Pentecost’s Message is One of Inclusion
[Readings: Acts 2:1-11; I Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13; John 20:19-23]
Fr. Michael Reding
Homily for The Feast of Pentecost – Year A
We are Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene, as well as travelers from Rome, both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs, and yet we [all] hear them speaking in our own tongues of the mighty acts of God.
When I lived in Jerusalem in 1995, I stayed in an international house of study, and every day felt like Pentecost… We were Catholics from around the world – more than a dozen different languages spoken – and yet all of us shared one faith.
When I was blessed with a sabbatical in 2005, I lived in an international pastoral center in England, once again with Catholic ministers from all around world, and every day, we got a glimpse of Pentecost.
Papal audiences in Rome provide an even more glorious vision of that Pentecost church: thousands of people – diverse in race and nation, culture and language, age and sexual orientation, gender and marital status, rituals and devotions. It is a cacophony of inclusion.
Last year, at a papal audience, Pope Francis spoke at some length about the need for inclusion. He said, The Gospel calls us to recognize, in the history of humanity, the design of a great work of inclusion, which fully respects the freedom of every person, every community, every nation, and calls everyone to form a family of brothers and sisters in justice, solidarity, and peace, and to be part of the Church, which is the Body of Christ.
Here at St. Thomas the Apostle, we’re not always as visibly diverse as the universal church, and yet we aspire to be a community of inclusion.
Like those Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, we are white and black and brown. We are descended from Europeans, and Asians, Africans, Latin Americans, and Pacific Islanders. Some of us are native-born, and some of us are immigrants. For some of us, English is our first language, and for others it may be a second or third language. We seek to be a community of inclusion.
Again, Pope Francis said, This aspect of mercy, inclusion, is manifested in opening one’s arms wide to welcome, without excluding; without labeling others according to their social status, language, race, culture or religion: [for] there is, before us, only a person to be loved as God loves them.
We are both Jews and converts to Judaism, said that crowd in Jerusalem. And so it is here. Some of us are cradle Catholics; some of us came to the faith later in life. Some of us have remained connected to the church all our lives, while some of us were away for a time.
Some of us are not Catholic. We have Catholics whose spouses who are Christians in other traditions; we have spouses who are not Christian and yet come here weekly. Some of them, in time, may officially join us in full communion, while others may not. I hear from interfaith couples all the time that St. Thomas the Apostle is a place that seems particularly welcoming for them.
And even among those of us who are Catholic, you can find great diversity in theological opinion: those who question, those who may doubt, and even some who are still seeking.
Pope Francis says, God, in his design of love, does not want to exclude anyone, but wants to include everyone.
So, we are young and old, male and female, single and married, widowed and divorced, gay and straight. We find here many people who’ve felt rejected elsewhere – denied communion or denied marriage. I think it’s because we’re willing to engage in the kind of pastoral accompaniment and discernment that our Pope calls for.
Just recently, with the help of our Tribunal, I wrote a letter to Pope Francis on behalf of a man who had been refused and turned away by the pastor of another parish. His gratitude for finding a welcoming embrace here was palpable. Finally, he had found a place where he could rest in God’s love.
Again, the Holy Father said, How true are Jesus’ words, which invite those who are tired and weary to come to Him and find rest! His arms are outstretched on the cross to show that no one is excluded from his love and mercy, not even the greatest sinner: no one! …The most immediate expression with which we feel welcomed and included in him is that of forgiveness [says Francis]. We all need to be forgiven by God.
I know I do. And, thanks be to God, in this Catholic community of St. Thomas the Apostle, we can find that forgiveness and that inclusion.
In Saint Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, he assures us that to each individual, the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit. And how sad it would be if we failed to recognize that; we would be depriving ourselves as a church of those many, many gifts.
For in one Spirit, we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, [people of great diversity], we were all given to drink of one Spirit.
And so, may we always be – in the church universal and in this parish of St. Thomas the Apostle – a Catholic community of inclusion.