Pentecost Sunday
May 11, 2008
Readings: Acts 2:1-11 / 1 Cor 12:3b-7,12-13 /Jn 20:19-23

Reading 1 (Acts 2:1-11)

When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were.
Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit
and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem. At this sound, they gathered in a large crowd, but they were confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language.
They were astounded, and in amazement they asked, “Are not all these people who are speaking Galileans? Then how does each of us hear them in his native language? We are Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia,
Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene, as well as travelers from Rome,both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs, yet we hear them speaking in our own tongues of the mighty acts of God.”

Responsorial Psalm (Ps 104:1, 24, 29-30, 31, 34)

R. Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth
Bless the LORD, O my soul!
O LORD, my God, you are great indeed!
How manifold are your works, O Lord!
the earth is full of your creatures;
R. Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth
May the glory of the LORD endure forever;
may the LORD be glad in his works!
Pleasing to him be my theme;
I will be glad in the LORD.
R. Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth
If you take away their breath, they perish
and return to their dust.
When you send forth your spirit, they are created,
and you renew the face of the earth.
R. Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth

Reading II (1 Cor 12:3b-7, 12-13)

Brothers and sisters:
No one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.
There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit;
there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.
As a body is one though it has many parts,
and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body,
so also Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body,
whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons,
and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.

Gospel (Jn 20:19-23)

On the evening of that first day of the week,
when the doors were locked, where the disciples were,
for fear of the Jews,
Jesus came and stood in their midst
and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side.
The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you.
As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them,
“Receive the Holy Spirit.
Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them,
and whose sins you retain are retained.”


Filling, pouring, kindling, sending, and living – all action words – dot today’s liturgical and verbal landscape. “The Spirit of the Lord fills the whole world … The love of God has been poured into our hearts by his spirit living in us … Come, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love.” There is no mistaking it … Pentecost has to do with roaring action.

We’ve had enough of all that pious talk about today, Pentecost Sunday, being “the birthday of the Church.” (Somewhat inappropriately, some priests I know even go so far as to make people sing “Happy Birthday” in church, during, before, or after the homily, just as these same priests do during the feast of Our Lady’s nativity every Sept. 8!). We might ask ourselves: “what’s so exciting about celebrating a birthday?” After all, for well over two thousand years, we have been celebrating this “birthday” year in and year out.

I am afraid, that, by focusing on the celebration, we run the risk of missing the real spirit of today’s solemnity.

Pentecost is all about action, rather than celebration. As our readings today show, Pentecost has to do with God manifesting Himself in concrete signs. “And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were” (1st Reading). Pentecost is all about movement. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” (Jn 20:19-23).

But as the same readings for today show, there is more to Pentecost than mere action and movement. All that action is motivated by passion, by a mysterious force and strength that comes from above. That passion shines through in God’s choice of images with which He revealed Himself: a strong wind along with flames. “There appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them.” That same passion shines out in proclamation: “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 12:3b). Action and passion meld and jell, and spill over into dedication to God’s own passion – His predilection for the least, the last, the lowest, and the lost sinners that He has come to save. “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”

Forgiveness, that which God has gifted us in Christ our Lord, is a divine activity. It is the virtue of the strong, of the powerful, of the brave. Forgiveness is not human, for the world of nature revolves around the principle of retribution. Destroy trees and denude forests, and nature strikes back, as our recent history of “natural calamities” show! Forgiveness is supra-human. It comes as a gift, first of all, from above. It comes as part of the package of supra-human gifts that we, as members of the Church, received along with the supreme gift of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost day.

Two Sundays back, the 6th Sunday of Easter, the liturgy reminded us of one important promise from the Risen Lord. We were told never to be afraid, for someone will come to stand by us, with us, and speak on our behalf: “I will not leave you orphans … I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth …”(Jn 14:15-21)

Today, we celebrate this promise come true on Pentecost day. We celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit as our comforter, consoler, and counselor. But this celebration goes beyond singing a silly Happy Birthday song. A celebration that does not spill over into action remains on the level of commemoration. A commemoration that does not bloom into dedicated action that springs from a divine commission does not lead to salvation.

It is this divine commission and the Church’s commitment to action-cum-passion that make Pentecost day become what it is meant to be. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you. Receive the Holy Spirit.” It is this reality of the church’s being gifted, empowered, and sent forth that ought to take center stage in our thoughts and reflections for today.

The coming of the Holy Spirit, as Scriptures tell us today, was not meant to produce a mere static gathering of gifted people. The celebration of Pentecost was not meant to be a mere convocation of people who reveled in their giftedness. No… Giftedness comes with empowerment. And being gifted and empowered entailed a responsibility. And that responsibility was to go forth, and facilitate the fulfillment of the messianic vision of the great gathering together of all nations and peoples, as seems clear in the greeting of the Lord that was filled with messianic undertones: “Peace be with you … Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” The disciples were being commissioned to go forth and proclaim salvation and judgment. “Whose sins you forgive, are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”

Forgiveness is a supra-human activity. It entails a supra-human power. It can only happen if we see ourselves as empowered from above, empowered by God in the Spirit. “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them …”

It is in this light that I see supernatural power from above that made it possible for the character of Sylvia Broome in the movie “The Interpreter” that, in turn, made it possible for her to resolve her grief, and her natural tendency to exact revenge. Alone by our lonesome, pusillanimous human selves, without the gift of power from above, it is impossible to forgive, impossible to love the unlovable, and the utterly despicable. We all know what it means to be treated unfairly, even unjustly, and/or cruelly. We all know what it feels to be downtrodden, to be hit hard even when you’re down. We all know what it means to hit rock bottom, and be alone in the dark basement of disappointment and despair. At such times, we can easily identify with Sylvia Broome, who, earlier in the story tells Tobey Keller, who was sent to both investigate her and guard her: “Everyone who loses someone wants revenge on someone, if no person, God.” Having lost all her loved ones to the whims of a tyrannical and cruel dictator, all she could most naturally think of doing, were it not for that supra-human power from above, would be to exact sweet revenge. Obviously, her utter grief was tearing her moral fibers to smithereens, and her statement “vengeance is a lazy form of grief,” could have been something that at least initially, she probably was not fully convinced of. At the end, having that singular chance to exact the perfect revenge against the tyrant, what she could not have done from her purely human powers alone, she was finally able to do, thus giving reality to her other earlier statement: “The only way to end the grief is to save a life.”

Today, Pentecost day, the Lord calls us to task. Frightened and disheartened disciples, upon receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit, went out in full force and became “disciples-in-mission,” commissioned and committed to action with the full passion of their Christian conviction. We are called to no less than this passionate dedication to action on behalf of evangelization.

Our mission, of course, quite unlike that of Sylvia Broome, is not just to resolve a personal grief. With the Risen Christ having finally fulfilled what was promised from of old, with the Spirit sent from above, with him now seated at the Father’s right hand, with the Comfoter, Consoler, and Counselor standing by us, the world is charged with divine power and limitless energy. Ours now is the task to share in this power and allow it to “renew the face of the earth” (Responsorial Psalm).

Gifted now and empowered, we are also sent forth to proclaim salvation and mediate forgiveness, to save not just a life, but to work “so that all might have life, and have it abundantly” (Jn 10:10).