May 31st Pentecost - Pastor's Column
This weekend we conclude the Easter season with the feast of Pentecost, fifty days after Passover. In so doing the church is following according to Pope St. John Paul II, our “elder brother in faith” (the Jewish people). The feast of Pentecost was a Jewish feast of new grain, new wine, the first fruits of the harvest. It was held fifty days after Passover, thus the (albeit Greek) name “Pentecost,” which means fifty. The book of Acts tells us that it was on this feast that Peter was emboldened by the Holy Spirit to speak to the Jewish pilgrims who had assembled in Jerusalem that day. As Luke tells it in Acts, it was on that day that the Spirit was given to the disciples and poured out onto the crowds who were listening to Peter preach. But our gospel reading is not from Acts (as it is not a gospel) nor is it from Luke (the author of Acts). Instead, we have a reading from the Gospel of John whereby Jesus gives the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The episode in the Gospel of John in this weekend’s reading [Jn 20: 19-23] happens on Easter Sunday evening. It is on that day that Jesus gives the disciples the gift of the Holy Spirit in a graphic, nearly sacramental way—by breathing on them. Jesus’ presence brought joy to the disciples whose spirits needed revivification after the tragic events that had so recently transpired.
Whether the handing on of the Spirit happened on Easter Sunday evening as John says, or on Pentecost as Luke says, the key theological point is that the Spirit was given to the early Christian community. The Spirit has been with the church, the community of disciples, ever since. In fact, the same spirit is alive in each of our congregations and parishes. Rather than a historical event trapped in the past, the handing on of the Spirit continues to happen quite regularly in the lives of believers, and that ultimately is what the feast of Pentecost celebrates: the presence of the Spirit in the lives of believers.
How many of us would like to have been present during the ministry of Jesus, or even during that of the early Christians? What would it have been like to hear the words of Peter at Pentecost? What would it have been like to have seen the risen Jesus and to have heard him say, “Peace be with you” before handing on the Holy Spirit? Yet, for those of us in the twenty-first century, we experience that same Holy Spirit. When we were baptized, we were given the gift of the Spirit, and then we were sealed by that same spirit in confirmation. The Holy Spirit lives in our parishes, families, friends, and relationships. Once we experience the dying and rising of Christ, we live in a newness of life accompanied and animated by the Holy Spirit. After he rose from the dead, Jesus gave his Holy Spirit to be with us. In our daily lives, let us allow ourselves to be guided by the Spirit of Christ, whose disciples we are.
As we gradually return to the public celebrations of the sacraments, lets think about the positive effects of our time in lock-down. How has the Holy Spirit alive within us, drawn us deeper in our faith, I know many have (and some will continue to) miss receiving communion. But we must remember that the Eucharist is so much more than “just receiving the consecrated host” at communion. Every element of what happens at Mass is essential to us whether its when we physically gather or virtually gather. God created humankind, not to live in isolation but to be social beings and as such meant for us to gather in community to support, encourage and love one another. I hope that as we slowly begin to return to a routine that’s more familiar to us that we don’t forget the things we learned we could live without, and continue to practice those things that we found/find lifegiving. I firmly believe that we will come out of these weeks of pandemic a stronger and better Church.
Stay well, stay safe, wash your hands!
Ad multos annos!
Fr. Bernard Starman