Sunday, May 24, 2015

Year B Pentecost

Readings: Acts 2:1-11; Ps 104:1.24.29-31.34; 1 Cor 12:3b-7.12-13; John 20:19-23

Very often when we think about the major observances of the liturgical year we recognize Easter and Christmas as very important. Beyond that many of us might be a little puzzled about how other solemnities and feasts rank in order of importance. This is why I think it is necessary to point out that there is no more important Christian observance than Easter, which means there is no more important liturgy than the Easter Vigil, which marks the conclusion of the three-day long liturgy that is the Triduum.

While you can’t have one without the other, Easter trumps Christmas, but so do Ascension and Pentecost. The first Christian Pentecost marked the beginning of the Church, the age of the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit came upon the Blessed Virgin Mary and the apostles in the upper room, appearing to them as tongues of fire, and filling them to overflowing, they responded by preaching the Gospel, what we call the kerygma, which is a Greek word for the original proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

If we read Acts 2 further than the ending of our first reading, we learn from Peter’s proclamation the original kerygma, which remains the fundamental message of the Church: “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).

It is correct to speak of “the first Christian Pentecost” because Pentecost was originally a Jewish feast, which is why there were Jews from all over the known world in Jerusalem, who became hearers of Peter’s Spirit-filled preaching. “Pentecost” is the Greek name for the Jewish feast of Shavu'ot, also known as the Festival of Weeks. What Jews commemorate during the Festival of Weeks is God giving the Torah to Moses on Mount Sinai (Ex 31:18).

Properly speaking, as Christians, we are not a “People of the Book.” Rather, we are the people of the resurrected and risen Lord, empowered by the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who makes us what St Augustine insisted we are - an Easter people, the people of “Alleluia!” As the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, set forth: “God gathered together as one all those who in faith look upon Jesus as the author of salvation and the source of unity and peace, and established them as the Church that for each and all it may be the visible sacrament of this saving unity” (par 9). In other words, Jesus did not write a book. He established the Church, which is to be a Spirit-filled community that persists in time and space until He returns. In other words, we were not given a written law, but hearts filled with the Holy Spirit, who is the personification of the love between the Father and the Son, with whom He is “adored and glorified.”

In his Second Letter to the Corinthians (2 Cor 3:7-8), St Paul asked, “Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, was so glorious that the Israelites could not look intently at the face of Moses because of its glory that was going to fade, how much more will the ministry of the Spirit be glorious?”

Grasping the identity, the “personhood,” of the Holy Spirit is very difficult. Therefore, it is helpful to keep in mind, “The Holy Spirit is the mode of Jesus’ resurrection presence” in us and among us (Luke Timothy Johnson, Living Jesus 15). In other words the Holy Spirit is the way Jesus remains present in the world between His Ascension and His glorious return. It is the Holy Spirit who makes the sacraments, the Church Herself being a sacrament.

There is a part of the Eucharistic Prayer we call the epiclesis. The word epiclesis is a Greek word meaning “to call down.” The epiclesis sounds something like this: “Make holy, therefore, these gifts, we pray, by sending down your Spirit upon them like the dewfall, so that they may become for us the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

More than words, the world needs witnesses of the new life that only Christ can give, the life we have received in Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist, the life that is restored, resurrected, in the Sacrament of Penance. This life is communicated to us by the Holy Spirit through the mediation of the sacraments. We are not given the Holy Spirit simply for ourselves, to keep and bury like the chastised recipient of the single talent. We are given the Holy Spirit to empower us to communicate Jesus to others, by loving them selflessly. Archbishop Wester came last Sunday, which was Ascension Sunday, and administered the Sacrament of Confirmation to 17 members of our Eucharistic community. We should see this as our participation in and extension of the first Christian Pentecost.

Being sent is what makes the Church, makes us, apostolic. As recipients of the same Spirit that came down upon the Blessed Virgin Mary, St Peter, and the other disciples, we are sent to proclaim the same message, the same Paschal mystery, which is the mystery of faith – “Save us, Saviour of the world; for by your Cross and Resurrection, you have set us free.”

If the Holy Spirit is the mode, or the way, Jesus remains present in the world, then, in a similar way, we are the mode, or the way of the Holy Spirit. It’s important to point out that we don’t only, or even most convincingly, bear witness to Christ by our strengths, by our trying to highlight how good, obedient, or righteous we are. This method of communicating the Gospel, in addition to being joyless, often leads to a lot pretense, a lot of genuine hypocrisy.

We must be honest and realize that it is almost always more effective to bear witness that there is Someone who is greater than sin and death by our weakness rather than by our strength. As Msgr Luigi Giussani noted, “God was moved by our betrayal, by our crude, forgetful, and treacherous poverty, by our pettiness.” Giussani went on to insist that it is precisely this that “the Church brings to the world, and certainly not because of its members’ merit, goodness, or even less because of their coherence: God’s compassion for our pettiness [is infinitely] greater than our limitations.” “If we don’t start from here,” he warned, “we cannot understand at all; everything goes mad, literally.” Let’s be mindful of the Lord’s words to St Paul, which were spoken in response to the apostle’s plea to remove some unspecified weakness or defect, which he called “a thorn in the flesh” - “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9).

My sisters and brothers, every Sunday is Easter, every Sunday is Ascension, and every Sunday is Pentecost- this is the mysterium fidei in which we participate. Hence, every Sunday, even Sundays during Lent, we gather together and say, “Lord, send out your Spirit, and, through us, renew the face of the earth.”

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