“As the Father sent me, so am I sending you: receive the Holy Spirit”
by Fr Hugh O’Donnell SDB
If it is true that we have all received the Holy Spirit, where do we find evidence of that? We find it where there is unity in diversity, where we are able to celebrate difference. In his encyclical, Laudato Si’, Pope Francis has written about creation like this; ‘God has written a precious book whose letters are the multitude of creatures made with the same loving care as I am! (p 85).
And why did God make so many?’ The great Thomas Aquinas, (not knowing the half of it in the thirteenth century!), gave this answer; ‘Because God could not express himself in any one species he has created multitudes so that what is lacking of divine goodness in one might be compensated for in another as God could never be contained in any one creature’, (p 86)
The first gift of the Spirit is life and the variety of living beings. The second is our Awareness of this gift and the call to live in communion with all creation. When Jesus talks of the Spirit’s deeper coming he is trying to wean us off all divisions – our love of walls, enmities, resentment, jealousy, revenge and instead lead us towards the joy of patience with others, gentleness and respect. The encyclical has the lovely paragraph 226; ‘We are speaking of an attitude of the heart, one which approaches life with serene attentiveness’, which is able to be fully present to another in the present moment.
Pentecost is our day of Awakening to Diversity in Unity. There are different languages but one love, one beating heart. The Spirit reminds us that we are children of ‘the Father with a Mother’s heart’ who wants to gather all creatures together and keep them close to him.
With the death of Jesus his Spirit enters the community of disciples in a transforming way urging them to become a new creation where love rules over prejudice and separation. We witness to this Spirit by our daily acceptance of diversity in unity as we make our way together to the Father’s house where we will finally all be one.
Scripture readings: Courtesy of Universalis Publishing Ltd. – www.universalis.com
Reflections and Prayers by Fr Jack Finnegan SDB
The Feast of Pentecost has ancient origins. It began as a harvest festival celebrating the gathering of the grain. It later celebrated the giving of the Law on Mt Sinai and the covenant with Israel. Now the celebration of the Law and the covenant becomes the celebration of the Spirit. The gospel from John 20 places the gift of the Spirit on Easter Sunday. It is also suggested that the Spirit was active at each of the Resurrection appearances, for example, the Easter morning appearance to Mary Magdalen. The reading from Acts, however, identifies the gift of the Spirit with the Jewish Feast of Pentecost.
1st Reading – Acts 2:1-11
When Pentecost day came round, they had all met in one room, when suddenly they heard what sounded like a powerful wind from heaven, the noise of which filled the entire house in which they were sitting; and something appeared to them that seemed like tongues of fire; these separated and came to rest on the head of each of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak foreign languages as the Spirit gave them the gift of speech.
Now there were devout men living in Jerusalem from every nation under heaven, and at this sound they all assembled, each one bewildered to hear these men speaking his own language. They were amazed and astonished. ‘Surely’ they said ‘all these men speaking are Galileans? How does it happen that each of us hears them in his own native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; people from Mesopotamia, Judaea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya round Cyrene; as well as visitors from Rome – Jews and proselytes alike – Cretans and Arabs; we hear them preaching in our own language about the marvels of God.’
According to Luke, the Spirit came when the time for Pentecost was fulfilled. The time of waiting is over. The Church is born in the outpouring of the sacred wind and the sacred fire of the Spirit and the miracle of transformed and committed lives. Are we ready for that amazing grace? Are we ready to open our lives to that wind and that fire? Do we really want the Spirit to transform our lives and our Church?
Lord Jesus, touch us with the sacred wind and fire of your Spirit. Give us a spirit to know you, a spirit to serve you, a spirit to love you. Breathe your Spirit into every aspect of our lives. Transform our spirits. Transform our Church in your amazing grace. Touch our lives with your healing love. Detox our souls. Strengthen us and guide us all our days. Now and forever. Amen.
Psalm – Psalm 103(104):1,24,29-31,34
Psalm 104 has been called the “pearl of the psalter”. It praises God as the Creator who cares lovingly for every aspect of creation. The selection of verses from this wonderful hymn of creation and praise celebrates the work of the Spirit in God’s vast cosmos and calls us to responsibility. Are we ready to celebrate this wonderful vision and translate it in truly practical ways?
LORD, Adonai, wonderful Creator, the world is full of your glory! Send out your Spirit and renew the face of the earth! Send out your Spirit and renew your Church. Renew our awareness that we may nurture your creation with wisdom and respect! Send out your Spirit and free people from uncaring greed! Send out your Spirit and set creation free from the scourge of human pollution and exploitation. Let your Spirit reign in our hearts. Now and forever. Amen.
2nd Reading – 1 Corinthians 12:3-7,12-13
No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord’ unless he is under the influence of the Holy Spirit.
There is a variety of gifts but always the same Spirit; there are all sorts of service to be done, but always to the same Lord; working in all sorts of different ways in different people, it is the same God who is working in all of them. The particular way in which the Spirit is given to each person is for a good purpose.
Just as a human body, though it is made up of many parts, is a single unit because all these parts, though many, make one body, so it is with Christ. In the one Spirit we were all baptised, Jews as well as Greeks, slaves as well as citizens, and one Spirit was given to us all to drink.
The Spirit gifts us in two main ways: by empowering us to continue the work of Jesus in our own days and to proclaim with true conviction that Jesus is Lord! When the Spirit comes upon us like soft rain and soaks into our spiritual marrow everything becomes possible. We become one with Christ, one with his body the Church, one living breath with him in praise and service of God. Are we committed to sharing our gifts of nature and grace for the good of all? Are we committed to sharing the life of the Spirit?
The reading from Galatians 5 also emphasises unity in the grace of the Spirit and the need for each one of us to deal with those dark aspects of our lives, relationships and personalities that cause division and rancour. The challenge is to keep our eyes upon Jesus and seek every day to live by the Spirit: to live fruitful lives, lives of unity, lives of love, lives full of Spirit fruit.
Lord Jesus, send your Spirit upon us today like the dewfall. Soak the very marrow of our souls and spirits in your loving Spirit’s presence. Breathe your Spirit into every nook and cranny of our lives. Make us one living breath with you, our eyes fixed on you. Free us from those things in us that cause conflict and division and let us become carriers of reconciliation and peace for a troubled world. Free our souls. Help us in our weakness. Now and forever. Amen.
Gospel Reading – John 20:19-23
In the evening of the first day of the week, the doors were closed in the room where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews. Jesus came and stood among them. He said to them, ‘Peace be with you’, and showed them his hands and his side. The disciples were filled with joy when they saw the Lord, and he said to them again, ‘Peace be with you.
‘As the Father sent me,
so am I sending you.’
After saying this he breathed on them and said:
‘Receive the Holy Spirit.
For those whose sins you forgive,
they are forgiven;
for those whose sins you retain,
they are retained.’
When Jesus touches our lives he does three things: brings peace, shows that he is the Crucified, Risen, Glorious One, and then he breathes the Spirit deep into our lives. These are also the gifts that flow from baptism. Are we ready to be servants of peace? Are we ready to embrace the Crucified, Risen, Glorious One? Are we ready to let Jesus breathe the Spirit into every aspect of our lives? Are we ready to embrace the free gift of mercy?
The alternative gospel reading draws our attention to the teaching mission of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth. We witness to Jesus in the truth of the Spirit. We learn the truth about Jesus in the light of the Spirit. And we share that light in the power of the Spirit. Are we open? Are we ready? Are we on fire?
Lord Jesus, bring us gifts of peace today. Meet us the way we need to be met today. But most of all breathe your Spirit deeply into our lives. Breathe your Spirit of healing and mercy into the dark places within us. Set us on fire. Let sacred Wind fan into flame the gifts you have given us. Help us to witness to you in the truth of the Spirit. Help us to walk in the light of your Spirit and to let that light shine in the world. Let your Spirit move in us. Let your Spirit draw us to your heart. Now and forever. Amen.
No sooner had the disciples recovered from the surprise of seeing Jesus alive than they had to learn to live without him. They rejoiced at seeing him risen, but they did not have the joy of his company. Jesus had come back to life, but not to life with his companions. The resurrection of Jesus meant that his disciples would remain alone, orphans in a hostile world. This sad and unexpected experience was mitigated by the conviction, intimately linked to his departure, that they could count on the Spirit who had raised Jesus from the dead. They could no longer accompany Jesus and learn from him, but they would be guided and taught by his Spirit. The Lord was no longer with them to defend them, but the Spirit would be their Advocate and teacher. It is from this sense of being orphans, and in this new company of the Spirit, that the Church was born, the community of those who believed in the Risen Lord. Today we celebrate the birthday of Christ’s Church.
Read: understand what the text is saying, focussing on how it says it
In Jesus’ long farewell discourse (Jn 13,31-14,31; 15,1-16,33) on the eve of the feast and at the end of the last supper, the evangelist has put together, in the form of a testament, a series of teachings given by Jesus. He knew that the hour had come for him to return to the Father and he loved his own, even to the very end (Jn 13,1). If we want to understand this discourse of Jesus we need to keep in mind the narrative structure employed. Following a recognised Old Testament model, John presents Jesus who, on the night before he died, prepared those he was about to leave behind for the new situation they would have to face after his death and resurrection. They would remain alone, but they were not being abandoned. They were not left with nothing to do, nor without a Protector.
Among the tasks and the promises he left them, is the assurance that he would send “his” Spirit upon them. Indeed, Jesus announced the sending of his Spirit no fewer than five times: as the Advocate who would remain with the followers of Jesus (Jn 14,15-17); as the teacher who would remind them of all that Jesus had taught them and reveal it to them in greater depth (Jn 14,25-26); as the witness who would speak on behalf of Jesus (Jn15,26-27); as the one who takes the place of Jesus to show the world its error (Jn 16,4b-11); and as the Spirit who will make known who Jesus really is (Jn 16,12-15).
Even though our text is short, it is not homogeneous. Jesus first affirms the sending of a defender of the community (Jn 15,26.27), who will be a witness to Jesus and will transform those who were his companions into witnesses. Jesus, who was sent by the Father, is the one who will send his disciples an Advocate – a sign of the power he has after his resurrection. They need this Advocate if they are to proclaim Jesus and to become his witnesses. Without this Advocate, the community would be incapable of understanding the Risen Lord, and incapable of being his witnesses. But the community also knows that without the Risen Lord, they would be unable to count on the Advocate as their powerful defender.
In the second part (Jn 16 12-15) the promise does not centre on the gift of the presence of the Spirit, but on one of his actions on behalf of the community. After the surprise of their meeting with the Risen Jesus, the first Christians found themselves in a world that was new to them, a world they did not understand. The promised Spirit would lead them to the truth and make them understand all that He had heard and received from the Risen Lord. In this way, the Risen Jesus would be glorified. The glory of Christ is the confirmation that Christians had arrived at the truth.
Meditate: apply what the text says to life
The meeting of the Christian community with the world was something they could not avoid. The worst part was that the disciples had to face the world without having the Lord at their side. The persecution was, in fact, quick and cruel. The community was not prepared for that kind of tribulation. The synoptic gospels tell us how, on the way to Jerusalem, Jesus prepared his disciples for suffering and persecution (Mk 13,9-13; Mt 10,17-39; Lk 12,2-9). In John’s gospel, Jesus spent the night before he died preparing them for his physical separation from them, and for the coming of the Spirit who will fill the void in their hearts. The disciples will suffer on account of his absence. They know that the Advocate, their defender, will be present among them, and they know that they will have to give witness in a world that does not want them. If Jesus does not leave them, the Spirit will not come. If the Spirit does not come, they will have no one to help them to remember Jesus and to bear witness to him.
Until the Lord returns triumphant, we Christians live with the same sense of abandonment the first disciples had after the resurrection of Jesus. We do not have him present with us. When we acknowledge that he has gone to the Father, we are also acknowledging that he is not with us. Because we do not enjoy his physical presence, we think that he does not share our tragedy since he does not live with us, and we find it difficult to remain faithful to him. This grieves us since we want to follow him. It makes our effort to remain faithful harder, and we are less sure of being able to follow him. We are just like that first generation of Christians, that had to rebuild their lives and find their mission in the world without the physical support of the Master. He has left us alone, but no sooner was he gone from us than he sent us his Spirit, the divine breath that guided his life on this earth, the divine power that set him free from the tomb. His absence may pain us but we cannot complain of being left alone. We have his Spirit, our Defender, the great Comforter and Consoler.
But the Spirit of Jesus does not come only to console us by helping us to overcome the absence of Jesus. He is not simply a remedy for our nostalgia. Jesus sent this Advocate and Defender from the Father (Jn 15,26), as he promised three times, with a mission to fulfil. His first task, and his principal way of defending the community, is to bear witness to Jesus in the community. The community, therefore, is the place in which the Spirit sent by the Risen Lord imprints the memory of Jesus and makes him present by acting as his spokesperson. He speaks about the absent Lord and does not allow the community to forget him, because he has come as his witness to them. The community knows that it has him as its Advocate, the gift of the Risen Lord to them, and knows too that it also has the task of bearing witness to him. The Paraclete and the community have one and the same objective: to remember, understand, believe and listen to the Risen Lord. In the preaching of the community, it is the Spirit who encourages and sustains the defence of the Christian faith against the world. A Church that is afraid to speak about the Lord Jesus is a Church without his Spirit. A community that refuses to give witness lives in discouragement, unprotected, and alone. By the very fact of not having the task of proclaiming the gospel, the community is missing the presence of the Spirit. If the community does not have the courage to proclaim Jesus, it will not enjoy the consolation of his Spirit. A community or a believer that does not bear witness to Jesus as Lord, cannot be of the spirit, because it was to bear witness to him that Jesus sent his Spirit.
In the community preaching, therefore, the testimony of the disciples is joined to that of the Spirit (Jn 15,27), for the community and the Spirit have been companions from the beginning. When an evangeliser speaks, he has the Lord’s Spirit in his heart: in the words of St Augustine, “He with his inspiration, and you with the sound of your voice.” The evangeliser lives to make Jesus Christ known, because he has the Spirit who dwells in his heart. Since the Spirit is a gift of God freely given, there is no escape from the task of evangelising. It is an obligation that must be fulfilled. We did not receive the Spirit by our own efforts, but we must make every effort to preserve it. We cannot live in the company of Jesus who is now risen, but we can enjoy his Spirit, provided we have the world as the goal of our evangelisation.
After he spoke about the crisis that his absence would bring, Jesus mentioned another function of the Spirit – the Paraclete will be a teacher, guiding the disciples to the truth. It is significant that in John, Jesus does not appoint a teaching authority within the community, nor does he identify the ones in charge. The community, however, will have the Spirit of truth. His task will be to take the Word of God as both point of departure and point of arrival. Although he spoke of all that he had heard from the Father (Jn 15,15), Jesus wanted to make known more than what he had revealed. The Spirit will make up for what was missing (Jn 16,12) through his role as guide of the community, an office that belongs only to God (Exod 13,17; Num 24,8). The Spirit does not concur with Jesus, nor does he replace Jesus – he completes what Jesus taught, leading to a fuller understanding (Jn 14,26). He will not teach anything new but he will make clearer what has already been said. Speak, listen and proclaim are the three verbs that explain the action of the Spirit. His action is analogous to that of the Son. He will speak of what he has heard and proclaim what is to come. To understand Jesus Christ, and to capture the real significance of his words and grasp the ultimate meaning of his life is not given to everyone. It is a gift that the Risen Lord grants to those to whom he sends his Spirit. The desire to know Jesus intimately implies a desire to be possessed by his Spirit. Only those in whom the Spirit dwells can know him. The best news of all is that possessing the Spirit is a grace granted to those who bear witness to Jesus. Why, then, do we neglect the task of evangelisation, since it means that we are depriving ourselves of the Spirit of Jesus?
The coming of the Spirit is not the end of the story. It is a new stage that comes between Jesus’ Ascension and his definitive return. In the meantime, the community is guaranteed a correct understanding of life, because it is guided by the Paraclete who continues and expands and deepens the teaching of Jesus. Neither the community nor the Spirit is the origin of revelation, but the two of them, together, preserve it and perpetuate it. The Christian community and the Spirit of Jesus have the same goal in this world – to keep alive the memory of the Risen Jesus, making up for his absence by their memory and nostalgia. Anyone who lives to keep alive the memory of Jesus in today’s world, knows that this is the gift of the Risen Lord that makes him a ‘companion’ of the Spirit!
In this way the Spirit will glorify the Son, as the Son has glorified the Father (Jn 16,14). The glory of the Son is that the community be recognised by the Father. All that the Father has is given to the Son. Nothing of what the Father has is withheld from the Son. This is not only a matter of words, nor just of knowing, but of life that is shared. Everything the Son has belongs to the Father, and all that the Spirit communicates belongs to the Son. The Spirit receives and knows the community, and the community is proof of the Spirit. Knowing that he has received the Spirit of Jesus should make the Christian confident in himself and sure of the final victory over evil.