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Pentecost Homilies of Pope Francis

by Jacquelyn Porter, RSHMCategory: Updates

stained glass window of Holy spirit - white dove surrounded by red and orange glames other tiles are aqua, brown and purple

I have recently been reflecting on the Pentecost homilies of Pope Francis, relishing the light they shed on the presence and action of the Holy Spirit in our lives. He once used the word “flow” to describe how the Spirit functions in the outpouring of God’s love. Yet, it is not always so easy to go with that “flow.”* Augustine in his Confessions asked, “What do I love when I love my God?”* Countless others have asked, “What is love?” Our own starts and stumbles in our torn and tired world may dampen our hope that such love can be made accessible to all.

In his homilies for Pentecost, Pope Francis cuts through the barriers we set to mission with a simple rhetorical strategy: He speaks in practical language of the function of the Spirit as Paraclete, a name that, though ancient, remains rich in its double meaning of Advocate and Comforter. Francis begins with experience, in this case that of disciples in the upper room, stunned and disheartened that Jesus is leaving them. Instead of a reprimand, Jesus understands that they are at an impasse and offers them a powerful promise: “I will send you the Paraclete who will teach you all things.” To help us know what to do, Francis tells us what the Paraclete does. He tells us how the Spirit acts.

Francis begins his descriptions of the Paraclete with the less familiar translation, that of Comforter, a name that recognizes that humans need the “consoler best” in face of the realities of loss, hostility, and death. The Paraclete as comforter dispels any notion of God as distant, imperious, or indifferent. “Closeness, compassion and tenderness” are God’s trademarks, Francis insists.* Our God is near and forgiving and “tends” us with sustained and lasting care. The language conveys with biblical and maternal resonances a reality that humans find hard to grasp: Each one of us is a beloved child of God.*

Though this language consoles, it does not seek in the ways of today’s wellness theories to lead us to our “happy place.” Unlike the comforts of the world that offer temporary relief, the healing of the Paraclete transforms from within and moves us outward toward others, each of whom is also a beloved “child of God.”

We must know God in truth to love God in others, Francis writes. “If we have in mind a God who takes away and imposes himself, we too will want to take away and impose ourselves, but if we have in our hearts a God who is gift, everything changes. If we realize that what we are is gift, free and unmerited, then we ourselves will want to make our lives a gift.”* But what does it mean in practical terms to make our lives a gift, we ask. Francis tells us frankly that we need help. We do not grow stronger by denying the limits of our finitude. Then he notes that in the Middle Ages the advocate did not speak for the clients but stood by their side, offering them the support they needed to speak for themselves. This testimony can take different forms and may not involve words at all. According to Francis, “The Spirit asks us to embody the comfort he brings, not by making great speeches but by drawing near to others.”* Whether they be near, in the depths of sorrow or at “the ends of the earth,” our personal, collective and ecclesial mission is to make the joy of the gospel available to all.

The homilies of Francis invite further thought, perhaps especially on the discernment needed to proclaim, to give testimony, to witness in our own circumstances and with effectiveness. I have hoped here to encourage others to read them, reflecting on the vision of Evangelization that Francis asks of the whole church and of us. These homilies can clarify and energize us in our mission to “Know God and make God known, to love God and make God loved.”

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