- On June 24, 2019
We have come to the day of Pentecost, the third great Easter Feast which now brings our fifty days of rejoicing in the Lord’s resurrection to a close for this year. Having completed the mission for which the Father had sent him to live among us in our human nature, the Lord Jesus Christ ascended into heaven. Before he left, as we heard last week, he instructed his disciples to remain in Jerusalem until they were clothed with power from on high. The Acts of the Apostles inform us that, obedient to the Lord’s command, the disciples returned to Jerusalem and waited expectantly in prayer, together with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and his brothers.
Today, Pentecost, the Holy Spirit suddenly came upon them in the form of tongues of fire. They were filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak of the great things God had done in such a way that people of many different languages could understand. On this day, the disciples, through the Apostle Peter, first announced to the world that Jesus was the Christ, risen from the dead, the Savior of the world. From this beginning, this good news has spread throughout the whole world seemingly against impossible obstacles. Countless martyrs down to the present day have given their life in unshakeable confidence in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Missionaries have traveled to distant and unknown places and endured crushing hardships in their desire to make known the salvation God has given us in Jesus Christ. Moved by the love of God in Jesus Christ, Christians have given their lives and their treasures to assist others in need, many of whom, because of their dire situations, had no other hope of solace. All this is a powerful and moving witness to the Lord’s words: You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.
But what, we might ask, of today? Christians are divided by centuries-long divisions. The church is mired in a seemingly endless series of new revelations of abuse and corruption in high places. In many areas, it seems Catholics have fallen into that trap against which St. Paul warned us: But if you go on biting and devouring one another, beware that you are not consumed by one another (Gal. 5:15). We look now to technology and science for security and the truth about the world. The Gospel, which presents Jesus Christ as the way, the truth and the life, is relegated also by Christians as one way among others, and Christian life, rather than a commitment to follow Jesus, is reduced to a cultural syncretism where we can pick and choose our own truths according to what we find appealing. Where is the power when the Holy Spirit comes?
We are, it seems, in need of a new Pentecost, which could be this Pentecost. If we are to receive power when the Holy Spirit comes, then we must follow the example of the Apostles and Mary, the Mother of Jesus and his brothers, and pray. Unless we choose to take time to pray on a daily basis, it seems to me almost impossible that we will be able to discern the direction of the Holy Spirit. It will simply be drowned out by louder and, to us, more alluring voices. But do we have a daily practice of prayer to which we are committed, and which complements the many other ways we are to serve God in the vocations we have been given? Or are there simply too many other more important things to do? In our account from the Acts of the Apostles today, we read that the disciples were speaking of the mighty acts of God. Do we ever speak to others of the great things God has done in our lives?
In our instruction today from the First Letter to the Corinthians, we are told: No one can say, “Jesus is Lord”, except by the Holy Spirit. Are we willing to make it known publicly that Jesus is Lord, the one to whom we owe our fidelity and our love, and do we make that fidelity and love manifest in our actions? If Jesus is indeed Lord, then there are some things we must do, and some things we must never do. If Jesus is Lord, then we must recognize our weakness and our sinfulness and our need for such a Lord. If, as St. Paul teaches, the gift of the Spirit has formed us into one body, are we concerned to maintain the unity of the body? We may, many of us, struggle with questions of faith and of conscience. If we truly believe that the Holy Spirit has been poured out on the church, then we ought to be willing to struggle to resolve the doubts and questions while out of charity maintaining the unity of the faithful.
Ultimately today, it is the words of Jesus which are of the greatest importance for us. He tells us today: If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always. So our first task is to keep Jesus’ commandments, to be faithful to him. These commandments he gives us through the Bible and through the life and teaching of his church. The Advocate, who will be with us always, will then bring to pass the second promise the Lord gives us today: Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him. In other words, having given us the guidance of the Scriptures and of the church to point out to us the proper way to live, to keep us in the right direction, Jesus tells us that, if we follow these guides he has provided for us in his love, the Advocate will remain with us. It is this Advocate, the Holy Spirit, who will keep us faithful to Jesus’ word and, in so doing, will make to dwell in us the very life of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Thus it will be the very life and love of God in us which carries out what the life and love of God commands us to do. By this indwelling of God’s live in us, guiding us in our thoughts and actions, we become once again what we were created to be, the very image and likeness of God in the world. We do not know the many and varied circumstances in which we will be challenged to proclaim Jesus as Lord. But his words to us today are a comfort: The Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name will teach you everything. In the many challenges of life, it will be the Holy Spirit who will show us how in each instance we are to proclaim Jesus as Lord.
Let us, then, on this Pentecost Day, ask that we receive power when the Holy Spirit comes; that power which is charity, so that we may be renewed, the church may be renewed and the whole world may be healed.
Abbot Placid Solari, O.S.B.