PENTECOST SUNDAY (A)
(Acts of the Apostles 2:1-11; 1st. Corinthians 12:3-7, 12-13; John 20:19-23)
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today we are celebrating one of the three greatest solemnities enshrined in the liturgy of the Church: Pentecost, in honour of the Most Holy Spirit and the part He plays in the building up of Mother Church, and of our own individual lives as members of Christ. There is much of beauty to be said about the Holy Spirit, so let me make a beginning with the words of St. Paul which you have just heard in the second reading:
There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service, but the same Lord; there are different workings, but the same God Who produces all of them in everyone.
There are different callings for all sorts of people, but each and every one of those called is offered the same Spirit that He may both enable and guide them to suitably respond to their calling: as the Apostle of England, Pope St. Gregory the Great explained, “we are called to make the effort, and we go out to battle; but it is the Lord who does the fighting: the result is up to Him.” There are different forms of service, Paul went on to say, but the same Lord: for whatever work we do by the same Spirit in Mother Church, is to be done in the name of, and for love of, the one Lord Jesus. Finally, there are different workings, but the same God and Father Whose loving Providence orders everything we do to serve His ultimate purposes for the harmony and good of all; and St. Paul tells us elsewhere just what God’s ultimate purposes are, when he writes:
You are the temple of the living God; as God said: “I will live with them and move among them, and I will be their God and they shall be My people. (2 Corinthians 6:16)
Each of us, then, is called to serve our Lord and Saviour by making use of the gifts His Spirit offers us, and, in that way – by the loving Providence of God the Father – to help build a Temple for God’s Glory, and work out our eternal salvation as St. Paul explains further:
The foundation ….. is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, the work of each will come to light, for the Day will disclose it. It will be revealed by fire, and the fire (itself) will test the quality of each one’s work. If the work stands that someone built upon the foundation, that person will receive a wage. But if someone’s work is burned up, that one will suffer loss; the person will be saved, but only as through fire. (1 Corinthians 3:11-15)
In the first reading you heard how the Apostles first received the Gift of the Spirit and began to work under His guidance:
They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim. Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem. At this sound, they gathered in a large crowd, but they were confused, because each one heard them speaking in his own language.
Peter made use of his own particular gifts of the Spirit to proclaim the name of the Lord Jesus, and we are told (Acts 2:41) that:
Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand persons were added to (the disciples’ number) that day.
Or, as Jesus Himself more beautifully expressed it on a later occasion, the Father gave Him three thousand souls that day.
If we likewise, as living members and integral parts of the one Body of Christ, open our hearts to receive the Spirit, each of us will be given a share in the Spirit’s gifts whereby we will be enabled to do our own personal quota of work to prepare for and give expression to the ultimate beauty and variety of God’s Temple of glory.
All the parts of the body, though many, are one body. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one Body (of Christ) -- whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or freepersons -- and we were all given to drink of one Spirit. The Body is not a single part but many. (1 Corinthians 12:12-15)
There is another reason, however, for our different gifts: it is because we ourselves are all different; each one of us is a particular creation of God with our own unique personality. Now, in the service of Jesus, the gift of the Spirit is meant indeed to make us all one, but not, however, all alike; and so the Spirit comes to make each one of us both a truly harmonious part and living member of the one Body of Christ, and also to lead us to become our very own self such as God originally foresaw, loved, and intended when He created us. In God, individuality is meant to serve, beautify, and perfect unity.
Let me give you a picture from the Fathers of the Church. Water, as you know, is often used as a symbol of the Holy Spirit in the Scriptures, and supremely in the sacrament of baptism. Now water coming down from heaven as rain falls for and upon all plants alike: water falls upon the ground and feeds the vine and the apple tree, the crops and the vegetables, to name but a few. That same water in the soil, however, produces eventually wine, thanks to the vine, and cider thanks to the apple tree. Seeds in the field, thanks to the one water from heaven bring forth now wheat, or barley; now parsnips or potatoes, each according to its own nature. So it is with us, dear People of God. We should delight in and treasure God’s Gift offered to us today, for it is only by His gracious dwelling with us and working in us that we can realise and fulfil our true and secret selves, for the good of all our brethren and for the supreme glory of God our Father.
St. John tells of an event which occurred in Jerusalem at the great Feast of Booths:
On the last and greatest day of the feast, Jesus stood up and exclaimed, “Let anyone who thirsts come to Me and drink. Whoever believes in Me, as scripture says: ‘Rivers of living water will flow from within him.’” He said this in reference to the Spirit that those who came to believe in Him were to receive. There was, of course, no Spirit yet, because Jesus had not yet been glorified. (John 7:37-39)
Now Jesus prepares His Apostles and His Church for all those countless peoples who, over the centuries, will come to Him, thirsting for the gift of His Spirit. He directs His Apostles to go out to all peoples in His name:
Peace be with you! As the Father sent Me, I also send you.
And then, in order that His promise of living water might find fulfilment:
He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
The Apostles could not give the Spirit of themselves, He had first of all to be bestowed on them by Jesus; only then could He subsequently be conferred by them in the name of Jesus. But lest there be obstacles of sin in those asking for God’s Gift and wanting to offer themselves for His purposes, Jesus tells His Apostles:
Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them; and whose sins you retain are retained.
People of God, recognize and reverence the dignity of Mother Church. To establish, to guide, and to sustain His Church Jesus gives His own most Holy Spirit; only in Mother Church can we find and receive the fullness of the Spirit, and only in Mother Church can our souls be cleansed and freed from sin in order to worthily receive and fruitfully co-operate with Him.
In matters such as this we must not blindly follow our sinful times. Sins can be forgiven by God alone, is not enough that your neighbour or your friend understands you; it is not enough, in fact it is no excuse at all, that you are only doing what many people are doing; it would not enough even if a secularist government were to give you the legal right and their public encouragement to act contrary to Catholic teaching, as, for example, with abortive and contraceptive measures, for sin can only be removed and wiped out by God’s forgiveness. Therefore Jesus gives His Apostles and His Church the power first of all to forgive sins and then to bestow the Holy Spirit. None can receive the Spirit from the Church who is unwilling to seek forgiveness through the sacraments of the Church.
However, this emphasis on the need for sins to be forgiven is but the reverse side of the most awesome and wonderful truth offered us by the coming of the Holy Spirit into our lives at Pentecost. Our heavenly, supernatural, destiny is to live and share with Jesus in the heavenly beatitude of the most Holy Trinity: to personally experience something of the divine love that flows between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the eternal peace of Their mutual and total commitment.
Notice, that relationship between the sharing of divine love and peace. Jesus, having risen from the dead in His glorious humanity comes to His disciples and says, first of all:
Peace be with you!
The disciples rejoiced greatly on recognizing the living Lord Who had suffered and died on the Cross; but Jesus, speaking a second time, insisted, ‘Peace be with you’. He was about to bestow on them the most holy ‘Promise of My Father’ (Luke 24:49), His own most sublime Spirit … and for that, Peace was most necessary, much more necessary even than joy. Peace was essential to both welcome aright and then learn to hear and respond to the Holy Spirit, the ‘Gift’ of God:
The Spirit of Truth -- Whom the world cannot receive because it neither sees Him nor knows Him -- you know Him, because He abides with you and He will be in you. (John 14:17)
Only the Holy Spirit -- working in us and with us here on earth -- can form us in the likeness of Jesus so that in Him we may ultimately be led by Him into the sublime Presence of the Father of Glory. When, therefore, God demands that we must be purified from our sins, He is not interested in morbid nit-picking, nor is He tyrannically demanding total and legalistic observance of His own arbitrary laws and observances; He is seeking to help us become -- in Jesus His beloved Son -- His own adopted children, able to share with their Saviour in ‘the glory He had with the Father before the world was’.
People of God, come forward with rejoicing on this day to receive the Gift of the Spirit from Jesus Himself anew in Holy Communion. The Spirit alone can make you truly free, and enable you to experience the fullness of divine love and peace; indeed, He alone can make you fully your own true self, a unique reflection of the Father Who created you, in the Lord Who saved you, by the Spirit Who moves you.