Fr Martin Magill on the Spirit at Work in Difference: A Message of Reconciliation for Pentecost Sunday

Yesterday BBC Radio Ulster’s Sunday morning service was broadcast from St Oliver Plunkett’s Church in Lenadoon, West Belfast. In a message for Pentecost Sunday, Fr Martin Magill stressed how the Holy Spirit can be ‘at work in difference.’ He presented the Spirit’s work in this way as a call to labour for reconciliation in our own city and across this island.

Fr Magill drew on his experience of attending a Holy Communion service at Fitzroy Presbyterian Church during the week. I also attended the service, part of the ‘In Joyful Hope’ initiative, and blogged about it last week.

You can listen to Fr Magill’s homily by clicking the play button below:

or read it below:


On Wednesday evening past I attended a Holy Communion service a few miles from here in Fitzroy Presbyterian Church. Earlier that day, I had been feeling exhausted owing to some very full and long days beforehand.  I was feeling the burden of events in the wider community over the last few weeks.  In the course of the service Chris one of the elders prayed for other churches particularly those experiencing difficulties at present.  Rev Steve Stockman’s sermon spoke directly to me.  He invited all of us present to bring ourselves exactly as we were – in our brokenness, with all our quirks and our sins to the Lord’s Table and allow the Spirit of Jesus to work in us.

In his prayer before Holy Communion was distributed, Steve prayed that those of us who would not be taking communion would have an experience of the mysterious presence of the Spirit. I believe I did.

On Wednesday evening in the worship in Fitzroy, through prayer and poetry, music and preaching I came away enriched and refreshed.

A few minutes ago in a reading from the Acts of the Apostles we heard an account of the first Pentecost.  The apostles experienced the mysterious presence of the Spirit coming upon them and sending them out to proclaim the good News.   People from many different parts heard the apostles preaching in their own language and could understand them.

The Spirit was at work in difference.

A few minutes ago, we also heard an extract from the apostle Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians in which he wrote:

“ There is a variety of gifts but always the same Spirit;  there are all sorts of service to be done, but always the same Lord; working in all sorts of different ways in different people it is the same God who is working in all of them.  The particular way in which the spirit is given to each person is for a good purpose”.

Unfortunately there  have been times when the churches have felt threatened by difference.

In 1989 Pope John Paul II and Archbishop Robert Runcie spoke publicly about the need for churches as they journey together not only to remove obstacles, but also to share gifts.  They recognised that no one church tradition had a monopoly on God’s Spirit – instead they invited people to see how they could be enriched by difference.  More recently in a  reported interview First Minister Peter Robinson spoke of the ‘need to cherish difference rather than trying to make it into division’. Gladys Ganiel an academic working in North Belfast, commented that for many in this city  at best we are co-existing rather than being reconciled.  In the gospel passage of this Mass Jesus prays not only peace for his disciples but gives them a mission of reconciliation:

“Receive the Holy Spirit.  For those whose sins you forgive they are forgiven”.

Those of us affected by the conflict here know how challenging it is to forgive. But Jesus also said:

“For those whose sins you retain they are retained”

In short, when we don’t forgive , we suffer.

On Wednesday evening, Steve Stockman read us his vision of the city of Belfast which he had amended from a vision of Glasgow which was based on chapter 21 of the book of Revelation:

“I saw Belfast, the holy city coming down out of heaven. Shining like a rare jewel, sparkling like clear water in the eye of the sun. And all the sickness was gone from the city. No difference between Malone Road and Lenadoon. And the Spirit showed me the tree of life Growing in Botanic Gardens. I looked out and there were no more homeless people. There were no women working the streets. There were no junkies up the alley ways. HIV and AIDS were things of the past. There were no more racist attacks, No more attacks on gay people, No more rapists, No more stabbings, No more Protestant and Catholics. Because there was no more hate”.

I found Steve’s vision inspirational.

On this feast of Pentecost, I hold the sincere hope that Christians and people of other religious traditions and none not only might have the generosity to forgive one another but also to move beyond co-existence to “authentic reconciliation”.

(Image sourced on flickr, by Leonard John Matthews)

One thought on “Fr Martin Magill on the Spirit at Work in Difference: A Message of Reconciliation for Pentecost Sunday”

  1. That’s a disappointing misquote, especially from a Catholic priest, of John 20:23 since that verse is concerned not with unforgiveness (which is sinful), but the power given by Jesus to the priests of the New Covenant for the remission of sins through the Ministry of the Church in the Sacrament of Penance. A more appropriate verse for this sermon would have been Matthew 6:14-15:

    If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you.
    But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.

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