Today, we celebrate the powerful truth that separates us from the rest of the world. Many will tell you that we believe in the divinity of Jesus as well as His death and resurrection and they do not. That of course is a difference between us and the rest of the world. However, what really sets us apart is what you see in today’s second reading from St. Paul.
Notice St. Paul teaches that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us and prays for even those things that we do not know we need. So the Holy Spirit prays for us at a deeper level than we can perceive. That power of the Holy Spirit in our lives is really what sets us apart from others, and most are not aware of it.
I was doing research for today’s homily when I came upon these words and it was then it struck me. You see any anthropologist will tell you that the human race has been praying since long before civilization existed. Roughly about 40,000 years ago. Civilization is only about 10,000 years old and organized religion, only about six thousand years old, but humans have been praying for 40,000 years. In fact, the late Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a unique Jesuit priest who was the first to recognize that evolution and Christianity were compatible said that religion is not the sign of the savage, but the first sign of the human. (Please see NB at the bottom of this blog entry for more about Fr. Teilhard de Chardin) It shows that the human unlike other animals can reflect on his surroundings where others cannot.
So now when St. Paul explains that the Holy Spirit intercedes for those new Christians, he is doing it in a backdrop where the pagans were actively involved in prayer throughout the empire. In fact, the Romans, in maybe precursor to our own founding fathers, believed in freedom of religion. They absorbed other cultures’ deities into Roman Culture. The only exception was Christianity because we could not recognize other gods.
So, St. Paul is saying that God is so intimately involved with us and in us, that God knows our needs to a deeper level than even we do. This is far different than what would be understood prior. In fact, our whole understanding of God is radically different than the pagan understanding. God is outside of nature and time and within nature and time simultaneously. The Roman understanding of God is that their deities were the next level of nature and they were involved in serving humanity. Remember, this is during the time that people believed that the sun rose in a great chariot.
You would ask the respective god for what you felt you needed.
Paul is teaching something that is completely new. God in the Holy Spirit now prays for you at a level beyond your comprehension as you bring your needs which you are aware of to Him. This is an understanding of the divine that never existed before and it exists to this day. So the Holy Spirit’s action that Paul teaches to us is the first time this is understood in God’s relationship to us since religion humans began seeking God 40,0000 years ago.
This is a new understanding of prayer brought forth by the descent of the Holy Spirit who calls us to a new relationship in God. Now the Lord comes to you to bring you to the Father. Now your understanding of what it means to be human is changed and now you have a calling to be a new person in Christ. This is radically different than what is understood by our friends and relatives outside that Church, especially those who are Baptized but do not attend Mass. The catechism also shows us that these words of St. Paul bring us to understand our part in the fullness of God’s creation:
The mystery of Christ casts conclusive light on the mystery of creation and reveals the end for which “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”: from the beginning, God envisaged the glory of the new creation in Christ. CCC 280
How many times do I tell you that Catholicism is not about good people go to Heaven and bad people go to Hell. That is actually paganism. Instead, what is called sin is to be avoided because it is something that is outside the understanding of what it means to be in Christ who is making us fully human and fully alive. Sin separates us from Christ and what He is creating us to be. We are being created anew in Christ and so that which is part of the sinful old needs to be shed as we are formed anew. This is all done through our cooperation with the action of the Holy Spirit.
In Genesis, once Adam and Eve eat of the apple, we learn that their eyes were opened but they did not have the wisdom to understand how to live with this new knowledge of good and evil. Here at Pentecost once the Holy Spirit comes upon the Apostles and Mary, their minds are open to the deeper realities of what it means to be a human being and a disciple in Christ. They are infused with an understanding of reality that did not exist in the world prior to that moment. It is this they share with people at their time and our time.
So Pentecost is not just celebration of an event that happened long ago, miraculous as it was. It is a celebration of a revolution in human creation that brings us to the next stage of salvation.
This also what separates us from the rest of the world. The world which is passing away is rooted in the old way of understanding what it means to be human. Everything that rejects Christ is part of that old way. Atheism, for example, is just a secular form of paganism. So our understanding of what it means to be human and those of our secular neighbors will be different and at time clash. Our role is not just to convert them to Christ like converting them to Astarte, but converting them in Christ to see a whole new way of being to which we are called at our Baptism and Confirmation through the Holy Spirit in Christ.
NB: This does not constitute a wholesale endorsement of all the teachings of Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. He was the first in the Catholic Church to realize that evolution does not contradict Catholicism, in fact it reveals the deeper truths beyond our comprehension. Seeking these truths is the meaning of faith. However, like all pioneers in various disciplines, some of his ideas were later discovered to be outside of the parameters of revelation. It was left to others to build upon his ideas and within divine revelation. As with all pioneers, that is often the case. However, without the work of Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, the deeper understandings of our faith as revealed by Christ would remain beyond our grasp and we would fall into a fundamentalism that would limit our understanding of divine revelation.