Homily of Patriarch Pierbattista Pizzaballa: Pentecost 2021

Published: May 23 Sun, 2021

Homily of Patriarch Pierbattista Pizzaballa: Pentecost 2021 Available in the following languages:

Dearest Father Bernard,

Dear Dormition Brothers, Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The Lord of peace you!

The Gospel passage heard today (Jn 20: 19-23) takes us back to Easter evening: according to the evangelist John, that same evening Jesus appears to his followers, who for fear have locked themselves up in the house, and there immediately, he gives them his Spirit.

John closely unites the gift of the Spirit to the Passion and Easter, as a single great movement, a single mystery of salvation: he wants to emphasize and make us understand that the Spirit flows from the cross, from the open side of the Lord who gives life. There can be no Spirit without this gift of self that Jesus brings to completion for us on the cross. And, on the other hand, Easter is only fulfilled where the Holy Spirit is communicated to men.

The purpose of Easter is that the life of the Risen One dwells within us, that we are made partakers of the same way of living as him. For this reason, Jesus, the very day of His resurrection, immediately reaches his friends and shares with them the life that the Father has given him: this life, which is a true life because it was reborn from the abyss, is now for all.

To say that Jesus gives the Spirit, the evangelist John uses an important and very rare term: in the New Testament we find it only here. He then says that Jesus breathed on them (Jn 20:22), but it could also be translated "in" them: the Spirit is a gift that does not remain external to the person, but enters inside, which becomes the breath itself of man.

This verb, unique in the New Testament, is present at the very beginning of the Bible: God, after having molded man with dust from the ground, "blew a breath of life into his nostrils and man became a living being" (Gn 2.7): man, therefore, is made up of two elements, both marked by a great precariousness: the dust of the ground, that is the most delicate and less consistent part of the earth, which for this reason symbolizes the fragility of his physical constitution, and the breath of life, which indicates everything that makes an inanimate body a living person.

Well, just as God blows natural life into Adam's nostrils, so that he can live, so Jesus blows the breath of new life into his disciples, so that they can live as risen: the Spirit is not something more, an accessory, but is exactly what makes us live. Man is a creature called to hold these two elements together, which in themselves would be very distant from each other, heaven and earth.

There is a very beautiful passage in rabbinic literature according to which man is made of earth and heaven and that the balance between these two elements in man's life is necessary for peace to exist in the world. If man is too spiritual and forgets the material, there can be no peace in man's life and in the world. Contrariwise, if he lives only of the things of the earth, forgetting the heaven, man is not at peace and there can be no peace even in the world.

Pentecost definitively reveals the mystery of man: on Easter evening, through the breath of Jesus, God makes us a new creature, called to hold together the natural and divine life, the flesh and the Spirit, the earth and the sky. Only then is man complete.

Not only. But another element illuminates this fulfillment of creation that Pentecost achieves: in the Genesis account, God's work concerns man, the first man, the individual. In Pentecost there is something different: on Easter evening Jesus gives the Spirit to the disciples gathered together and recreates them as a community of brothers. The Church is born.

The work of the Spirit is an event of communion, it creates a fraternity, composes differences, makes unity possible. In other words, it is at the origin of the Church. The new life of the Spirit is a life no longer lived in the solitary search for one's own fulfillment, but in the encounter with the brother with whom life is shared: it cannot be lived if it is not in turn communicated, shared, given, because this very life, in itself, is nothing but a gift. If we hold it back and if we possess it, the Spirit is extinguished, and we return to death

For this reason, closely linked to the gift of the Spirit is the gift of forgiving sins (Jn 20:23) or the ability not to let evil overwhelm man, destroying his relationships: the apostles, full of the Holy Spirit, are sent to do the same thing they saw in Jesus, that is, to bring life where there is death. This is the Spirit they received.

Today's Gospel and the solemnity of Pentecost are a reminder for our Church.

Unity, diversity, communion, relationship, sharing, gift of self, love, peace… are the words that resonate at Pentecost, when we speak of the gift of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Church. Yet, if we look at our reality, here in Jerusalem, we certainly see the Churches in their diversity, but not so united. We are witnessing divisions of all kinds, in the Church, in society, in politics, in families ... We have just emerged from yet another cycle of violence, a cause of resentment and profound frustration ... in short, it seems that the Spirit in Jerusalem is unable to break through the heart of its inhabitants.

But it would be unfair to limit ourselves to say this. May the Spirit open our eyes, first of all to see the beauty that still exists between us and to acknowledge the many beautiful realities that make up our society. Refusing or being unable to see the many people, institutions, activities of unity, sharing and mutual love that still exist among us, is a way of extinguishing the Spirit with which we have been marked.

Furthermore, Pentecost calls us to become those who build unity, sharing, love, peace. Those are a gift that comes from above, but which must be built with our hands, ours commitment and our sincere desire. The Spirit is the power that sustains us, but it cannot replace our free choice to live as children of God.

May the Lord forgive our infidelities, make us in turn capable of mutual forgiveness and support us in our common desire to become operators of the action of the Spirit and builders of unity and peace in the world.

+ Pierbattista