PENTECOST SUNDAY (C)
(Acts 2:1-11; 1 Corinthians 12:3-7, 12-13; John 20:19-23)
Saint Paul writing to his very mixed congregation – from ‘nouveau riches’ to slaves – at the vibrant Greek port of Corinth had to proclaim Jesus’ Good News in the face of social practices and current ideas both full and feisty, which demanded that he speak clearly and, when necessary, decisively. And so, rejecting the idea that anyone could be rightly inspired to curse Jesus – part of the dregs left over from their recent pagan worship of idols -- he then declared:
Brothers and sisters: No one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.
Now, those words are wonderful to me for Jesus had said earlier (John 6:44):
No one can come to Me unless the Father Who sent Me draw him;
and together, those two complementary sayings embrace the most sublime and beautiful truth of our sanctification: no one can come to Jesus and learn from Him unless the Father first of all draws him and the Spirit then enables him to say “Jesus is Lord”; that is, only thanks to the goodness of the Father can we encounter Jesus, and, only in power of the Spirit can we subsequently confess or proclaim Him.
Now, all that is mirrored in Jesus’ very first words to the disciples after having risen from the dead, and while they were still held chained by fear of the Jews:
Peace be with you. As the Father has sent Me, so I send you … Receive the Holy Spirit.
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God, had inspired John the Baptist to prepare the way for Jesus:
In those days John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea; “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matthew 3:1)
Likewise Jesus, the Incarnate Lord -- one with the Father and the Spirit -- on beginning His public ministry, took up that very same call to repentance:
When He heard that John had been arrested, (Jesus) withdrew to Galilee. From that time on (He) began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:12, 17)
How then could He -- the Risen Lord – after having proved the physical reality of His appearance, Personally identify Himself more convincingly to His fearful apostles as the Lord they had devotedly followed, eagerly listened to, and sincerely loved, than by speaking of the Father Who had sent Him, and of the Spirit through whom the repentance He had called for from the beginning would show itself in the forgiveness, healing, and renewal of their own now-to-be-bestowed ministry:
Peace be with you. As the Father has sent Me, so I send you … Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.
Thus the Risen Jesus showed Himself – by wounds and words -- to be indeed the Lord and Master they had erstwhile so proudly known and humbly followed. Truly, there was no room for doubt with such testimony!
Receive the Holy Spirit … such was to be their spiritual endowment when Jesus would no longer be with them … indeed another Comforter, an Advocate:
I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, which 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 14:15-17)
In that way the gift of the Spirit was made in the first place for both their personal comforting as individuals committed to Jesus, and for their confidence and courage as a small group of Jews thanking God for His gift of the long promised Messiah, before becoming distinct from their Jewish compatriots as founding members of the Christian Church. There was, above all however, a bestowal of the Spirit for their Apostolic continuation of Jesus’ ministry by their divinely-witnessed proclamation of the Truth and Holiness of His Gospel to and for the whole of mankind:
I have told you this while I am with you. The Advocate, the Holy Spirit that the Father will send in My name—He will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you. (14:25-26)
They had to wait and pray in Jerusalem for a short while before that further gift of the Spirit, praying with Mary the mother of Jesus … learning from her and looking back over those days, months, and few years they had spent with the Lord Himself, lovingly recalling all that He had said and done in their presence and company, and looking forward in anticipation to where and how the Spirit would lead them in their service of Jesus. And then, most unexpectedly,
when the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim. (Acts 2:1-4)
Whom, what, did they proclaim? The mighty acts of God manifested in Jesus’ proclamation of His Good News! You knew that of course; but notice how they proclaimed Jesus: IN THE SPIRIT!!
Mother Church has never proclaimed Jesus as a mere record from history, even though she has ever remembered and treasured particulars of His life and the substance of His teaching with all possible factual accuracy. Her past memory of Him is also her abiding experience of Him as the living Lord and loving Saviour still alive in the minds and hearts of His disciples through His Eucharistic Presence, thereby enabling them to recognize and co-operate with the formation of His Body on earth, His Church, by the Father’s Gift, His own Most Holy Spirit. And what exaltation must have thrilled the hearts and minds of the Apostles when the Spirit came upon them before the gathered Church for the very first time!
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. They were astounded, and in amazement they asked, “Are not all these people who are speaking Galileans? What does this mean?” (Acts 2:5-12)
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ let us deeply cherish, let us give heart-felt thanks for and lovingly meditate on, the Gift of the Holy Spirit which is ours in a truly special way on this a most holy day in Mother Church, for the Spirit is given that each and all of us might come to personally know and intimately love Jesus and thus give authentic witness to Him as living Christians and Catholics.
In the performance of that most glorious privilege, calling, and duty however, we must ever be on our guard lest we confuse our desire to share or witness to the Gift given us of God’s most Holy Spirit of Wisdom, Truth and Love, with any insidious temptation to self-exaltation by hiving off swarms of personal emotions and imaginations witnessing not so much to deep Gospel peace as to our own personal surrender to modern clamour for and delight in surface excitement.
There is comfort in the Spirit as the Apostles found, for He it is Who alone can conform us to the likeness of Jesus; and what deeper comfort and joy can there be, than that of becoming more and more one with Jesus the Perfect God and Perfect Man ?
There is also power, purpose and commitment for us in the Spirit; for we are beings with potentialities able to respond to and conspire with such power. Our hopes and aspirations likewise find supremely fulfilling purpose and commitment as the Spirit opens up before us all that God has prepared for those who love and serve Him in Jesus, on earth as well as in heaven still to come:
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. To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.
There is so much on offer, so to speak, today for all who love Jesus in Mother Church: present joy and peace; future prospects anticipated in our hopes and aspirations; and prospects more glorious still, as yet unknown to us but towards which the Spirit of Jesus is guiding all who will be docile and humble enough to wait for His lead. So much on offer, I repeat for all who want to walk with Jesus and become true adopted children of His and our heavenly Father!
This day of Pentecost is indeed like the freshly appearing beauty and joy of our springtime- renewed world after winter’s drear grasp is loosened by an invisible breathing offering life and promising hope. Dear People of God, the Holy Spirit, today’s great and glorious Gift, is the Spirit of Wisdom, Love, and Truth; so in us, individually; so with us as a group; and so totally for us, individually and all together!! Oh, He is beautiful and holy beyond any words I can conceive. Happy and holy Feast!!