God at Home with us
Pentecost Sunday (C) | Fr Colin Carr invites us to make room for the God who seeks to make his home among us.
Human beings have a great longing to be at home: we feel particularly sorry for people who have to flee their home, perhaps even their country, because of natural disasters or human violence. We also speak of being at home with someone, or not feeling at home with them if they make us feel uncomfortable or keep criticising us. We want the street, the block of flats, the area where we live, to be a home for the local community. We want to feel at home with ourselves, but often find that difficult: we can’t believe that the person we see in the mirror is actually attractive to other people. Looking more widely, we can divide the human race into those who are glad that there’s a great variety of people in the world – the house is big enough for all sorts; and those who are suspicious of anyone who is different, and assume that they’re guilty until proved innocent.
And we want to be at home with God, but may have been told rather nasty things about him, like that he’s out to get us and is thoroughly critical of our performance as Catholics. And of course there are plenty of Catholics who seem to be thoroughly critical of our performance as Catholics, and the parish which we share with them doesn’t always have the feeling of a home and a community.
Pentecost is often called the birthday of the church. It’s the feast that teaches us about how to be at home – and how not to be.
In the story of the Tower of Babel, when God divided people by languages because they were trying to become too powerful, difference is alienation: the other is the alien. In the story of Pentecost, difference is harmony; people didn’t all start talking the same language, but all the different languages started telling the same story – the story of the marvels of God; at Babel they tried to rival God; at Pentecost they joined together to praise God. The different languages were at home with each other. What mattered was that they all expressed the same story: the story of God coming among us to share our life, and to invite us to share God’s life. As Paul would put it in Romans, the Spirit is bringing us to life in spite of the death which is stalking the world; and he is turning us into members of God’s family in spite of the alienation which had come between God and ourselves.
John’s Gospel shows Jesus telling his disciples that God’s purpose is to come and make a home with those who keep Christ’s word: keeping Christ’s word is not so much obeying a set of rules which are somehow alien to what we really are (and sadly that is how many Catholics have experienced the teaching of the church); no, it is simply becoming more like Christ, following Christ’s way of love for the Father and love for God’s children. The Advocate, the Spirit who comes from the Father and reminds us of Christ’s teaching, is the home-maker God in our midst; God gives us a home, but does so by asking us to give him a home. The Spirit is all-powerful yet asks our permission to come among us and be light and strength and fire and praise within us. The non-violent God has come to turn the world upside down so that it can become a home for every waif and stray who wants to come in.
Photograph by Fr Lawrence Lew OP of a fresco in the Chapter Room (“Spanish Chapel”) of the Dominican convent of Santa Maria Novella, Florence.