Pentecost Sunday – 31 May 2020
Lectionary Readings: Acts 2:1-11; Ps 104:1+24, 29-30, 31+34; 1 Cor 12:3b-7, 12-13; John 20:19-23
Theme: Faith, fear and fire
The Pentecost Sunday readings describe both personal and communal aspects of our faith. In the first reading we see people of FAITH, the apostles, formed by Jesus for three years, receiving the Spirit who was promised to them by Jesus. This experience of the Spirit gives them an “inner transformation”. The Spirit seems “to defy the definition and even description. No categories can contain Him; and His manifestation is beyond computing”. The Twelve gathered in the Upper Room are surprised by the Spirit who is “inclusive, all embracing and community creating”. This gift is not for private benefit but enables the recipients “to be for others, to build up the Body” (Farell, 110-11).
The story of Pentecost, told by Luke in the Acts of the Apostles, could be misunderstood as a perfect story, marking the end of the troubles of the faithful who went through so much after Jesus’ death and resurrection. One fact, however, stands out and speaks loudly when we read John’s experience of this special day in his Gospel: he states that the doors of the Upper Room were closed and the disciples were full of FEAR. The apostles’ fear of persecution and death, as happened to Jesus, is understandable. It must have been disturbing too for them to know that the Spirit, whom they knew only from the Old Testament (Gen 1:1-2), and who came at the beginning of creation as a breath of life (Gen 2:7), had reappeared to create the world anew (Ps 103:30) with the Messiah for whom they had waited so long. The feelings of being in the middle of chaos and anxiety over things beyond their control were unavoidable. Their fear was hard to cope with, yet at the same time freed them from expectations about how the Spirit should appear in their lives. Faith kept them alive in the middle of this very distressing experience of waiting for the Spirit which was a promise of a permanent change in their manner of living.
And the Holy Spirit came as FIRE: as wind, as a gift of speaking in tongues, as the ability to understand foreign languages, as the gift of speech and many other ways described later in the New Testament (Gal 4:6; 1 Cor 12:4-7; 2 Cor 3:17-18; Rom 8:26-27 – to mention just a few).
The whole Pentecost event and all that followed it, remind me of the great truth that God respects our limitations; uses our weaknesses; and generously pours His gifts into our hearts. All God asks for, is our disposition in faith to receive His graces in abundance. This disposition is not a permanent absence of fear or anxiety but an ability to find courage amid our vulnerabilities. The Holy Spirit, from the moment of our Baptism and through all the sacraments, gives us courage to come out of our comfort zones, changes us and enables us to stretch our goals into directions and places where we experience that “nothing is impossible for God” (Luke 1:37). The Holy Spirit wants to fashion the Church according to the model of the Beatitudes (Mt 5:1-12), “which are not based on human strength but on the strength of God” (Philippe, 38). Faith, fear and the fire of the Holy Spirit do not have to exclude one another; they can be our powerhouse as witnesses to the Triune God in today’s world.
For Reflection and Discussion: 1. How do you experience the presence of the Holy Spirit in your life? 2. What gifts and talents of the Holy Spirit do you contribute to your family and local community?
Bibliography: Farell, J.E. Surprised by the Spirit (New Jersey: 1973); Philippe, J. Fire and Light, (New York: 2016)