Pentecost – Year B
May 23 2021 – 10:30 AM
Saint Cecilia Catholic Community
Rev. David Justin Lynch
Acts 2:1-11 | Psalm 104:1;29-31;34
I Corinthians 12:3b-7;12-13 | John 20:19-23
+In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
My undergraduate degree from the University of Pittsburgh is in Communications, which is a fancy word for journalism. At one time, I aspired to be a news reporter, and indeed, I did briefly work as such, both print and radio, but I quit because the pay was terrible for those just getting started in that business.
I am still a news junkie. I am addicted to C-N-N and M-S-N-B-C. But if I were still working in the news business, and could have any assignment I wanted for any event in the history of the world, my choice would be the arrival of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. In contrast with the pervasive negativity of today’s newscasts, I would be reporting on something beneficial to humankind.
We all know the headline: the Holy Spirit figuratively descended as tongues of fire on the heads of those present and everyone began speaking in different languages. Disciples became apostles with a mission to propagate the Gospel of Jesus in many languages. It was the time to proclaim the resurrection narrative beyond the original twelve disciples and their Jewish followers into the much larger gentile world. Accordingly, Pentecost has often been known as “the birthday of the Church.” It was the moment in time when the Great Commission was transformed from words into action to spread the message of Jesus.
So, continuing with the news story analogy, after you get past the headlines in the newspaper, the reporter gives you the backstory. In the case of Pentecost, the backstory is, not surprisingly, of Jewish origin. Always remember, the followers of Jesus were a Jewish sect. So why were the disciples there? And what were they celebrating, if anything?
Pentecost comes from the Jewish tradition of a “Feast of Weeks.” This feast occurred the day after the completion of seven weeks times seven days, the number of days in a week, or on the fiftieth day after Passover. In fact, the very word “Pentecost” was derived from the Greek word for “the fiftieth day”. The Feast of Weeks celebrated the first fruits of the grain harvest and to commemorate the giving of the law by Moses.
The Feast of Weeks was a so-called “pilgrim festival”, which meant that many Jews had gathered in Jerusalem from the surrounding areas. That would explain the phrase in today’s first reading that “they were all together in one place.” For Christians, Pentecost Sunday is fifty days after Easter, the Feast of the Resurrection.
Despite a professed goal to report objectively, all reporters are biased. Bias is part of being human. And I will admit that if I were a reporter covering the coming of the Holy Spirit, I’d be biased, too. I emailed several reporters about how they would cover this story. The only one to timely respond was Julie Buehler who used to work for one of our local T-V stations. She responded that she could never cover a story like that because she would want to have been part of it. What she was trying to tell me is that the power of the Holy Spirit is so overwhelming that it’s impossible to be objective.
I can see Julie’s point. The Holy Spirit overwhelmed the disciples at the first Pentecost after the Ascension of Jesus. I think if I were a reporter assigned to cover the arrival of the Holy Spirit, I would have a hard time remaining objective. The Holy Spirit’s presence overwhelmed the disciples. Imagine a room of people, each speaking a different language, each using different words but expressing the same thoughts and feelings they experienced with a sudden divine presence.
A good reporter tells the audience who the characters in the story are if they are not readily familiar. Who is the Holy Spirit? The Holy Spirit is that manifestation of God’s power, glory, and majesty that has always filled the entire universe. As we read in the Book of Genesis, the Spirit of God moved upon the waters at the beginning of creation. The Holy Spirit conceived Jesus in the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus at his Baptism. Even though not always mentioned, the Holy Spirit was the moving power behind everything Jesus did. And before Jesus ascended to heaven, he promised not to leave us comfortless. He told us that the Holy Spirit would come as our comforter and advocate to continue the work Jesus had started in his earthly life.
Our God is a coequal Holy Trinity. That makes the Holy Spirit just as important as the two other members of the Holy Trinity, God the Father and His son Jesus. The only manifestation of God humanity ever had the opportunity to physically observe was Jesus. But we today do not know what Jesus looked like. There was no photography in his day, and no one ever drew or painted a picture of him. No one knows what God the father looks like. And as a visual proposition, the Holy Spirit is even more elusive. The Holy Spirit has never had, does not now, and never will have a concrete physical existence.
We are left to describe the Holy Spirit solely by way of her behavior and her effects. Our relationship with her is based on cause and effect. The Holy Spirit is more of a force than a person or thing. The Holy Spirit is more pure energy. The Holy Spirit is the divine power of God active in the world. The Holy Spirit gives life to the entire universe. A universe without the Holy Spirit would be a dead universe. Today we celebrate her coming with great joy. Her message is gentle yet powerful.
At the first Pentecost, the Apostle Peter interpreted the coming of the Holy Spirit as the fulfillment of the promises God made when God spoke through the Old Testament prophets. The Holy Spirit overwhelmed the disciples, and she continues to overwhelm me with her spiritual gifts.
Today’s second reading tells us that there are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. In other words, the Holy Spirit affects each of us in different ways. But there are some gifts that are given to humanity as a whole.
What are the gifts of the Holy Spirit? In chapter eleven of the Book of Isaiah the prophet enumerates seven of them. They are in two categories. Wisdom, Understanding, Knowledge, and Counsel, are all directed to our intellect, while Courage, Piety, and Reverence, are all directed at our souls. Let’s look at each of them.
Wisdom is the ability to discern truth good from evil, and everlasting from temporary. It’s like knowing right from wrong, which isn’t always easy as there are many nuances involved in ethical questions and what is a flash in the pan and what is forever. What is good in one situation may not be good in another, and the same thing for evil. Wisdom is how you figure that out. Many things display the appearance of permanency but are really temporary, and often what starts out as temporary becomes permanent. Wisdom tells you the difference between the two. Wisdom is considered the first and the greatest gift of the Holy Spirit. It acts upon both the intellect and the will. According to Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, wisdom both illumines the mind and instills an attraction to the divine.
Understanding is the ability to engage in reasoning, discernment, intelligence, mental power to perceive and empathize. Understanding is the gift of enlightenment. It is the ability to think clearly, to comprehend and interpret information, and have insight and discern meaning. Understanding helps us relate all truths to our supernatural purpose. Understanding illuminates our reading of Sacred Scripture. Understanding assists us to understand the significance of religious rituals. This all gives us a profound appreciation for God’s creation.
Knowledge consists of information about God’s creation, gained through the senses (hearing, seeing, feeling, tasting, smelling) and/or reasoning. Knowledge comes from the ability to study and learn; to acquire, retain and master facts and information; and to put what is learned to good use for constructive purposes. But knowledge goes beyond mere memorization of facts and procedures. The gift of knowledge comes from God’s infinite knowledge. The divine gift of knowledge allows one, as far as is humanly possible, to see things from God’s perspective. It “allows us to perceive the greatness of God and his love for his creatures” through creation.
Counsel, also known as Right Judgment, is prudential decision-making by allowing the breath of God in difficult situations. Counsel perfects the virtue of prudence. While prudence operates in accord with reason as enlightened by faith, the gift of counsel operates under the guidance of the Holy Spirit to illuminate the will of God.
Counsel helps us give advice to others. The gift of counsel is the ability to teach, to inform, to guide, to direct, to warn, to admonish, to recommend, and to encourage. The gift is needed by parents, teachers, coaches, supervisors, mentors, therapists, lawyers, clergy, consultants, and spouses, in other words, anyone who offers advice to others. And the gift of Counsel is not limited to the giving of advice but extends to the ability to graciously receive it.
Counsel directs our lives to follow three general guides: Love God with all your heart, mind, and soul; love your neighbor as yourself, and love one another as Jesus loved us. That’s what Jesus told us to do, those three fundamental principles. As Rabbi Hillel tells us, “all the rest is mere commentary.” Micah the prophet gave us a very simple formula for a life worth living: we are to do justice, to love with kindness, and walk humbly with God.
Courage, also known as Fortitude, is steadfast devotion to one’s conscience, standing firm in one’s faith in God. We are not to fear but persevere in the face of adversity, often including physical harm, verbal insults, and rejection by other people. God will be with us wherever we go to guide and protect. When Archbishop Óscar Romero spoke out for the poor of El Salvador, he knew he was putting his own life in danger, and he was strengthened by the Courage that comes from the Holy Spirit. The courageous person who does not give in to pressure from other people to do what is easy and evil instead of what is good that may be difficult. The gift of fortitude allows people the firmness of mind that is required both in doing good and in enduring evil.
Piety is faithfulness in prayer; devotion to God; oneness between God and humankind; living a holy life; attitude of humility towards God. Piety is personal holiness, and it includes devotion to God, prayer, virtue, goodness, decency, self-mastery, innocence, the avoidance of sin, and obedience to God’s will. .Thomas Aquinas says that piety perfects the virtue of religion, which is an aspect of the virtue of justice, in that it accords to God that which is due to God. According to Pope Francis, piety is recognition of “our belonging to God, our deep bond with him, a relationship that gives meaning to our whole life and keeps us resolute, in communion with him, even during the most difficult and troubled moments.
Reverence is feeling the awe of God’s majesty as shown in creation. Reverence acknowledges that everything comes as a gift from God, downplays personal achievement and self-sufficiency, and gladly offers praise, worship, and adoration to God.A person reverent person is one who experiences wonder and awe knowing that God is the perfection of all of one’s desires.
At Saint Cecilia Catholic Community, reverence is most important. Rather than shape our worship to conform to the human characteristics in the world surrounding us, we worship in the beauty of holiness in awe of God, with reverence for God in a way that reflects the dignity and majesty of our transcendent God. We are an oasis of holy dignity in the midst of the desert of a crude secular world. Accordingly, we show our reverence for God by singing Sunday Mass and always wearing the proper vestments for worship. All we do here on Sunday morning is not a profit-making enterprise. It is not a therapy session. It is not a rock concert. It is not a social welfare endeavor. It is not a political rally. It is solely for the glory of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The purposes behind the gifts of the Holy Spirit would not be fulfilled if those gifts did not impel humankind to action. The gifts of the Holy Spirit enable what the tradition of the church calls the fruits of the Holy Spirit. There are nine of them, enumerated in chapter five of Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians. They are: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Love, as used in this context is agape, means the selfless, self-giving love Jesus has for us. Agape is the word Jesus used in giving us the summary of the law, that is, to love God with all your heart, mind, and soul, and to love your neighbor as yourself. Agape is love given without expecting anything in return. Agape is what you should feel when you give money to the church, where you are giving solely to glorify of God instead of gaining power or other advantages for yourself as we might usually expect from a monetary expenditure.
Joy means more than mere happiness. The Greek word scripture uses for this gift is chara. Since it comes from God, it is more serene and stable than worldly happiness, which is merely emotional and lasts only for a short time. The kind of joy we want in our lives is deep and lasting, not shallow and fleeting. Think of it in terms of a long-term relationship rather than a one-night stand.
Peace, as used in this context, means more than the absence of conflict. The Greek word used here is eirēnē. It is the Greek equivalent for the Hebrew word shalom, which expresses the idea of wholeness, completeness, or tranquility in the soul that is unaffected by the outward circumstances or pressures. It communicates the idea of the rule of order in place of chaos. It is an inner calmness that happens when you don’t internalize the negative things going on around you.
Patience means long-suffering or endurance. The Greek word involved is makrothumia. This word embraces the concepts of forbearance, fortitude and. the ability to endure persecution and ill-treatment. It describes a person who has the power to exercise revenge but instead exercises restraint.
Kindness is derived from the Greek word chrestotes. Anyone who demonstrated chrestotes was considered to be compassionate, considerate, sympathetic, humane, and gentle. This word describes the ability to act for the welfare of those taxing your patience. The Holy Spirit removes abrasive qualities from the character of one under her control. Rather than harshly require everyone else to adapt to one’s own needs and desires, when chrestotes is working in oneself, one seeks to become adaptable to the needs of those who are around oneself. Kindness is respect and helping others without waiting for someone to help one back.
Goodness is translated from the word appearing in the Greek text is agathosune. It is one of those words for which there is no exact English equivalent. The intent of the word is something like generosity or beneficence, those qualities which quintessentially represent the goodness of God, who loves us unconditionally. This word has also been associated with moral uprightness, but personal righteousness is meaningless when devoid of the unconditional love the Gospel demands of us.
Faithfulness originates from the Greek word pistos, translated as trustworthy and loyal. When we have faith in God, we trust God and are loyal to God. So too with our dealings with other persons, particularly those close to us. When we are faithful to our friends, we trust our friends and they trust us. When we are loyal to our friends, we have their back, just as God has our back. To have faith in God is to have confidence in God and to trust God to do the right thing for us. To have faith in our friends means we trust our friends will always act in our best interests.
Gentleness as used here is the Greek word prautés, translated as mildness or gentleness. It is a condition of one’s mind and heart that should carry over into one’s behavior. Gentleness does not indicate weakness but power and strength under control. The gentle person pardons injuries and corrects one’s own faults and those of others with love.
Self-control goes beyond restraining your appetite or not losing your temper. The Greek word used here is enkretiea. The concept of that word is along the lines of having mastery, able to control one’s thoughts and actions. All of us at one time or another give in to temptations. That is part of being human. But you can make progress if you open your heart to nourishment by this particular fruit of the Holy Spirit.
All of that sounded pretty abstract. So, how is the Holy Spirit present in the Church on a practical basis? Pentecost has been traditionally associated with baptism and confirmation, and in fact, the custom of many churches is to publicly celebrate baptism and/or confirmation on Pentecost Sunday. In fact, we call upon the Holy Spirit as we celebrate all seven traditional sacraments.
At every baptism, we anoint the candidates’ foreheads with oil of chrism to seal them with the Holy Spirit and make them as Christ’s own forever, to quote our ritual exactly. Some of you may recall that a few years ago, we did in fact celebrate a confirmation here on Pentecost Sunday at which we asked the Holy Spirit to daily increase in the life of our confirmand.
The Holy Spirit is active in the other five sacraments as well. At the epiclesis prayer in the Eucharist, we ask the Holy Spirit to bless the bread and wine that they may become the Body and Blood of Jesus. We absolve sinners. We anoint suffering people. We marry both opposite and same-sex couples. All of this is done in the name of God, Father, Son, and, last but not least, the Holy Spirit.
The gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit are an unforeseeable, heavenly, marvelous, and overwhelming intervention into human life. But those gifts and fruits must be accepted and allowed to affect our lives. To be truly happy, we have no option but to live and follow the Holy Spirit. No reason exists not to do so. The rewards for accepting the Holy Spirit as part of your life are great indeed. You can truly experience God’s love by remaining open to the Holy Spirit. AMEN.