitable persecutions that result from the radical following of Christ. To see these troubles as welcome signs that the Spirit of glory indeed rests on them, as it first rested on their Lord and Master.

Which is not to say that the market is all bad. Its benefits are undeniable. But it can also very easily turn into an idol, the worship of which brings death, especially to those most vulnerable, including the poor, our own children, and our planet as well. The market’s logic can pollute our homes and even our church, making it hard to find a safe enough place to rest. Isn’t this why Pope Francis often speaks of the need to transform an economy that kills into an economy of life? 

Sisters and brothers, as we prepare to celebrate the Spirit’s coming at Pentecost, how might we embrace more wholeheartedly God’s life-giving economy today?