In our present economic situation news about huge unemployment, particularly among young people, appears on the news on a worryingly regular basis. There are stories about graduates desperately looking for any job they could grab. High education seems to be a fast-track to wealth and position – but far too often graduates find themselves unemployed, in debt and with poor prospects. On the other hand, last Tuesday one of the country’s biggest companies, the car firm Arnold Clark, has described many young Scots as “unsuitable” for work. […] The company’s training arm said that, of 2,280 applicants to its apprenticeship scheme, 81% were not employable. […] Its report said many candidates had a poor attitude to others and poor communication skills with no concept of citizenship. […] Many potential employees were also shocked at the number of hours they were expected to work.
These two examples represent the opposite ends of the scale. On the one hand there is over-production of highly aspirational graduates; on the other hand, finding a tradesman able to do some necessary work as soon as possible seems to be impossible – because there are too few of them. Our national wealth and technological development are results of the highly organised exchange of goods and ideas. This model works only if people contribute with a great variety of skills and products. As a society we desperately need people offering different services to our communities.
Here we are, on Pentecost Sunday, the birthday of the Church as a community. A mixed bunch of people, who’d followed Jesus for very different – sometimes mutually exclusive – reasons, were transformed into the body of Christ, the worshipping community supporting each another and bringing good news to the world. It wasn’t an ideal, conflict-free community. There were different pastoral views, local and global problems, personal and spiritual tensions. They had to face internal and external challenges and hazards. We are here, two thousand years later, mainly thanks to their abilities and their readiness to solve their communal problems, thanks to their commitment and cooperation.
Today each and every one of us has to ask about our own parish; its spiritual, communal and material conditions. There are many of us involved in various services; some of them might seem unnoticeable, while others might be easily seen or heard. All of them contribute greatly to the parish and even beyond it. But it’s not a great secret that we are all getting older. At a certain point it means that younger people will have to take over duties or services currently carried on by those whose health and strength is deteriorating. As a community we need more people contributing to the parish as its members, not customers. We heard in today’s second reading: ‘there is a variety of gifts but always the same Spirit. […] The particular way in which the Spirit is given to each person is for a good purpose’. These words make sense only when they are put to action.
The second aspect I have to address on this special day of Pentecost is the very existence of different opinions and conflicts within the parish. They are a natural part of communal life. The only conflict-free community on earth is in the graveyard. However, my poor imagination cannot embrace the fact that people calling themselves Christians can accept, tolerate and – even more astonishingly – develop their own malice, contempt and aversion to other members of the same community. Every time I’ve managed to behave meanly – chiefly due to heightened emotion – I simply couldn’t pray without going to the person, apologising and looking for reconciliation. Unresolved bad and hard feelings among the members of the same community damage it, sometimes irreversibly. ‘Receive the Holy Spirit, for those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven’. This text from today’s gospel doesn’t exclusively concern the sacramental aspect of reconciliation; more importantly, from a practical point of view it defines our relationships within this community. It is you to make the first step to reconcile.
In the first reading, the strangers witnessed with bewilderment the effect of the Holy Spirit coming down upon the Apostles. But the source of their amazement was not the tongues of fire or other supernatural phenomena. It was something much simpler: ‘we hear them preaching in our own language about the marvels of God’. What is our ‘language’ that we speak to the people in and of the parish community? I’m not sure that we need the tongues of fire upon us – it might be dangerous for the health and safety reasons. But we definitely and desperately need the Holy Spirit working within us; to rebuild us as the body of Christ, the community of living love.