24 May 2010
Pentecost Sunday (C) 23 May 2010
Readings: Acts 2:1-11; Ps 104:1, 24, 29-30, 31, 34; Romans 8:8-17; John 14, 15-16; 23b-26 (John 20, 19-23)
Today is Pentecost Sunday! While the Gospel passage recounts the event of the evening of Easter when Jesus “breathed” on the disciples the Holy Spirit, the First Reading from Acts narrates the actual Pentecost story.
Pentecost simply means the 50th day. The account from Acts tells that Jerusalem is overflowing with Jews from all over for the harvest festival of Pentecost or Shavuot. The feast commemorates God giving the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai to the Chosen People 50 days after the Passover and Exodus.
Christians celebrate Pentecost for a different reason. It is the commemoration of the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples. The event is also described as the birthday of the Church. Gradually, the community of believers will find themselves growing apart from Judaism and establishing an identity all their own. Years later in Antioch, they will be called “Christians” for the first time. But it is in Jerusalem at Pentecost that year that Christians recognize the birth of the Church.
It is not that prior to Pentecost the Spirit is not present in the world. But that at Pentecost, the Spirit awakens in the disciples His Presence that is already within them. At His coming, the Church is born and the face of the earth is renewed.
So much can be said about the Holy Spirit, for our reflection I would just like to focus on three descriptions:
1. The Spirit of Forgiveness
Jesus tells the disciples in Jn 19,22-23: “Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” If Jesus came to save us from sin and death, then His Spirit who gives life must necessarily be a Spirit of forgiveness as well.
This also entails acknowledging our basic sinful condition. There are many who react, even reject, this “sin-oriented” image of man, contending that it will result to a lifetime of carrying guilt and thus limiting the enjoyment of life. A chronically guilt-stricken, lifeless individual is far from the Christian ideal. On the contrary, acknowledging our sinfulness leads to a greater awareness of how much we have strayed from God and our true selves, how much we have been depriving ourselves from living life fully.
Without an acknowledgment of sin, there can be no repentance. Without repentance, there can be no forgiveness. Without forgiveness, no healing. Without healing, there can be no transformation, no life of grace.
How then do we accept the Spirit of forgiveness? By being reconciled. The sacrament of reconciliation restores our broken relationship with God and our integrity as persons. When we are reconciled with God and made whole again, we enjoy the fruits of the Spirit (Gal 5,22-23): “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control”. In short, fullness of life!
2. The Spirit of Truth
Jesus promises His disciples in Jn 14,26: “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.” The Spirit is the bearer of the truth of Jesus Christ. Once believed it brings salvation.
The Pentecost account in the Acts of the Apostles has the disciples preaching to Jews from different places and of different tongues, and were understood. So many believers were made that day alone. Such is the power of Christ’s truth.
St. Thomas Aquinas says that of the “seven gifts of the Spirit”, four of them direct the intellect (wisdom, understanding, knowledge, and counsel), while the other three gifts (fortitude, piety, and fear of the Lord) direct the will toward God.
There are those though who find it hard to accept the idea of religion as proclaiming absolute truths, much less the Church as the repository of truth, and would rather trust in the disciplines of science or take a relativist outlook on God, faith, religion and, especially, morality. Neo-liberal humanists even propose that individuals or some form of shared cultural understanding should be the basis for defining what is true and good.
Thus, there is an even greater impetus for Christians today to accept and proclaim the truth of Jesus Christ in prayer, the Scriptures and the teachings of the Church. Doing so does not mean that we cannot think or decide for ourselves, or that we let some super-establishment, i.e., the Church, dictate our moral choices. Doing so means we let our actions be guided by our conscience, and our conscience informed by the truth of Jesus Christ. After all, no one can truthfully say he is under the influence of nobody. If it is not Christ we are following, it is somebody else.
3. The Spirit of Courage
St. Paul in 2 Tim 1,7 writes: “For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control". From a fearful and confused crowd some fifty days earlier, the disciples gathered at Pentecost are gradually transformed into men and women of passion who brave every obstacle to preach the Good News to the ends of the earth.
Inspiration is not difficult to find. It is already within us. All we have to do is to access the presence of the Holy Spirit. Let Him be the power and guide that run our lives, and together we can accomplish so much. Let Him inspire us to works of charity and proclamation of faith; lead us to seek to build the Kingdom in our homes, schools, workplaces, businesses, and communities; urge us to work for a better world, for reforms in our society and within the Church. When was the last time you were inspired?
We all have dreams and plans: to make our lives turn for the better, to provide a good life for our family, to excel in our careers and businesses, to attain a brighter future for our country. God is showing us the way to achieve them, and maybe even to make better dreams and plans: by receiving the Holy Spirit.
So be reconciled with the Spirit of forgiveness, be open to the Spirit of truth and be inspired by the Spirit of courage. Then we can profess together with St. Paul in Phil 4,13: “I have the strength for everything through Him who empowers me.”
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love.
Send forth your Spirit, and they shall be created.
And You shall renew the face of the earth.
Let us pray. O, God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy His consolations through Christ Our Lord. Amen.