PENTECOST SUNDAY (C)
(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, recalling the Holy Spirit and the part He plays in the building up of Mother Church and in our own individual lives as disciples of Jesus. There is much of beauty to be said about the Holy Spirit, so let me make a beginning by recalling the words of St. Paul which you heard in the second reading:
There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God Who works all in all.
Different ministries, callings, given to all sorts of people, but each and every one of those called is offered the same Holy Spirit that He may enable and guide them to suitably respond to and fulfil their individual 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.”
There are differences of ministries, Paul went on to say, but the same Lord: for whatever work we undertake, we do it in the name of Jesus, by His most Holy Spirit, for the blessing of Mother Church and the salvation of those of good will; there are diversities of activities, but the same God and Father Whose loving Providence directs everything that is done to serve His ultimate purposes for good; and St. Paul tells us elsewhere just what God’s ultimate purposes are, when he writes (2 Corinthians 6:16):
You are the temple of the living God; as God has said: "I will dwell in them and walk among them; I will be their God, and they shall be My people."
Each of us then is called to serve our Lord and Saviour by making use of the gifts His Spirit opens up to us, and in that way, to help build a Temple for God’s Glory and also work out our own eternal salvation as St. Paul explains further:
(The) foundation ….. is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one's work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one's work, of what sort it is. If anyone's work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone's work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. (1 Corinthians 3:11-15)
I remember reading of a man in the early Church whose vocation from God -- as he saw it -- was to help pilgrims coming to Jerusalem at great cost and personal danger from all over the world for love of their Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ: he would carry their baggage up the final hill to the holy city, then go down again to help, in the name of Jesus, the next pilgrim up the hill so often as he could that day and every subsequent day for which the Spirit gave him strength. How humble and simple a gesture, so beautiful and selfless! What total commitment to, trust in, and love for, God manifested in Jesus!!
In the first reading you heard how the Apostles themselves received the Gift of the Spirit and began to work under His guidance and even indeed under His direct influence:
(They) were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language.
Peter made use of his own particular gift of the Spirit to proclaim the name of the Lord Jesus at the very first Christian celebration of Pentecost, and we are told that:
Those who gladly received his word were baptized, and that day about three thousand souls were added to (the disciples’ number). (Acts 2:41)
If we likewise, as living members 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 too may be enabled to work and prepare for God’s Temple of glory in its ultimate beauty and variety.
All the members of that one body, being many, are (yet) one body. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into (the) one Body (of Christ) -- whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free -- and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. For in fact the Body is not one member but many. (1 Corinthians 12:12-17)
There is another reason, however, for our different gifts: it is because we ourselves are all different; each one of us is a special 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 and living member of the one Body of Christ, but also truly and fully our very own self as God planned and created us. In God, individuality is meant to build a unity that is strong.
Let me give you, once again, 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 upon and for all the 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 their own nature. So it is with us, dear People of God: we should delight in and treasure God’s Most Holy Gift offered to us today, for it is in Him alone that we can find and fulfil our true and secret, indeed sacred, self.
St. John tells us of an event which occurred at the great Feast of Booths in Jerusalem:
On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water." But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, Whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. (John 7:37-39)
Jesus was preparing His Apostles and His future Church for all those countless peoples who, over the centuries, would come to Him thirsting for the gift of His Spirit. He told His Apostles to go out to the peoples in His name:
Peace to you! As the Father has sent me, I also send you.
And then, in order that Jesus’ 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; the Spirit had first of all to be given them by Jesus Himself, only then could they give the Spirit in the name of Jesus. But there must be no obstacle of sin in the ones who would come thirsting for God’s Gift, therefore Jesus tells His Apostles:
If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.
People of God, recognize and reverence the dignity of Mother Church. To establish, guide, and sustain His Church Jesus gives His own most Holy Spirit: only in Mother Church can you find, and receive the fullness of, the Spirit given to the Apostles for the Church, and only in Mother Church can our souls be cleansed and freed from sin in order to worthily receive the Spirit. In matters such as this we must not follow the our blindly proud and sinful ignorant world around us. 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 might only doing what many people are doing; it will not enough even if an evil government give you the legal right to act contrary to Catholic teaching, as, for example, with abortion, contraception, and sexual profligacy, for sin is sinful despite any government legislation and can only be removed by God’s forgiveness. Therefore, Jesus gives His Apostles and His Church the power to first of all forgive sins and then bestow the God’s Gift of the Holy Spirit. None who is unwilling to seek God’s forgiveness through His Church can receive His Spirit from the Church in Holy Communion.
However, this emphasis on the need for sins to be forgiven is but the reverse side of the most awesome and wonderful truth and, at the same time the deepest and most fulfilling joy offered us by the coming of the Holy Spirit into our lives at Pentecost. Our heavenly, supernatural, destiny is to live in, share with, Jesus in the all-holy beatitude of the most Holy Trinity, to personally experience the divine love that ebbs and flows between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the eternal peace of Their mutual Joy and Truth; and only the Holy Spirit -- purifying and working in and with us here on earth -- can prepare us to become so one with and like Jesus, that in Him and for His sake we may be admitted 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 observance of His own arbitrary laws and observances; He is seeking to help us become -- in Jesus -- His own adopted children, able to delight in and share with their Saviour in ‘the glory He had with the Father before the world was’.
People of God, this is a day of exclusively Catholic and Christian Faith, for Our Lord Jesus made it clear to His Apostles (John 14:17) that:
This is 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 (in Mother Church) and will be in you (individually, as a true child of Mother Church).
Come dear People to this feast, come on this most holy day, in total trust, confidence, gratitude, and joy to receive the Gift of the Spirit from Jesus Himself anew in Holy Communion. The Spirit alone can make you truly free, and lead you to experience the fullness of joy and peace; indeed, the Spirit alone can make you fully your own real self: a unique reflection of the Father Who created you, in the Lord Who saved you, and by the Spirit Who moves and forms you.