Psalm 104: 1, 24, 29-31, 34
1 Corinthians 12:3-7, 12-13
Today we gather to celebrate a feast that has roots dating back well over 3000 years. That’s right 3000. We often forget that our Catholic faith didn’t just spring up out of nowhere but instead is firmly rooted in – and is the fulfillment of – the Jewish faith until the time of Christ. Our architecture, worship, teachings, are all intimately tied together. In Jewish life Pentecost was a day that God marked out seven weeks after Passover (50 days is what Pentecost indicates) for the people to turn to Him in thanksgiving for the fruits of the earth that had grown in the recent weeks. In like style, our Christian faith also turns to God 50 days after the New Passover of Easter and gives thanks to God once more, not for earthly fruits but for the fruit of the Holy Spirit who has made His dwelling among us.
In liturgical observance, we often think that the two most important feasts of the year are Christmas and Easter, but the truth is that Pentecost is more important that Christmas. It makes sense that Easter is first in rank because that is the day when Jesus conquered sin and death and opened the gates of Heaven for us. Without Easter, we all go to Hell. That’s why we sing ALLELUIA just about every other word during the Easter Vigil and all throughout the Easter season. But as we know, things didn’t just stop at Easter. The Lord Ascended into Heavenly glory, which we celebrated last weekend, and sent among us the gift of the Holy Spirit. What would have happened, you think, if Jesus gave us the great commission to baptize the nations and teach them to do all He had commanded and didn’t give us any help in carrying it out? I bet the gates of hell would have prevailed against the Church before Peter had every stepped foot out of the upper room! Without the Holy Spirit coming to us, we are as good as dead. We have no hope of doing anything good or holy because we wouldn’t have He who is holiness itself in our hearts. Pentecost means we are not alone. God is with us! Even in our very heart!
The fact that the Spirit is with us means that we are now able to carry out the mission begun by Jesus. That mission was basically to draw all of humanity to the Father. Jesus is like a big magnet who seeks to draw all people to Himself and hoist us up into the Trinitarian embrace of Love; it was about uniting us all together and going as one body to God the Father.
In the Vigil Mass yesterday we heard recounted the story of Babel from Genesis; that ancient story that explains the division of peoples. The story explains that everyone initially spoke the same language and in their pride they sought to make a name for themselves, saying, “otherwise we shall be scattered over all the earth.” They relied upon themselves rather than trusting that God wanted to do great things for them if they were humble. It was pride. Adam and Eve were the first but certainly not the last to commit it. And because they relied upon themselves rather than the Lord, they were made to speak different languages and scattered over all the earth, just as they had sought to avoid. Sin and self-seeking sows division.
In our first reading today we hear in the Acts of the Apostles that the disciples were gathered together in one place. This is significant because during the Passion of Christ they were all scattered and went their own way. But as they began to reflect afterward, they began thinking about the Lord and the promises that He had made and each began to come back to that place where Christ wanted to show them His power. They focused not on themselves but on God and were naturally drawn into union – all in the same place.
So if the mission of Jesus was to bring about unity in the world and to bring us together as one body before the Father, how are we doing? What ways are you and I actively promoting unity in our community and in the larger Church?
I can think of three ways to help us in this task: conversion of heart, thinking in the plural, and highlighting the good.
In the Gospel we just heard the Lord Jesus gave the power to forgive sins to the disciples. This was the first thing He did after the Resurrection, so that means it is of the utmost importance. Are we taking advantage of that gift? In order to build up unity and draw others to God, we must first be drawn to Him ourselves. Christ is calling us to come to reconciliation and experience the forgiveness of sins that takes away all barriers between us and the Lord and makes us conduits of grace for Him to work to reach others. A practical schedule that all of us ought to keep is to make a good confession at least once a month, to attend Mass at least once a week, and to spend time in prayer at least once a day. It is easy to find reasons not to do those things in that schedule, but if you do, you won’t regret it.
The second step is thinking in the plural. Our first step is to encounter Jesus and have the ‘me & Jesus’ moment that continually changes our hearts, but we cannot stop there. If my whole spiritual journey is ‘me & Jesus’ then our journey will end not at the pearly gates but the fire pit because our faith necessary requires us to reach out to others. ‘Whatever you do for the least of these you do to me’ means that we have to think of others and put the needs of others before our own sometimes. The perfect prayer given by Jesus reminds us of that same fact in that it begins ‘OUR Father’. We have to think not I/Me/My but Us/We/Ours and to do our best to work for the good of all and not just what benefits us most in the moment.
The third thing is to highlight the good. A couple of years ago Fr. Ronal Knott gave our continuing education conference for the priests and he was talking about factions and rifts among clergy and how easy it is to talk bad about other priests. He then challenged us not simply to avoid bad-mouthing brother priests, but to actually do some good-mouthing. That struck me because 1) is good-mouthing even a word?! And 2) how difficult is it to say something positive about others who you may not like?! All of us are members of the Body of Christ and have spiritual gifts and strengths, and even those who aren’t part of the Body of Christ yet still have some gift that builds up the world around them. Are we willing not just to avoid saying bad but to actually emphasize good things about others? To point out places where we agree rather than disagree? To list strengths and improvements instead of weaknesses and failures? We are all part of the same Body. Why not rejoice in the good that each part does and so spur the whole body forward to the glory that awaits us?
To celebrate Pentecost is not just to recall an event that happened 2000 years ago. It is to realize that the Spirit lives in us even today and seeks to continue the saving mission of Jesus in uniting all people to the Father. We have a mission and, thanks be to God, we have the gift of the Spirit to strengthen us in it. So let us thank the Lord for His love shown to us and to pray that we might be drawn ever more closely to God and many others with us.