Bishop Fulton J. Sheen once said about the church that even though we are God’s chosen people, we often behave more like God’s frozen people. God’s frozen people indeed: frozen in our prayer life, frozen in the way we relate with one another, frozen in the way we celebrate our faith. We don’t seem to be happy to be in God’s house; we are always in a hurry to get it over and done with as soon as possible. Today is a great day to ask the Holy Spirit to rekindle in us the spirit of new life and enthusiasm, the fire of God’s love.
Today we come to the high point of our Easter celebration, the Feast of Pentecost. Pentecost, meaning “fifty days” after the Passover was originally a Jewish feast called Savuot or the Feast of Weeks. A week of weeks is forty nine days but if we count both ends, as the Semites did, it becomes fifty. It was celebrated on the fiftieth day after the Feast of Harvest or the Feast of the First-Fruits. It was a major feast and a very popular one on which Jews came to Jerusalem from all over the world to celebrate.
Pentecost was also the feast day in which the Jewish people celebrated the Giving of the Law at Mount Sinai. At Mt Sinai the twelve tribes of Israel entered into covenant with God and with one another and so became the people of God. God gave them the Ten Commandments as a guide to show them how to be a people, because being people of God means relating to God and to one another in a way that God Himself has mapped out, not in the way that we think is right.
But for us Christians Pentecost is the day where we commemorate the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles and the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Spirit that Christ promised them before His ascension, back to His Father in heaven. Pentecost comes from the word pente, the Greek word for fifty. So Pentecost is fifty days after Jesus was resurrected from the dead during Easter.
Coming from somebody’s reflection, today’s readings we actually see two outpourings of the Holy Spirit.
The first of these occurs in the very first meeting of Jesus with the group of Apostles after the resurrection as recorded by John the Evangelist. So rich and generous is he in his love that he does not delay to pour out his Spirit on the Apostles. Together with the Holy Spirit he gave them three gifts.
First is the gift of forgiveness. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the apostles wiped away any trace of sin, just as occurs in the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation. Their ministry was to be one of forgiveness and healing and so quite naturally they experience forgiveness first.
With forgiveness they experience peace, its natural outcome. And this is the peace of Christ himself not a self-induced state of tranquillity. My peace I bequeath to you, my own peace I give you, a peace the world cannot give, this is my gift to you. Jn14:27
And with peace, joy. A joy they had never experienced before, a joy beyond all others. This was the moment of fulfilment of everything they had been preparing for. All was now made clear; disaster turned into victory; fear turned into peace; sadness into joy.
The second outpouring of the Holy Spirit comes on Pentecost Day itself in the account that we are so familiar with. Jesus is not to be seen for he has returned to the Father. No word from God is spoken-the sound of the wind is the language God chooses, the flames the sign of his presence. The effects on the Apostles are twofold:
They receive the gift of wisdom they are turned from ignorant fishermen into the most sublime theologians. And they are impelled to announce the Gospel of Christ to the world—it cannot be kept under wraps any longer, they find reserves of the gift of courage they never knew they had and they go forth to the ends of the earth and face all kinds of dangers despite having been a timid little group huddled together in an upper room only a short time before.
We often say that Pentecost is the Birthday of the Church as though it was something that happens only once a year. The truth of the matter is that for Christians everyday is Pentecost Day. We are connected through faith with those Apostles (Apostolic) and we experience the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on us in Baptism and Confirmation but since there is no limit to God’s love, no restrictions on his Holy Spirit, he comes to us each day.
We live our entire Christian lives in the Spirit. He is ever-present to us, he constantly prompts us and impels us forwards in our life of faith.
The Holy Spirit moreover draws us together in unity (One)—as a parish we witness to what Christ has achieved but we do so as one body united in faith and worship.
The Holy Spirit also keeps his Church holy (Holy)—we are constantly cleansed and forgiven through the celebration of the sacraments.
And the Holy Spirit keeps us faithful—throughout the centuries the Church is kept free from error in matters of faith, despite all the new ideas and philosophies, the Holy Spirit guides its course in fidelity to the Gospel.
We are called to be spirit-filled people – we have been given the gift of God’s own Spirit, alive and active with us. What a privilege! And with every privilege there is responsibility. It is our responsibility to be LISTENING to the Holy Spirit –
RECOGNIZING the voice of God, and RESPONDING to that voice.
-Fr. Joseph Benitez