A Homily by Fr. Michael Patella, OSB

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We are all sinners, perpetrators and non-perpetrators alike. Every sin, to a greater or lesser degree participates in the crucifixion of Christ. In sexual abuse, the perpetrators have crucified the victims, yes, but the story of the cross goes on. With the crucifixion, there lies the promise of resurrection, and the victim’s wounds, if not yet glorified, have every hope of becoming so. What about the perpetrators? Well, their plea for forgiveness as well as ours also brings a promise of resurrection. They too have hope. The cross glorifies all wounds. There can be healing, reconciliation, and resurrection for the victims, and there can be support reconciliation, healing, and forgiveness for us sinners.

“The Lord God formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being” (Gen 2:7)

“Thus says the Lord God: ‘From the four winds come, O spirit, and breathe into these slain that they may come to life’” (Eze 37:9).

These two verses would immediately come to mind when the early Christians heard the following line from this morning’s Gospel:

“And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the holy Spirit’” (John 20:22).

This one verse from John’s Gospel is the Evangelist’s description of Pentecost. It might seem different from the dramatic tongues of fire we hear of in Acts this morning, but the meaning is in no way lessened. John portrays the picture by weaving that little word, “breathe” into his account, an account which harks back to God’s breathing into the lump of clay in Genesis and the vivification of the dry bones from the book of the prophet Ezekiel. These two stories, centering on the breath of creation and of resurrection, are foundational to understanding not only Pentecost, but also Saint Paul’s description of the Mystical Body of Christ in First Corinthians. What does the breath of God do, and how does it function?

One short answer: God’s breath is God’s spirit, and that spirit bestows life. We in our Church and monastery sit here today with some deadened by the pain of abuse, and others deadened by the guilt of having caused it. Pentecost could not occur at a better time.

The Church’s current experience is played out in the readings. In many of the accounts we’ve heard this Easter season, there is a common feature: Few people recognize the resurrected Jesus at first sight. Jesus usually has to present his wounds before one or another disciple can exclaim, “My Lord and God”. The situation is no different here. Without a word, Jesus shows the disciples his hands and side, and then the disciples rejoice. These disciples, first huddled in fear, recognize Jesus only by his wounds. The wounds are the identifying mark of the crucified Jesus. Simultaneously, the wounds are different. Whereas on Golgotha the wounds were bloody and traumatized, here they are glorified without a trace of pain or suffering. In this glorified state, Jesus breathes on them filling them with the Holy Spirit.

By his divine breath, Jesus is sharing his glorified wounds with his band of followers. If he has taken on all sin and suffering and converted it to good, so will their sin and suffering be converted to good. The disciples, who were once dusty clay and dry bones existing in desolation and darkness, are now re-created and given new life. They have life in the Holy Spirit, and this life is passed onto and shared with us. We often refer to this life as the “mystical body of Christ,” which is exactly what Paul is describing this morning. This mystical body of Christ is the life in the Holy Spirit.

Both Saint Paul and John the Evangelist, in two completely different ways, are referring to the same reality. Christ’s life led to his suffering, death, and resurrection, and so too will our personal and communal Christian lives lead to suffering, death, and resurrection. Christ’s wounds have been glorified, and so too will be ours. In Christ we have a new existence, a new relationship with God.

One of the greatest tragedies of the sexual scandals in the American Church and in our own monastic community is that they violate the divine relationship we share with Christ. We feel that our relationship has been severed. In such a state, we are no better than the dry bones in Ezekiel suffering the effects of Babylonian Exile. Pentecost, however, saves us from such darkness, and saves us now, because it transfers and shares the power of the resurrection from Christ’s life to ours. Pentecost makes us one with Christ through the Holy Spirit. Christ suffered and died, and rose, and Pentecost sets us in those same footsteps.

The situation was, really, no different at the first Pentecost. The scene in the Acts of the Apostles continues beyond where we stopped reading this morning. In the next several verses, Peter gives a speech and informs the crowd that the Jesus whom they crucified is the Messiah. The crowd is overcome with grief, the people ask for forgiveness, and they are baptized into the Church. In that scene, the perpetrators meet their victim in the resurrected Christ.

We are all sinners, perpetrators and non-perpetrators alike. Every sin, to a greater or lesser degree participates in the crucifixion of Christ. In sexual abuse, the perpetrators have crucified the victims, yes, but the story of the cross goes on. With the crucifixion, there lies the promise of resurrection, and the victim’s wounds, if not yet glorified, have every hope of becoming so. What about the perpetrators? Well, their plea for forgiveness as well as ours also brings a promise of resurrection. They too have hope. The cross glorifies all wounds. There can be healing, reconciliation, and resurrection for the victims, and there can be support reconciliation, healing, and forgiveness for us sinners.

It is not going to be easy time for our Church, but neither was it an easy time for Christ. Many things will change. Death and resurrection have a tendency to do that. Yet, we are the body of Christ, a body composed of both saints and sinners, and the glorification of our wounds is exactly what we are destined for. In the words of the ancient Pentecost hymn, Veni Creator Spiritus, “Come Creator Spirit”.

A Homily by Fr. Michael Patella, OSB
Pentecost Sunday, May 19, 2002
Pentecost readings:
Acts 2:1-11
1 Cor 12:3-7, 12-13
John 20:19-23

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