In last week’s celebration of the Ascension of Jesus, I stated that the differences in the various accounts of that event were an indication that what we were celebrating was not the anniversary of an historical event but rather an opportunity to reflect upon the Ascension as an integral part of the mystery we call Paschal. The very same thing can be said of today’s solemnity. We are not celebrating the anniversary of the coming of the Spirit upon the apostles. Rather we are being encouraged through the Scriptures chosen for this celebration to reflect on the coming of the Holy Spirit and its meaning in our lives; for just as was the case last week, the two accounts of the descent of the Spirit that we hear today differ in the details. St. Luke’s “Acts of the Apostles” notes that it happened fifty days after the Resurrection while the Gospel of St. John indicates that Jesus bestowed the Spirit upon his apostles on that first day of the week when he appeared before them in the upper room. The Gospel tells us that Jesus breathed upon the apostles gathered in the upper room while the Acts of the Apostles invests the event with all sorts of symbols and references that help us to understand this part of the Paschal Mystery.
The first detail that we encounter is the very name of the Feast. St. Luke calls it Pentecost which was a Jewish feast that was kept fifty days after the celebration of the Passover. It commemorated the giving of the Law to Moses on Mt. Sinai. There are those who claim that this Jewish feast was even more popular among the people because by the time this feast was celebrated in the Temple of Jerusalem, the weather had moderated making travel to and from Jerusalem easier. This may account for why there were so many “foreign” Jews in Jerusalem at this time.
We hear of a strong, driving wind which reminds us that in the Hebrew Scriptures God spoke to Job in the whirlwind and speaks to Elijah atop Mt. Horeb in a whispering breeze.
We hear of fire to remind us that God spoke to Moses in the burning bush.
We hear that the apostles began to speak in different tongues eradicating, as it were, the confusion that fell upon the people as they constructed a tower at Babel in the Book of Genesis.
All of these references point to the fact that the descent of the Holy Spirit is the establishment of a new covenant, a covenant of mercy and forgiveness. St. Luke borrows the fifty day reference to make that point very clearly and describes the experience with the same natural phenomena that accompanied God’s communication in the Hebrew Scriptures.
The preaching of the apostles was understood by the many different people who had gathered in Jerusalem for the feast. We are told that the message was conveyed to all despite their different national origins. It is St. Luke’s way of conveying the truth that the preaching of the Gospel was the way that the Church was to return the order of creation to the way it was supposed to be from the very beginning, to reunite the human race, and to gather all into the reign of God. It had been sin that separated people; it is sin that separates people today. As we are reminded each time we celebrate the Sacrament of Penance, the Holy Spirit was given to us for the forgiveness of sin.
St. John’s Gospel conveys many of the same points but places the event on the day that Jesus rose from the dead. Jesus breathed on the apostles and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” He then sent them forth to preach repentance and forgiveness. It is for this that the Spirit was sent – to restore, to reunite, and to renew.
These Scriptures are the impetus for the prayer we utter as our response, “Lord, send out your spirit and renew the face of the earth.” Though we use only a portion of Psalm 104, its very construction reinforces the message. Psalm 104 contains seven stanzas, one for each day of creation in Genesis and sings the glory of God the Creator, the God who created by imparting his Spirit by breathing on a lump of clay. The world is recreated, as it were, through the gift of the Spirit.
Our reading from St. Paul helps us to realize what it is that we are called to do as a result of God’s initiative to recreate, to reunite, to renew. We have each been given gifts, different gifts, but the same Spirit. However, it is important to remember the fact that these gifts are given NOT for the individual who receives them. These gifts are meant to be used for the community, for the Church. If they are not shared, they are useless and empty gifts. When they are used for the common good, they unite what has been separated into one body, the Body of Christ.
Indeed, what we celebrate today is not an anniversary. Our celebration reminds us that each time we forgive one another, Pentecost happens again. Each time we act to restore peace and justice, the Spirit acts in our midst. Each time each time we lift up the fallen, each time we feed the hungry, slake the thirst of the parched, clothe the naked, or visit the sick and imprisoned the mercy which God bestows through the Spirit is a force for renewal. God came among us in Jesus; and, although Jesus has returned to the Father, God is still among us today.
Each time we pray one of the Eucharistic prayers as we gather around this table, we are reminded that this Sacrament is a sacrament of reconciliation. God is reconciled with us through the celebration of the Eucharist. As I impose my hands upon the gifts which we bring to the altar, I call down the Spirit upon them to bless and consecrate the bread and wine so that it will nourish the Body which is Christ in our midst. It is yet another Pentecost, another covenant, which binds us to God in a bond that can never be broken.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator