THE SOLEMNITY OF PENTECOST (2018)
Psalm 104, 1, 24, 29-31, 34
1 Corinthians 12:3-7, 12- 13
What an incredible thing has been revealed to us in our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles today: the language of salvation is a universal language! Luke’s dramatic account of the Pentecost event in Acts differs from the simpler version of John by fifty days, but its more important difference lays in the collection of those who were present for this momentous event. In Acts the group appears large. The people are gathered from every part of the known world, but their being filled with the Spirit enabled them to proclaim the good news in languages that each could understand. This theme of universality is typical of the evangelist Luke, who, in some of the very last words spoken by the risen Jesus, reminds his readers that the good news was meant to be preached to “all the nations.” Why is this important? If in fact what we celebrate on Pentecost is the birthday of the Church, then our account of the giving of the Holy Spirit in Acts has much to say about what God intended the Church to look like. From its very starting point the Church is meant to reflect the diversity visible in the account of that first Pentecost. Too often the Church appears to be governed by a desire for bland uniformity that refuses to acknowledge the differences of those who make up the Church intended by Jesus. Our shared belief in a God who suffered, died, and rose from the dead does not erase the differences which are part and parcel of the human condition. Rather, those differences are made subservient to a greater good, the Church. As St. Paul says in our 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.”
For some fifty days now we have been celebrating the Lord Jesus’ resurrection, which destroyed death and opened the gates of heaven to all of us. St. John Chrysostom stated that “the cross reconciled us with God, made earth heaven, caused human beings to mingle with angels, destroyed the citadel of death, broke the strength of the devil, freed the world from error, and founded churches.” Our celebration of Easter finds its natural conclusion in Pentecost, for we believe that the Father’s sending of the Spirit into the world confirmed all that was done by Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection, and, as the response to the psalm states, it “renewed the face of the earth.” Our Collect (opening prayer) for today’s Mass expresses well the purpose of our celebration: “O God, who by the mystery of today’s great feast sanctify your whole Church in every people and nation, pour out we pray, the gifts of the Holy Spirit across the face of the earth and, with the divine grace that was at work when the Gospel was first proclaimed, fill now once more the hearts of believers.”
Our celebration of Pentecost is not merely meant to be some historical reminiscence. Our celebration of Pentecost is meant to provide us with the opportunity to receive the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit that was at work in the Acts of the Apostles, the same Spirit that Jesus “breathed” on his disciples in John, the same Spirit invoked over us in our Confirmation. That Spirit, with her gifts, enables us to be instruments of change in our world. Spirit-filled people are people who allow the Spirit to change their lives through their reading of Scripture and their reception of the Eucharist. Spirit-filled people speak words that heal, restore, bring about justice, make people happy and build people up instead of tearing them down. Spirit-filled people pass on the love of God to the people living around them by their acts of kindness, mercy and charity. The Holy Spirit is best associated with particular gifts: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. It is with these gifts that ordinary men and women can assist God “in renewing the face of the earth.” No small task, but with the help of the Spirit, possible.
Let us on this glorious Solemnity ask the Holy Spirit for a spirit of love instead of hate, a spirit of cooperation instead of refusing to reach out to others, a spirit of generosity instead of greed, a spirit of humility rather than pride and arrogance, and a spirit of gentleness in place of ruthlessness. In living Spirit-filled lives may we discover the peace and joy that only God can bring.
Let us pray in the words of Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman, whose favorite prayer was, “Come Holy Spirit:”
“Come Holy Spirit
Make our ears to hear
Make our eyes to see
Make our mouths to speak
Make our hearts to seek
Make our hands to reach out
And touch the world with your love.