During his incisive homily on Pentecost Sunday, Pope Francis stated that the Catholic Church is facing two “recurrent temptations” in the 21st century. The first “seeks diversity without unity,” while the second “seeks unity without diversity.” He explained that both are contrary to the Spirit of the Risen Jesus, who in the universal church makes “a new people” out of many nations and gives them “a new heart.”
He celebrated Pentecost Mass in St. Peter’s Square, which was attended by 80,000 people from all around the world, including tens of thousands of members of the Catholic Charismatic movement. Yesterday, Pope Francis also celebrated the 50th anniversary of the group’s founding at the Circus Maximus.
The Holy Spirit is “the first gift of the Risen Lord.”
Wearing red vestments for today’s great festival, Francis explained that the church celebrates the feast of Pentecost 50 days after Jesus’ resurrection because on that day, some 2,000 years ago, the Holy Spirit, who is “the first gift of the Risen Lord,” came “down from heaven” to the disciples in the form of “divided tongues, as of fire” that ‘rested’ on each of the them” and they “began to speak in other languages.”
He reminded the pilgrims in the square—and a global audience of hundreds of millions that followed by television, radio or social media—that the Spirit “is the Creator Spirit, who constantly brings about new things.” Today’s Scripture readings highlight two of those new things, he said: The Spirit makes the disciples “a new people” and creates in them “a new heart”; he “brings all of them together in fellowship” and “gives a gift to each, and then gathers them all into unity.” In other words, he said, “the same Spirit creates diversity and unity,” and in this way “forms a new, diverse and unified people: the universal Church.”
Francis explained that in both “creative and unexpected” ways, the Holy Spirit creates diversity, and “in every age he causes new and varied charisms to blossom. Then he brings about unity: he joins together, gathers and restores harmony.” The Holy Spirit “does so in a way that effects true union, according to God’s will, a union that is not uniformity, but unity in difference.”
Throughout his pontificate, Francis has continually highlighted the Spirit’s role in the church and repeatedly warned church leaders—especially cardinals, bishops and priests in the Roman Curia and in dioceses across the world—against closing their eyes, ears and hearts to what the Spirit is saying to the church today. In his homily, he warned them again, as well as the leadership of the new movements (including those from the charismatic movement present in the square) “to avoid two recurrent temptations.”
He explained that the first temptation “seeks diversity without unity.” This happens, he said, “when we want to separate, when we take sides and form parties, when we adopt rigid and airtight positions, when we become locked into our own ideas and ways of doing things, perhaps even thinking that we are better than others, or always in the right.” It happens when “we choose the part over the whole, belonging to this or that group before belonging to the Church.” It happens when “we become avid supporters for one side, rather than brothers and sisters in the one Spirit. We become Christians of the ‘right’ or the ‘left,’ before being on the side of Jesus, unbending guardians of the past or the avant-garde of the future before being humble and grateful children of the Church. The result is diversity without unity.”
He urged believers to pray to the Holy Spirit “for the grace to receive his unity."
He described the second “recurrent temptation” as that of “seeking unity without diversity.” When this happens, “unity becomes uniformity, where everyone has to do everything together and in the same way, always thinking alike. Unity ends up being homogeneity and no longer freedom. But, as Saint Paul says, ‘where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.’
He urged believers to pray to the Holy Spirit “for the grace to receive his unity” in a way that “leaves personal preferences aside, embraces and loves his Church, our Church.” This also means “to accept responsibility for unity among all, to wipe out the gossip that sows the darnel of discord and the poison of envy, since to be men and women of the Church means being men and women of communion.”
He encouraged them “to ask for a heart that feels that the Church is our Mother and our home, an open and welcoming home where the manifold joy of the Holy Spirit is shared.”
Having warned against these temptations and having recalled that the Spirit of Jesus wants both diversity and unity in the church, Francis emphasized that to achieve this goal the Spirit gives “a new heart.” He reminded believers that when Jesus first appeared to his disciples after his resurrection he said to them: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them.” Francis here underlined that “Jesus does not condemn them for having denied and abandoned him during his passion, but instead grants them the spirit of forgiveness.”
In his homily, he reminded both pastors and faithful alike that “the Spirit is the first gift of the risen Lord, and is given above all for the forgiveness of sins.” Throughout his four-year pontificate, Francis has emphasized the central importance of forgiveness, and he did so again today as he reminded believers that Jesus gave the Spirit “above all for the forgiveness of sin.” Here, he said, “we see the beginning of the Church” because forgiveness is “the glue that holds us together, the cement that binds the bricks of the house.” He described “forgiveness” as a “gift to the highest degree; it is the greatest love of all. It preserves unity despite everything, prevents collapse, and consolidates and strengthens. Forgiveness sets our hearts free and enables us to start afresh.”
He reminded believers that “forgiveness gives hope; without forgiveness, the Church is not built up. The spirit of forgiveness resolves everything in harmony, and leads us to reject every other way: the way of hasty judgement, the cul-de-sac of closing every door, the one-way street criticizing others. The Spirit bids us take the two-way street of forgiveness received and given.”
At the end of the Pentecost Mass, Francis prayed that the Holy Spirit “may sustain the mission of the church throughout the world and give strength to all men and women missionaries.”
He prayed, too, that the Spirit of the Risen Jesus “may give peace to the entire world, and heal the wounds of war and terrorism, which last night struck innocent civilians in London.” He asked everyone to pray for the victims and the families of this latest terrorist attack.