THE SPIRIT OF CHRIST (HOLY SPIRIT) IS FOR UNITY NOT DIVISION!
Acts 2: 1-11; 1Cor 12: 3-7.12-12; John 20: 19-23
Today, we are celebrating Pentecost Sunday, the fiftieth (pentecostes) day after the Resurrection of Christ. This solemnity commemorates the fulfillment of Christ’s promise to send the Holy Spirit upon his nervous disciples, who gathered behind the closed doors of the Cenacle in Jerusalem. Pentecost is a feast which occupies a very important and prominent position in the Church’s history and liturgical calendar as it serves as the bridge between Lenten/Easter Season and Ordinary Time of the year. Tomorrow, the Church returns to the ordinary time of the year. Today also has been considered to be the birthday of the Church because today marks the actual beginning of the church’s missionary endeavor. It is often called Whitsunday (White Sunday) from the practice of giving solemn Baptism on that day in early centuries, the candidates being attired in white baptismal robes.” The Holy Spirit has these works in the Church: reinvigoration, renewal and sanctification. Catholic Charismatic Renewal marks her Golden Jubilee as a body (1967-2017).
This feast originally was a Jewish feast, the second of three great Jewish Feasts: the Passover, the Pentecost & the Trumpets, celebrated on the fiftieth day after the Jewish Passover. The feast originated from a very ancient thanksgiving celebration, in gratitude to God for the yearly harvest about to be reaped and later on, marked the conclusion of the Covenant on Mt Sinai. In wind and fire, God made his presence known to the people and then gave them the gift of his Law, the Ten Commandments. In this singular way was the work of liberation, begun with the Exodus from Egypt, brought to fulfillment: human freedom is always a shared freedom, a “togetherness” of liberty. The wind and fire, which enveloped the community of Christ’s disciples gathered in the Upper Room, becomes a further development of the event of Mt Sinai and gives it new fullness.
The First Reading from the Acts of the Apostles speaks of how, on the day of Pentecost, under the signs of a strong wind and fire, the Holy Spirit sweeps into the community of the disciples of Jesus who are in prayer, thus bringing the Church into being. The fire here is in the form of tongues; as if to say that each one present is being given the gift and power to speak in the name of God. The pilgrim Jews from all over the Mediterranean area were amazed to hear the disciples speaking to them in their own languages. Now the time of the Tower of Babel is reversed. The Spirit was already at work in bringing about the spread of the the Gospel fearlessly not only to the people of Jerusalem but to the people from all over the Mediterranean. Christians have a message which is offered to and can be understood by people everywhere. The gift of tongues was not given to the apostles to boost their ego, for their own personal or selfish interests, or to break away and found their own Churches so as to extort money and materials from people. Instead, it was given to them in order to pass on the message of eternal life on to others, in a way they can understand.
In the Second Reading of today from the First Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul speaks of the effect of the Spirit on the Christian community. The Church and each community within it reflects unity and diversity. We are not called to uniformity. We are not clones of Christ or each other. Unity presumes diversity and a variety of gifts and talents and responsibilities. We are like a body. Each body has many members, each with its own particular function, yet they all are ordered to one purpose – the good functioning of the body as a whole. So it is with the Christian community, which is the Body of Christ. Each member is to be aware of his or her particular gift which indicates the role the member has to play in building up the whole Body, the whole community. St Paul in Rom. 8 also made this analogy clear. Traditionally, we also speak of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, gifts that presumably were given to the apostles in the upper room at Pentecost and are also given to each of us during Confirmation – gifts of wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord. It is through these gifts that we serve and build up the community. They are not just for ourselves, or for our families and friends. It is for the Church!
The Gospel presents to us another image of the Holy Spirit that we find in the Gospel is much more hidden, the Risen Lord passes through the closed doors and enters the place where the disciples are, and greets them twice with the words: “Peace be with you”. It is both a wish and a statement. Where Jesus is there is peace. The presence of Jesus in our lives always brings peace and removes our anxieties and fears. However, we continually close our doors; we continually want to feel secure and do not want to be disturbed by others and by God. And so, we can continually implore the Lord just for this, that he come to us, overcoming our closure, to bring us his greeting: “Peace be with you”. The Lord’s greeting of peace is followed by two gestures that are decisive for Pentecost: the Lord wants the disciples to continue his mission: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (Jn 20: 21). Christ says this in a very personal way to each one of us. Our mission and his are exactly the same: to bring peace, unity, joy, forgiveness, love and eternal life to all humankind. Secondly, He breathes on them and says: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive men’s sins, they are forgiven them; if you hold them bound, they are held bound” (Jn 20: 23). The Lord breathes on the disciples, giving them the Holy Spirit, his own Spirit. The Holy Spirit we received today has in no way come to replace Christ. Rather, as he was with Christ, He has come to help us achieve what he helped Christ achieve. To his breath, to the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Lord joins the power of forgiveness. We then have the work to reconciling people with God, which is the very core of the work of Christ and the Christian mission. The Sacrament of Penance is one of the Church’s precious treasures, since authentic world renewal is accomplished only through forgiveness.
Today, many Christians have completely misunderstood or abused this event of Pentecost. This is mostly with respect to speaking in tongues and the nature of the claims they make “in the name of the Holy Spirit.” Today, it is quite easy and alarming to hear people using parlance like: “the spirit says”, “the spirit moved me”, “the spirit ministered to me”, “I heard the spirit speak to me”, etcetera. Anyone who prays or speaks false tongues is both blaspheming against God and committing sacrilege – a sin against the Holy Spirit. We must note Jesus’ warning: “Any sin against the Son will be forgiven but…against the Holy Spirit will not” (Mtt 12, 31-32). BEWARE!
The Church must always become anew what she already is; she must open the borders between peoples and break down the barriers between class and race. In her, there cannot be those who are forgotten or looked down upon. In the Church there are only free brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ. The wind and fire of the Holy Spirit must continually break down those barriers that we men and women continue to build between us; we must continually pass from Babel – being closed in on ourselves – to Pentecost. Now is the time of the Holy Spirit. He is at work in the world in and through us. Let us cooperate with Him by opening our minds and hearts to Him, so that he may commission and empower us to move out in full force yet, with wisdom and gentility in order to testify to the lordship of Christ. Today we have a new Pentecost. Let us therefore beckon on the Lord: “Send forth your spirit O Lord and renew the face of the earth”. Today let us ask God to send His Spirit into our hearts. Filled with that Spirit, may we each individually make our contribution to the community to which we belong. And, as a community, may we give clear and unmistakable witness to the Truth and Love of God, revealed to us in Jesus our Lord. And this is the Good News of Today. And we say to our mother the Church, HAPPY BIRTHDAY!