Pentecost for Preachers: The Mysticism of the Homiletic Moment

The Easter season provides busy homilists with a basketful of opportunities to preach and preach and preach. Now Pentecost is coming. What more is there to say? What more is there to give? And, some may ask, where does the strength come from to keep on giving? We turn to this year’s Pentecost Gospel reading from John to find out.

Jesus breathes on his future preachers and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (Jn 20:19–23). In Greek, this “receive” is lambano—to take hold of, to carry away to use—a verb that pulsates with the expectation of response and action. This is not the passive “receive” of the shaking of hands as in a receiving line at a wedding. This is a breathing forth that calls for a “pick it up and do something with it” transformation. The burning fire of the preaching of Pentecost builds from this tender waft of Jesus’ air.

The experience of the Spirit in the second chapter of Acts came to dried-up and disheartened disciples. What did they have left to give? Yet out of their hollowness, three thousand people were converted and the Church was born. At that same moment, Christian preaching was also born.

The Apostles aren’t the only dry and disheartened ones. Hiding under the back step in plain view may be a preacher’s own exhaustion. During the Easter season and all through the school year, time stressors have been very real. Pressures to preach effectively are never ending.

Christian preaching was born in that same fatigue, but to rejuvenate for Pentecost, we turn from our tiredness to also seek the Spirit. What is the Spirit of God up to?

Attending to the Tenderness of the Spirit

As we discern the breath of God around us, we sense that the Spirit weeps with the widow at the wake; the Spirit delights in the innocence of a two-year-old in her first Easter egg hunt; the Spirit lifts the teenager who sees no reason to go on. Incalculably tender, the wind of the Spirit moves within our faith communities. Our people have already experienced God in some way, whether they can express it or not. The Spirit is Gift, God with us. This Presence is the Source of the mysticism of everyday life. The One who is Other dwells deeply within created life—not synonymous with it, but in and through the created world in grandeur and strength and beauty. Refreshment rises up within us as we take time to dwell in that glory.


The Tie that Binds

What is God the Spirit doing in preaching? The role of preaching is to name the sacramentality of those ordinary things of life: to put words to the tears of the widow, to depict the delight of the smell of a lilac, to articulate the joy of sharing a cup of coffee and a cinnamon roll, to describe the transformation from the pain of a headache to the rest of a good night’s sleep. This expresses the mysticism of everyday life, the mysticism of a genuine experience of God that arises from the very depths of our existence.


At the same time, in the homiletic moment, the Holy Spirit is the agent of relationship, the Holy Connector, the Tie that Binds. The Holy Spirit is the One who draws the preacher into union with God in the careful crafting of the message; the Inspirer who bubbles within the homilist at the moment of the delivery of the homily; the Mediator who fires the hearts of those who are listening; the Glue who then bonds the faith community together; and the Divine Welder who joins the people of God with the broader culture to transform the world in which we live. Drawing in, bubbling within, firing the heart, bonding the community, joining, and transforming—the Spirit is actively at work to surround, connect, and enliven the homiletic moment. Thus, the mysticism of the homiletic moment is a gift of the Spirit.

Pentecost for Preachers

The Christian Pentecost is first and foremost a feast for preachers: a moment to celebrate the gift of preaching; a moment to allow ourselves to be breathed upon; a time to consciously open our lungs to that breeze of God; a season to focus on that tender touch which we may have taken for granted. I would suggest, to modify one of Karl Rahner’s most famous adages, that the preacher of the future will be a mystic, or he or she will not exist at all.[1] A mystic is not a passive receiver. “Receive the Holy Spirit” is a breathing forth that calls for an active reception, a “pick it up and do something with it” response.

What kind of response? Pentecost is a day for preachers. As a mystic of ordinary life, take some Holy Spirit time. As a mystic of everyday delights, share a cup of coffee and a cinnamon roll with one whom you love. As a mystic of the commonplace, how about a Holy Spirit nap? (Studies have shown that rested people are statistically much more creative.) Let Pentecost fill you up. Pentecost is for preachers, after all.

Spirit of light, fill us so that we “shine like tapers before the Son of God.”[2]

Featured Image: Fr. Lawrence Lew, OP; CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

[1] Karl Rahner, SJ: “The Christian of the future will be a mystic or he will not exist at all.” See Theological Investigations XX: Concern for the Church (New York: The Crossroads Publishing Company, 1981), 149. Rahner defines mysticism as a genuine experience of God emerging “from the very heart of our existence.”

[2] Macarius of Egypt, Homily LXXIX, 2, as quoted in Vladmir Lossky, Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church (Yonkers: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1997), 219.


Karla Bellinger

Karla Bellinger is the Associate Director of the John S. Marten Program in Homiletics and Liturgics at the University of Notre Dame.

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