REFLECTION – PENTECOST SUNDAY
The particular way in which the Spirit is given to each person is for a good purpose.
POINT 1: The Spirit is given. Pentecost celebrates two things. First, the fiftieth day after Passover was celebrated by the Jews of Jesus’ time in memory of the Law and the Covenant given through Moses. That is why many Jews from many nations were in Jerusalem when the historical event which we celebrate as Pentecost happened: the day the Spirit was poured out on the Disciples of Jesus, confirming the New Covenant and writing the New Law on their hearts. But second, Pentecost today also celebrates a current reality, the truth that the Holy Spirit is now living in the church, and makes each of us live in the New Covenant and writes the New Law on the hearts of each one of us. Not once, as though on stone; but day by day, hour by hour, as we struggle and figure out our way through life. We remember today that the Spirit was poured out not only on the disciples and not only on each of us who are faithful to Jesus’ Name, but on the whole of humankind. This mighty Spirit is actively shaping the whole of humanity into the Kingdom of God, for which we have covenanted through the Blood of the Lamb.
POINT 2: The Spirit is given to each of us. If each of us has the Spirit, do we experience the Spirit? Certainly the saints do: think of Theresa of Avila floating off the floor in ecstasy, or St. Thomas More telling the man who was about to cut off his head that he was doing him a great favor! Some of us, also, believe that we can sense the spirit flooding us with peace and joy, and leading us to make the right choices. But every single one of us sometimes experiences the Spirit, though we may choose not to notice. When? When we do anything truly selfless, not knowing what reward might come: when we beg God for help without hearing or feeling any answer, but keep on asking; when we feel sure that God reigns although all we can see around us is chaos; when we let ourselves go into God’s hands completely (maybe desperately) and then experience this surrender as a victory, somehow; when we leap into the darkness of death in the conviction that we will live with God; when we cry out in our hearts or aloud, “Jesus is Lord!” and want to love him and everyone because of him. Then – and many more times like these – we truly experience the Spirit. These are the Spirit’s work in us, because these works are beyond our own powers. We do not have to feel emotion in order to experience the Holy Spirit within us. Rather, we experience him living in us in the way we understand the world and human destiny; where do our beliefs come from? We experience him in the way we hope for life, confidently sending our dead before us into the Kingdom; where does this wisdom in us ordinary people come from? We experience him in the way we look with love on those around us, even enemies; where does this selflessness come from? We sin, we fail, we are severely limited; this only underscores the truth that the Spirit works in us.
POINT 3: The Spirit is given for a good purpose. Do we really believe that the Spirit lives in us, teaching and guiding us, giving us life? If we do, the consequences are very serious: First, I must take my own deepest desires very seriously; which of them are from the Spirit? Second, I have to shuck off fads and trends I learn from advertising, popular fads, and even shuck off the false desires inculcated by mistaken political doctrines or false readings or interpretations of history. Culturebound, I cannot do that alone; the Spirit must do it in me. Third, knowing what I desire most deeply – dignity, to be cared for, to be useful and creative, to feel concern and to love and be loved – I must then do unto others what I would have them do unto me. Now this is not trivial: we Christians must use all human knowledge and accomplishments to understand our deepest desires – sociology, history, depth psychiatry, philosophy, everything – in order to know how to love others.
CONCLUSION: Now perhaps we can understand what Paul said: “The particular way in which the Spirit is given to each person is for a good purpose.” Electricity is put into a bulb, not for the bulb, but so that the bulb can give light to everyone around. The Spirit poured into each of us teaches us what to wish for, for ourselves and for others. The Spirit is the law of the Kingdom of perfect justice, peace and joy. Praise him, all you saints of God, whose power is at work in you to accomplish more than you can ask for or even imagine!
QUESTIONS THAT MAY LEAD TO OTHER THOUGHTS
1. What can you do to open yourself to the “new Pentecost” which the late Pope John Paul so earnestly prayed for and wrote about?
2. Do you pray, as Pope John Paul asks, for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the whole Church?
3. Do you ask Christ and his Mother to help you discern the real meaning of new currents, trends, ideas within the Church?
4. If the Holy Spirit seems a stranger to you, how can you come to know him better?
5. Is there a person in your life you have trouble communicating with? How can you learn a way through this?
6. The Christian churches often make “bold proclamations” for justice and peace. Do these affect your life? Do you add your voice to that of the Church?
Reading 1 – Acts 2: 1-11 – Just as the Gospel of Luke presented the time of Jesus as a time when the promises to Israel were fulfilled, so too Acts describes the time of the Church as a time of fulfillment not only of the promises to Israel but also of the promises Jesus made to those who continue his work. Similarly, just as the ministry of Jesus began with the coming of the Spirit (Luke 3:22) so too does the ministry of the Church, fulfilling the promises made by Jesus (Acts 1: 4ff, 8).
The arrival of the Spirit is described in both visual and in auditory terms recalling Old Testament images of God visiting his people in wind and fire. The sound of the wind relates the arrival of the Spirit to the community as a whole, while the description of the fire as “tongues” makes it clear that it is on the disciples as individuals that the Spirit fastens. The image of tongues of fire has the further function of relating the gift of the Spirit with its initial manifestation in the ministry of the Church, that is, preaching in tongues. The story of people hearing the apostolic preaching in various languages (a reversal of Babel) relates the gift to the ministry and, while focusing that ministry on Jews in Jerusalem, foreshadows the soon-to-develop worldwide mission to both Jews and Gentiles.
Reading 2 – 1 Corinthians 12: 3-7, 12-13 – Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians deals with a host of apparently diverse problems all of which, however, were rooted in a misunderstanding about the nature of resurrection. This misunderstanding yielded a variety of problems the most fundamental and insidious of which was disunity, a disunity that manifested itself even in the celebration of the Eucharist and in the exercise of the spiritual gifts. Present in the Corinthian community were spiritual enthusiasts who felt they had already experienced the fullness of resurrection (15:12). The tremendous outpouring of spiritual gifts within the community (1: 4-5) confirmed their belief and led to the opinion that now everything was lawful for those who shared in this fullness (6:12, 10:23). The result of this conviction was that each individual would behave as he or she felt moved to behave without consideration for the good of the community, even at the Eucharist, even in the exercise of the spiritual gifts.
Paul’s response is to relativize the importance of the outpouring of the Spirit upon individuals. In today’s reading he acknowledges the validity of various gifts of the Spirit which were manifest at Corinth. The main point of this section, however, is to insist that it is one and the same Spirit who produces all of these gifts. At the beginning of the entire section Paul had set his consideration in the perspective of the divine unity, a thoroughly Trinitarian passage the full implications of which would not be appreciated by the Church as a whole for another three hundred years. Paul acknowledge the diversity of gifts but the conclusion to be drawn from this diversity is not that each should be free to do as he or she chooses but rather that all should recognize their ultimate unity in the Spirit who operates in each diversely for the common good.
Gospel Reading – John 20: 19-23 – In John’s gospel, as in Paul’s letters, the spirit and the flesh are opposed. The “flesh” does not mean the body; rather, it refers to unavoidable drives, desires and patterns of living which are proper to a life given to this world and lived without care about the continuing life of the spirit. The spirit, therefore, is theantithesis of these drives, desires, and patterns of living. Within the human person, the “spirit” that leads to belief in Christ and to life patterns based on him comes to being through the Holy Spirit of God. In John, more than in the other gospels, the Holy Spirit is a reality external to the Christian – that is, a divine person – who provokes, implants and elicits “worship in spirit and in truth.” Only John presents Jesus as giving to the disciples the Holy Spirit -–as he does in today’s reading: “Receive the Holy Spirit.” In the gospel as it stands, Jesus notes an important power that comes from having the Spirit, the power to remove sin by a forgiving act. But it should be noted that the giving of the Spirit stands as extremely important in itself apart from the power to forgive sin. For the significance of this gift is larger than the ability to forgive sins. It means sharing in the life of Christ himself; having saving knowledge of all things whatsoever he taught; having his law of love implanted in one’s heart, and in fact, having that law as the very source of one’s conscience. In John’s gospel, the Spirit is most prominent as the Paraclete, the spirit of truth (16:13) who lives in the disciples (14:17) teaching them everything (16:13) and reveals the truth about Jesus (14:26).