30 May 2009

Dominica Pentecosten -- Pentecost Sunday

Acts 2:1-11
, a Jewish festival mandated by the Law of Moses is the root of the Christian celebration of Pentecost. Shavuot commemorates the day when on Mount Sinai the Torah was given to the Jewish people. In Scripture it is called the "festival of weeks" (cf. Exodus 34:22 & Deuteronomy 16:10). It is also labeled the "feast of the harvest" (cf. Exodus 23:16) and the "day of firstfruits" (cf. Numbers 28:26). Pentecost or "Pentekoste," the transliterated word from the Greek, means "the fiftieth" and is linked to Shavuot because Pentecost arrives fifty days after Easter, although literally celebrated on the forty-ninth day; and Shavuot recalls the Torah being given on Mount Sinai fifty days after Israel's departure from the land of Egypt. It is actually during Shavuot "when the time for Pentecost was fulfilled".

Blessed Columba Marmion wrote: "The Holy Spirit appeared under the form of tongues of fire in order to fill the apostles with truth and to prepare them to bear witness to Jesus. He also came to fill their hearts with love. He is the Person of Love in the life of God. He is also like a breath, an aspiration of infinite Love, from which we draw the breath of life. On the day of Pentecost the Divine Spirit communicated such an abundance of life to the whole Church that to symbolize it 'there came a sound from heaven, as of a violent wind coming, and it filled the whole house where they [the apostles] were sitting.' The Holy Spirit came to remain with the Church forever. This is the promise of Jesus Himself. He dwells in the Church permanently and unfailingly, performing in it without ceasing, His action of life-giving and sanctification. He establishes the Church infallibly in the truth. It is He Who makes the Church blossom forth with a marvelous supernatural fruitfulness, for He brings to life and full fruition in Virgins, Martyrs, Confessors, those heroic virtues which are one of the marks of true sanctity" (Les Mysteres du Rosaire). To expound a little on Blessed Columba's thoughts about the tongues of fire preparing the apostles to bear witness to Jesus, the image of tongues perhaps more specifically points to the power that would be prevalent in the apostles' preaching. Also coming to mind is a statement made by Saint John the Baptist: "He [Christ] will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire" (Luke 3:16).

Our liturgical text reads that the tongues "parted" which means that before the parting they were together indicating the unity the Holy Spirit would give to the Church; and then by parting intimates the dispersion of the Good News to all nations and peoples. The universality of the Church is revealed by the many nations and languages present and yet all understanding the proclamations "of the mighty acts of God".

Acts 1:14 indicates that the Blessed Virgin Mary was present in the Upper Room. If there was ever a time the ancient world needed a mother's assurance and love, this was it. Jesus is no longer physically present to the apostles. It was surely a stressful time; but they were all "persevering with one mind in prayer" (Acts 1:14). Perhaps it was the Blessed Virgin Mary who opened their hearts to prayer. She did, after all, exemplify trust in God at the Annunciation: "Behold the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me according to your word" (Luke 1:38).

Pope John Paul II shared these words: "In the atmosphere of expectation that prevailed in the Upper Room after the Ascension, what was Mary's position in relation to the descent of the Holy Spirit? Having already had a unique experience of the effectiveness of such a gift, the Blessed Virgin was in a condition to appreciate it more than anyone; indeed, she owed her Motherhood to the mysterious intervention of the Spirit, Who had made her the way by which the Savior came into the world. Unlike those in the Upper Room who were waiting in fearful expectation, she, fully aware of the importance of her Son's promise to the disciples, helped the community to be well disposed to the coming of the Paraclete. Thus, while her unique experience made her ardently long for the Spirit's coming, it also involved her in preparing the minds and hearts of those around her. It was appropriate that the first out pouring of the Spirit upon her, which had happened in view of her divine Motherhood, should be repeated and reinforced. Indeed, at the foot of the Cross Mary was entrusted with a new Motherhood, which concerned Jesus' disciples. It was precisely this mission that demanded a renewed gift of the Spirit. The Blessed Virgin therefore wanted it for the fruitfulness of her spiritual Motherhood. While at the moment of the Incarnation the Holy Spirit had descended upon her as a person called to take part worthily in the great mystery, every thing is now accomplished for the sake of the Church, whose Image, Model and Mother Mary is called to be. Thus Pentecost is also a fruit of the Blessed Virgin's incessant prayer, which is accepted by the Paraclete with special favor because it is an expression of her Motherly love for the Lord's disciples. Responding to the prayer of the Blessed Virgin and the community gathered in the Upper Room on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit bestows the fullness of His gifts on the Blessed Virgin and those present, working a deep transformation in them for the sake of spreading the Good News. The Mother of Christ and His disciples are granted new strength and new apostolic energy for the Church's growth" (L'Osservatore Romano, June 4, 1997).

1 Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13
What Saint Paul is trying to impress upon us is that "different kinds of spiritual gifts" or "different forms of service" or "different workings" should not cause division. We are a great diversity of people called to unity. The physical body and its "many parts" is useful imagery for trying to understand the mystical body. Saint Paul uses the word "different" three times in this short Reading. We are all different – in fact, we are all unique. No two people are exactly the same. God produces spiritual gifts in each of us and calls us to service for the sake of the entire mystical body.

Saint Ambrose very directly taught: "Recall then that you have received the spiritual seal, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of right judgment and courage, the spirit of knowledge and reverence, the spirit of holy fear in God's Presence. Guard what you have received. God the Father has marked you with His sign; Christ the Lord has confirmed you and has placed His pledge, the Spirit, in your hearts" (De mysteriis). The need to guard anything suggests that it could escape or be taken away.

Our Savior tells us that whosoever shall drink of the water which He gives, it shall become a well of water springing up unto everlasting life (cf. John 4:14). Saint Paul tells us in the Reading that this drink is the Spirit. Once again, Saint Ambrose continues with that thought and adds: "This well is clearly the grace of the Spirit, a stream proceeding from the living Fount. The Holy Spirit, then, is also the Fount of eternal life" (ibid.).

John 20:19-23
Our Lord's appearance through locked doors might seem like forced entry and thus incompatible with Love. But God knows our hearts, therefore, our Savior not only loves with a boundless love all those who are on the other side of the door, but He also knows that they love Him and it is out of fear that the doors are locked. In the spiritual life perhaps there are aspects of it in which we have locked the doors of our hearts. Sacramentally, here are some common things that are said: "I can't go to Confession and tell Father what I have done – what will he think of me?" Or, "The priest is just a man, what do I need him for? Can't I just go directly to God?!"

Back in 1947 there was a rather humorous movie titled: "Life with Father". The film centers on a turn of the century upper-class family in New York. The eccentric husband and his wife are the parents of five sons. It is discovered early on in the film that the father had never been baptized. From that point on his family keeps gnawing at him to get baptized even though he is dead set against it. In the end when he finally agrees or actually is kind of tricked into it, as the mother gathers up her five children in order for the family to hop on a horse and carriage and head off to church to get their father baptized, the father asks somewhat angrily, "Must the children witness this indignity?"

The sacraments were instituted by our Savior; and as far as entertaining thoughts of: "There must be another way," only Jesus knows. Even the father in the film in his wishful thinking boldly said: "They can't keep me out of heaven on a technicality!" All we know by means of Scripture and Tradition is how Jesus architected the dispersing of grace and our Lord's specific design for Reconciliation is revealed in this Gospel: "Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained." When adult baptism is seen as undignified or the many excuses that arise for avoiding Confession, perhaps it is a sign that there are hearts with locked doors. And it doesn't mean that God is loved less because of our excuses or fears of embarrassment or the fear of emptying ourselves to a priest.

The more attention that one gives to the spiritual life, the more one realizes that we're all in a war zone. The battle for the human soul is waged all around us nonstop. The third chapter of the Book of Genesis tells us that the serpent is the craftiest of all; and original sin has already inflicted us with a disease that is adamant about being in control of everything ourselves. Knowing that, it's quite convenient for the serpent to bombard us with the thought of: "Did God really say…?" (Genesis 3:1).

Jesus touches us through His Holy Spirit and challenges us to meditate on "His Hands and His Side". This is Almighty God Who stands before us with these Wounds. From a human perspective, shouldn't our Lord feel undignified or embarrassed? A deep absorption into these Wounds, however, will undoubtedly disclose that love is the reason for them – and love conquers all. In this Gospel the apostles get that. Don't forget they love Him too as we love Him; and what should have been a room full of uncomfortable looking faces staring at this marred Man, instead there was rejoicing. Since they love Jesus, if the doors of their hearts locked Him out because of the shame of abandoning Him, Jesus, because there is mutual love, is able by His Divine Power to go through those locked doors.

In our own fears of embarrassment, shame, mockery or just the struggle to surrender our will to God, which can make fulfilling the mission of being sent an obstacle, as long as Jesus is loved, He will in His own time appear through those locked doors. If we're willing to keep fighting the good fight in this life full of distractions and temptations, the day will come when we will close our eyes to this world and finally gaze upon the Face we have been seeking our whole life and He may say: "Peace be with you." And then what will follow is an undeniable assurance that this Peace will remain with us uninterrupted for all eternity.