Pentecost Sunday May 28, 2023
There are separate readings used for this Feast during the Vigil Mass and Sunday Mass. In addition, there are several options available for the First Reading during the Vigil Mass. Our reflection will focus on the readings for Sunday. If you would like to view the readings for the Vigil you may do so here.
The Sunday readings feature two accounts of Pentecost. One is from Luke and the other is from John. Both are radically different accounts. On must keep in mind that the truth behind the story is what is important, and not the facts of the story. Both evangelists tweak the Pentecost event for catechetical purposes in order to expand upon its meaning and significance within each of their respective communities. Therefore, when it happened and how it happened are not the important issues, but rather the truth revealed in the meaning and implications behind the event. One must keep this in mind when reading through the accounts. Another important note is that the idea that Pentecost is the "birthday" of the Church is a misnomer. The birth of the Church occurred with the piercing of Jesus' side upon the cross. The Catechism of the Catholic Church makes this explicitly clear in paragraph 172 when it says, "As Eve was formed from the sleeping Adam's side, so the Church was born from the pierced heart of Christ hanging dead on the cross."
The Pentecost event is actually the manifestation of the Holy Spirit and of the Church to the world. "On the day of Pentecost when the seven weeks of Easter had come to an end, Christ's Passover is fulfilled in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, manifested, given, and communicated as a divine person: of his fullness, Christ, the Lord, pours out the Spirit in abundance. On that day, the Holy Trinity is fully revealed. Since that day, the Kingdom announced by Christ has been open to those who believe in him: in the humility of the flesh and in faith, they already share in the communion of the Holy Trinity. By his coming, which never ceases, the Holy Spirit causes the world to enter into the "last days," the time of the Church, the Kingdom already inherited though not yet consummated (CCC 731-732).
The First Reading
Our First Reading portrays Luke's account of the Pentecost event. In fact, it is from Luke's account that we even get the term Pentecost. Pentecost was a festival in Judaism that occurred 50 days after Passover. Luke portrays the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, and the coming of the Holy Spirit as three separate events spanning a 50 day period. He does this for theological reasons. Just as Jesus took 40 days to prepare for his mission to the world, he takes 40 days following his resurrection to prepare the disciples to take up his mission. The sending of the Holy Spirit is necessary if the disciples are to be successful in their endeavors.
Luke also draws strong parallels between the Pentecost event and other significant events from Hebrew Scriptures, namely the story of the tower of Babel and the theophany of God upon Mount Sinai. In the former parallel, we recall from the story of Babel how we sought to "make a name for ourselves" by building a city and a tower for our own glorification. In response, God struck down the tower and inflicted various languages upon the people. The people were left in a state of confusion and scattered as a result. In today's pericope from Luke, Luke tells us the Holy Spirit appeared to them as tongues of fire enabling the disciples to speak in different tongues. We hear how the crowd is confused by what they hear. But instead of scattering as they did during the time of Babel, they stand astounded and amazed. Instead of scattering to the four winds we hear how Jews from every nation have gathered around the house as one. They are now able to understand one another in their own languages. It is God's initiative, not ours that leads to our glorification.
With regards to the Sinai event, we hear in the Book of Exodus how God's presence was experienced through the wind and fire upon the mountain. The entire mountain was shaken to its core. In Luke's Pentecost account we hear how the entire house was filled with a strong wind and how the Spirit descended upon them as tongues of fire. The fire representing God's presence is significant as Luke is making the point that God's presence would now be made manifest in human language as the disciples break forth from the upper room to spread the Gospel message to every nation. This is very significant to our understanding of the Church. If the Pentecost event is an event that reveals or manifests the Church to the world and in that manifestation it is divinely revealed that God would continue to manifest himself in human language through his chosen disciples, then it should be clearly evident that the Church acts with divine authority when it preaches and teaches. This has always been understood since the time of the apostles and among the early Church Fathers.
The Pentecost event also demonstrates how the Church viewed itself and its mission in the first century relative to the Twelve Apostles. The Holy Spirit did not descend upon the Apostles alone. We hear how "they were all in one place together." Who were the "all" Luke refers to? They are the apostles, Mary, some other women, and other disciples numbering 120 persons (Acts 1:12-15). Luke makes it clear that the Church viewed itself as something larger than the Twelve. While the Twelve have a very specific and privileged role, the work of spreading the Gospel belongs to all the Baptized. Luke also notes that this all occurred "when the time for Pentecost was fulfilled." He makes it clear that this event is a part of Gods divine plan, which is further strengthed through its connection to the Sinai and Babel events.
The Second Reading
This passage from 1 Corinthians was in response to elitest members within the Church community who were espousing that those who possessed certain gifts of the Spirit were more important than who did not possess those gifts. Paul would have none of it. He emphatically states in his response that what is important is not the gift that the Spirit provides the person, but rather that the Spirit enables the person to confess Jesus as Lord! The gifts bestowed by the Spirit are at God's initiative and they are given to help the Christians profess Jesus as Lord in word and deed. The fact that the Spirit has gifted a person with a specific means to spread the Gospel message is what is important, not the gift itself.
Such divisive thoughts were not to be tolerated within any community, as they undermined the oneness of the community and prevented the Body of Christ from experiencing Christ's peace. This is an important message to hear on this feast day. We are all one regardless of how we have been gifted by God. Just as we heard in the first reading, the Holy Spirit is given to unite us as Church and make us one in Christ so that we may engage in full participation with Christ and his salvific work. We are all baptized into one body and we all share in the same Spirit for one purpose and one purpose alone, and that is to continue Christ's work of building the kingdom. The foundation of which must begin with us.
Take some time this week to identify your unique gifts and talents. Then spend some time pondering how you might use those gifts to love God and love others by creating "holy moments" where you serve both God and neighbor in love. That's how one builds the Church, grows in holiness, and spreads the Gospel.
Here we see John's account of the Pentecost event. For John, the resurrection and coming of the Spirit all occur on Easter Sunday. His account, like Luke's, notes that the Spirit came upon the "disciples" and not just the Apostles. However, John places greater emphasis on the implications of the Spirit's reception.
Jesus greets the disciples with the words, "Peace be with you." He utters these words twice. This was a powerful symbol that the Messianic Age had begun, for the Messianic Age (i.e., the final age) would be ushered in with peace. Then he imparts the Spirit upon those gathered. He does so by breathing upon them. This too is a powerful symbol, for just Luke connects the coming of the Holy Spirit to the biblical event of the Babel and the Exodus, John connects the coming of the Holy Spirit to the creation event. Just as God breathed physical life into human beings at creation, Jesus now breathes spiritual life into his disciples. For what purpose? So we can continue his mission of revealing the Father to the world and building God's kingdom. We are being sent, filled with the Spirit, just as Jesus was sent after having been filled with the Spirit in the desert.
John's account also holds a crucial lesson regarding the importance of forgiveness. While this passage is used by the Anglican and Catholic Churches as a testament to the establishment of the sacrament of Penance, John's purpose is something else entirely. We cannot establish or experience the Messianic Age unless we live in Christ's peace. If we fail to forgive one another due to the hardness of our hearts then we have created an obstacle to true peace and oneness within the community. We need to carry Christ's gift of Peace to the entire world, and doing so requires us to forgive those who trespass against us. Forgiveness is not optional for those who are disicples of Christ Jesus. Jesus makes that abundantly clear throughout the Gospels.
So the take away this week is one that we really need to contemplate and take to prayer because it has significant implications for us and how we live out our call to discipleship. Each of us has been gifted by the Spirit in specific ways for a specific purpose. Therefore we need to contemplate on just how we've been gifted so that we can begin to identify and understand why. Why has God given me these particular gifts and how can I use them to build his kingdom and for his glory? We also need to take a look at our relationships with others. Are some of our relationships fractured? Do we look upon the face of someone with resentment, pain, and hurt because of something that transpired between us? If so, then forgiveness is needed. In fact it is essential. Any hardness of heart that causes resentment towards another is an obstacle to the building of the kingdom and to our ability to reveal the Father's love to the world. Let's be honest about any resentment in our hearts. Do we really think we are capable of revealing the Father's love to someone who has wounded us in such a way if we cannot forgive them? Our inability to forgive just one person compromises our ability to live as intentional disciples of Christ Jesus. Pentecost might be the culmination of the Easter Season, but the real work for us has just begun.
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