Sunday, May 27, 2012
Receive the Holy Spirit (John 20:22)
Today is the feast of Pentecost. Are we Pentecostal? During the Italian occupation of Ethiopia in the days of Mussolini, Christian believers suffered considerable persecution. In his book, Fire on the Mountains, Raymond Davis tells of the love demonstrated by believers for each other during this period of affliction, which in turn made a major impression on unbelievers.For example, no provision was made to feed the prisoners in jail by the invading army. This was the responsibility of relatives and friends. Christians in the prisons had no problem, though. They were well cared for by friends and family. In fact, so much food was brought to them by fellow believers and church groups that enough remained to feed the unbelieving prisoners also. This observable love, vibrant though nonverbal, brought many to seek the Lord. Such love was previously unheard of. As a result the word spread far and wide. Nonbelievers sought out believers to learn more about the Christian faith. When prisoners who had come to know Christ while in jail were released, they went back home and attended the nearest church. It is only right, then, that we should pray that we might be a “Pentecostal church,” if we understands what that means.
The word Pentecost is Greek for pentecostes which means “fiftieth.” The feast received this name because it was celebrated fifty days after the Feast of the Passover. It is celebrated by Jews as well as Christians. Another name for the Jewish Pentecost is Shebuot or "The Feast of Weeks." It was originally a day of thanksgiving celebrated seven weeks after the beginning of the harvesting for the completion of the harvest.
The Christian Pentecost marks the end and the goal of the Easter season. For Christians, it is a memorial of the day the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles and the Virgin Mary in the form of fiery tongues, an event that took place fifty days after the resurrection of Jesus. The Paschal mystery of the Passion, the Death, the Resurrection, and the Ascension of Jesus is completed in the sending of the Holy Spirit by the Father at the request of the Son upon his disciples. The feast also commemorates the official inauguration of the Christian Church by St. Peter’s apostolic preaching, which resulted in the conversion of 3000 Jews to the Christian faith. Pentecost is thus the official birthday of the Church.
Today’s Scripture readings remind us that Pentecost is an event of both the past and the present. The main theme of today’s readings is that the gift of the Holy Spirit moves its recipients to action and inspires them to share this gift with others. The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 2:1-11) describes in detail the miraculous transformation that took place during the first Pentecost, thus fulfilling Jesus’ promise to his apostles. The first manifestation of their reception of the Holy Spirit came when the apostles began to proclaim the good news of Jesus, and everyone there (regardless of their many different native languages), was able to understand them “in his own tongue.” The Jews in the crowds came from sixteen different geographical regions. The miracle of tongues on Pentecost thus reverses the confusion of tongues wrought by God at the Tower of Babel, as described in Genesis 11.
In the second reading (I Cor 12:3-7, 12-13), St. Paul explains how the sharing of the various spiritual gifts of the Holy Spirit enriches the Church. He refers to the varieties of gifts given to the church as coming from the same Spirit who activates all of them in Christians for the common good. They are described as gifts, fruits and charisms of the Spirit. They may take different forms like prophecy, teaching, administration, acts of charity, healing and so on. Paul insists that these spiritual gifts are to be used in the present time for the benefit of others, for the common good and for the building up of the body of Christ.
Today’s gospel relates how the risen Jesus entrusted his apostles with the continuance of the mission given him by his heavenly Father as well as the authority to forgive sins. “Receive the Holy Spirit. For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained.” These wonderful words which bind together inseparably the presence of the Holy Spirit and the gift of forgiveness are referred to directly in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. But they have a much wider meaning. Those words indicate the power we are all given of being the agents of forgiveness in the world of today, which is often fiercely judgmental and vengeful.
We need to constantly remind ourselves that we are the temples of the Holy Spirit. We ought to cultivate the spirit of forgiveness. Today’s feast offers us the chance of looking at the role which forgiveness should play in our dealings with others. Thus, we are challenged to examine our sense of compassion, patience, tolerance and magnanimity. Learning to forgive is a lifelong task, but the Holy Spirit is with us to make us agents of forgiveness. If we are prepared on this day of Pentecost to receive the Holy Spirit into our lives, we can have confidence that our lives will be marked by the Spirit of forgiveness.
Pentecost is not just one day, but an everyday choice. Just as without breath, life ceases to exist so also without the Spirit, the church is a field of dry, dead bones. 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. Right now, stop and take a few deep breaths. In your mind, imagine yourself breathing in the Spirit and breathing out your sin. Picture your¬self accepting the Lord and his plans, and letting go of your own plans and visions. Know that what you are breathing in is pure, holy, and intoxi¬cating. Jesus has great plans for every member of his church. And that includes you. Now let us fervently repeat St. Augustine’s Holy Spirit prayer:
Breathe in me, O Holy Spirit,
That my thoughts may all be holy;
Act in me, O Holy Spirit,
That I love but what is holy;
Strengthen me, O Holy Spirit,
To defend all that is holy;
Guard me, then, O Holy Spirit,
That I may always be holy. Amen.