Sunday, May 19, 2013

Pentecost: the "moment when the truth is reached and spoken"

Today is Pentecost, the day we mark the founding of the Church. Pentecost, which is also the Jewish observance of Shavuot, commemorating God's giving the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai, comes 50 days after Easter, or 50 days after Passover for Jews.

At the first Christian Pentecost the Paschal Mystery was brought to completion. We say, write, and hear the term "Paschal Mystery" very often. In the end is a shorthand way of referring to Jesus' life, death, resurrection, ascension, and the descent of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is the way Jesus Christ remains present in us and through us until He returns to definitively establish the reign of God. This is why we read (in one of the options for our second reading) from, St. Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians, "No one can say, 'Jesus is Lord,' except by the Holy Spirit" (1 Cor. 12:3b). Now, one can certainly utter the words "Jesus is Lord" and not mean it, or even do it in a mocking way. What the apostle notes here is that no one can truly acknowledge Jesus as Lord except by the Holy Spirit. We see this even during Jesus' ministry.

On the road the Twelve, in route to Caesarea Philippi, when asked by Jesus who he says the man from Nazareth is, Peter confesses that He is Lord and Messiah (Matt. 16:16). Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father" (Matt. 16:17).

So we can say that to acknowledge Jesus as Lord requires a revelation. Revelation means an unveiling. It is not something that comes from above, but happens in the here and now. Explaining the rationale for writing his book At the Origin of the Christian Claim, Msgr. Luigi Giussani wrote- "I have tried to show the evidence for the reasonableness with which we attach ourselves to Christ, and then are led by the experience of the encounter with His humanity to the great question about His divinity. What makes us grow and broadens our mind is not abstract reasoning, but finding in humanity a moment when the truth is reached and spoken."

The first Pentecost was truly a moment of encounter, a moment when the truth was reached and spoken, which is why Peter said, "God raised this Jesus; of this we are all witnesses. Exalted at the right hand of God, he received the promise of the holy Spirit from the Father and poured it forth, as you (both) see and hear" (Acts 2:32-33). The response was overwhelming, resulting in "about three thousand persons" accepting Peter's message and receiving baptism (Acts 2:41).

Building from this, Fr. Julián Carrón adds that "what broadens reason so as to enable it to recognize Christ is not abstract reasoning, but rather the correspondence between man and Christ, which is realized in a real, historical encounter in the present." According to Carrón, it is this encounter in the present (i.e., something that happens to us) that "makes the journey of faith simple."

Fr. Carrón also notes what happens "when this encounter does not take place"– "Christianity is reduced to a discourse, to a doctrine, to morality." As a result, our humanity is reduced. Further, "man and Christ find themselves totally opposed to each other, with a deep chasm of estrangement between them."

Hence, the Father sends the Holy Spirit to breach this chasm.

Loosen our tongues to sing your praise
in words beyond the power of speech,
for without the Spirit
man could never raise his voice in words of peace
or announce the truth that Jesus is Lord (from the Alternative Prayer for Morning Prayer)

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