Today the Church throughout the world celebrates the great Solemnity of Pentecost. The first Christian Pentecost in Jerusalem was the beginning of the Church. On that day the Holy Spirit promised by Jesus descended on the Blessed Virgin Mary and the apostles. As a result of their being filled with the Spirit, the apostles began to preach salvation through Christ to their fellow Jews who were gathered in Jerusalem from throughout the known world to celebrate the festival of Shauvot (in Greek “Pentecost”). So powerful was their Spirit-filled preaching that 3,000 people came to faith and were baptized that very day (Acts 2:41).
The ability for each person to hear the apostles in his own language has traditionally been viewed as God lifting the curse of the confusion of languages. In the Bible, this curse was the result of the attempt to build a tower – the Tower of Babel – that reached to heaven, where God was thought to be (Gen 11:1-9). Of course, this assertion is theological, not historical. The theological point is that God desires all of humanity to be unified, to be a family, to be in communion. Communion not only requires but implies communication. The Holy Spirit is the way God communicates with us to bring us into communion with himself, with each other, and the rest of creation.
The Holy Spirit’s descent during the first Christian Pentecost marked the beginning of God’s re-creation of the world. According to the first creation account in Genesis, at its creation, the earth was covered with water (Gen 1:2). As a result of God's Spirit breathing on the waters, life emerged from its simplest forms to its most complex form, reaching its apex with human beings created in God’s image and likeness (Gen 1:27). Because it is what makes us human, the image of God that each and every person bears cannot be eradicated. Our likeness to God, however, is destroyed by sin. God seeks to restore us to his likeness through Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit coming upon Our Lady and the apostles like tongues of fire marks an important moment in salvation history. Pentecost is second in importance only to Christ’s resurrection. The dramatic descent of the Holy Spirit was only possible because of Christ’s resurrection and ascension. Hence, the first Christian Pentecost, which will last until Christ returns, is indispensable for God’s work of redemption.
The fruit of God’s redemptive work will be the restoration of the cosmos to the state of original grace. The state of original grace is perhaps best described as “communion.” By infusing us with the Holy Spirit, who is nothing other than the love between the Father and the Son personified, God calls us to be co-workers in his work of redemption. This is why we prayed a few moments ago when we sang the antiphon of our Responsorial Psalm: “Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.”
It is important to point out that the Blessed Virgin Mary, who is the Eve, or Mother, of God’s new creation, was among those upon whom the Holy Spirit fell. Due to her Immaculate Conception, she is the first fruit of God’s new creation. On 11 February of this year - the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes - Pope Francis inserted a new liturgical memorial on the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar: Blessed Virgin Mary Mother of the Church. This memorial is to be celebrated the Monday after Pentecost Sunday (Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Decree on the celebration of the Blessed Virgin Mary Mother of the Church in the General Roman Calendar).
The decree announcing this new memorial points to the Church’s Tradition by noting that St Augustine “says that Mary is the mother of the members of Christ, because with charity she cooperated in the rebirth of the faithful into the Church” (Ibid). It also points to the teaching of Pope St Leo the Great, who observed: “the birth of the Head is also the birth of the body, thus indicating that Mary is at once Mother of Christ, the Son of God, and mother of the members of his Mystical Body, which is the Church” (Ibid).
The effect of Pentecost on Our Lady was that she came to know all those things the inspired author of Luke’s Gospel, who also wrote the Acts, tells us she reflected on “in her heart” (Luke 2:19). As Jesus told his disciples in our Gospel today, when the Holy Spirit comes “he will guide you to all truth” (John 16:13).
Because “in view of the merits of Jesus Christ,” Our Lady was conceived without sin and remained sinless, she never forfeited her likeness to God (Pope Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus [The Immaculate Conception]). Because of her sinlessness, Mary is the model Christian disciple. Our Blessed Mother is the “ecclesia immaculata,” the Church immaculate, or holy (Hans Urs Von Balthasar, Mary for Today, 39). She makes “up to completion and perfection what we have done incompletely and imperfectly” (Ibid., 41). Our Blessed Mother’s perfection was the result of her being filled with the Holy Spirit and so we pray- Veni Sancte Spiritus, Veni per Mariam, or “Come Holy Spirit, Come through Mary.”
Like the 20 young women and men of our parish at last evening’s Pentecost Vigil Mass, when you were confirmed, you were infused with the same Spirit that came upon the Blessed Virgin and the apostles at the first Christian Pentecost. It is in our reading from St Paul’s First Letter the Corinthians that we find the “so what” of today’s great celebration. In this passage, the apostle is insistent that the Spirit produces spiritual gifts in everyone to whom he is given: “To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit” (1 Cor 12:6-7). Therefore, how we can convincingly say “Jesus is Lord” is by putting ourselves, our Spirit-given gifts, at the service of the Gospel.
It would've been inconceivable to the earliest Christians that someone could profess Jesus as Lord without visibly producing the fruits of the Spirit. “The Holy Spirit is the mode [or way] of Jesus’ resurrection presence to the world” (Luke Timothy Johnson, Living Jesus: Learning the Heart of the Gospel, 15). In and through this Eucharist, like the Blessed Virgin Mary, Christ desires to be present in you and through you.
Christ dwells in you in order to work through you in creating the world anew. As St Paul insists in his Second Letter to the Corinthians: “whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Cor 5:17). God, the apostle continues, “… has reconciled us to himself through Christ” and has “given us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor 5:18).
If you are filled with the Spirit, like our Blessed Mother and the others who were Spirit-infused during the Church’s founding event, then every day is Pentecost, every day is the day to proclaim, “Jesus is Lord!” Because the Holy Spirit is the love of the Father for the Son and the love of the Son for the Father personified, you tap into his power whenever you love God with your whole being by loving your neighbor as you love yourself. You love your neighbor by putting your Spirit-given gifts at her service for the sake of the Gospel.
Love is passionate, not passive. Love is the universal language understood by all. They will know that we are Christians by our love.