I just got my computer back from the repair shop yesterday, just in time for me to write a blog entry for Pentecost Sunday.
Why did God send the Holy Spirit? The Scriptures for this Sunday give us one clear reason, a reason that we hear about each and every time that we celebrate the Sacrament of Penance. When the priest gives us absolution, we hear these words: “God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son, has reconciled Himself to the world and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins.” So it is clear that the Church recognizes that the Holy Spirit was sent as an expression of God’s mercy and compassion for us, sinners all.
In the first reading for this Solemnity, we hear the story from the Acts of the Apostles. After the disciples experience the presence of the Spirit in their midst, they seek to understand the phenomenon which they have just witnessed. In that search for meaning, they are led to preach about the mighty acts of God (Acts 2:11d). In the speech that follows, Peter proclaims the presence of the Holy Spirit and acknowledges Jesus as the Messiah sent by God. All hear the speech in their own language, thus reversing the confusion of tongues that happened at Babel in the Book of Genesis. The first act of the Holy Spirit was to heal the division of humanity caused by the sin of the people at Babel.
The Gospel tells us that Jesus, after greeting the disciples with “Shalom,” breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” (John 20:22b-23) While this may sound like Jesus is instituting the Sacrament of Penance, that is not what is happening. Jesus is forgiving them for deserting him and at the same time giving them all the possibility of forgiving each other. The Holy Spirit is given to them as a gift of reconciliation, a gift of healing, a gift of creating the possibility of forgiveness.
In his First Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul reminds us that in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13). He was writing about the divisions that were present in his society and in his culture, the divisions between Jew and Gentile, the divisions between freemen and slaves. If he were writing for our society and our culture, he would have referenced other divisions, divisions which are so evident in the world in which we live. The Holy Spirit is given to us to heal those divisions.
When we speak of the Holy Spirit, we attribute many different functions to the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity. However, it is clear that one of the most important, if not the most important reason for which God sent the Holy Spirit is to introduce the power of reconciling, merciful, compassionate forgiveness into our fractured and broken world.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator