THE SOLEMNITY OF PENTECOST (2021)
Readings:Acts of the Apostles 2:1-11Psalms 104:1, 24, 29-31, 341 Corinthians 12:3-7, 12-13John 20:19-23
The Solemnity of Pentecost is often referred to as the birthday of the Church.
The word comes from the word for fifty, and just as the Jewish people had a Pentecost that followed fifty days after Passover, so too do the early writings of the Church (Acts of the Apostles) see something to be commemorated fifty days after Christ’s resurrection. If one senses a “construct” they should not be alarmed. It would be nearly impossible in the early days of the church to siphon off the influence of Judaism from the way the early church viewed itself. Hence, the absolute need to get the numbers of the apostles back up to twelve with the defection of Judas, for it is no accident that the twelve reflects the twelve tribes of Israel, out of which a “shoot shall blossom” who will be the Savior of the world.
Throughout the Acts we see the effects of the intertwining of Jewish beliefs with new Christian approaches, often causing tension within the early church. The “Jewish question,” whether Gentile converts to Christianity had to become Jewish first (circumcision), was one of the most challenging issues to be worked out in the early church, a battle which eventually found at its center the apostle Peter and the [new] apostle Paul. In an earlier reading from Acts we saw how suspicious the early church was of Paul, even after his Damascus event.
Our inspired biblical books do not see a lack of uniformity as a serious problem, as the varied accounts of Pentecost given to us by Acts and the Gospel of John attest. For the gospel writer John the giving of the spirit happens on the same evening of the resurrection, while the Acts (the evangelist’s Luke’s second volume) sees it taking place fifty days later (construct?), after numerous appearances by Jesus in which He continued His mission to preach and teach.
Liturgically we celebrate Pentecost according to a more Jewish model, and regardless of when it actually happened, it so invigorated the church that we consider Pentecost the birthday of the Church, the moment when the nascent group of followers and believers in Jesus began the founding of what would become the Church. It’s unlikely that that moment followed immediately after John’s version of Pentecost, for it needed more time; more time to understand the nature of Jesus’ appearances, more time to weigh what Paul was asking with regards the Gentiles, more time to recognize that the Spirit would work through all peoples, whether “Greek, Jew, slave, free, woman or man,” more time to pray.
Sr. Mary McGlone tells us that “Pentecost celebrates the grace-filled thriving of the human community through the indwelling of the Spirit. It reminds us that Jesus’ promise to bestow His Spirit upon us can be limited only by our own unwillingness to continue His mission. In the first book of the Corinthians, Paul insists that we will know the Spirit to the extent that we appreciate the diversity of gifts present within our community. The Acts of the apostles assures us that the Spirit continues to work through frail, diverse, sometimes fighting, often feisty, human beings. The Spirit of God leads us to broaden our plans and go beyond our own narrow imaginations.”
What Sr. McGlone describes can only happen if we open our hearts, our minds, and our eyes, to the working of the Spirit around us. At times the Spirit may act in dramatic fashion, but most often it is going to work like the tiny “whispering breeze of Elijah.” The Spirit of Jesus causes us to work for justice, to seek out what is true, to clamor for the peace He wished His disciples while in this world. Where there is no love, there is no peace; where there is no truth, right thinking is impossible. May we celebrate this Pentecost Sunday by opening wide our hearts to a Spirit that blows where it wills, and whose only desire is to bring about the kingdom inaugurated by Jesus. The Spirit cannot accomplish this without the help of those who call themselves disciples of Jesus, whose hearts are invigorated to do the work that God has chosen them to do.