Pope Francis celebrates Mass marking the feast of Pentecost in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican May 20. CNS photo/Paul Haring

God's Word on Sunday: The Spirit’s gift makes all things possible

  • May 30, 2019

Pentecost Sunday, June 9 (Year C) Acts 2:1-11; Psalm 104; 1 Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13; John 20:19-23

What would the world — and our Church — be like if the Holy Spirit had never been given to us? We can wonder if the Church would have even put down roots and spread out through the ancient Mediterranean world and far beyond. 

Try to imagine a liturgical calendar nearly bereft of inspired saints. Factor out many cultural achievements — music, art, poetry and literature. Most of all, try to forget the quiet inner presence that gives you courage and comfort, and sometimes takes you where you would rather not go. That doesn’t sound like a world pleasant to live in, but if we are not careful, we can make it happen. 

The existence of the Holy Spirit cannot be proven through rational means, or we would have no atheists. It can only be recognized by its effects on people and communities, and its footprints are unmistakable. 

The letters of Paul enumerate what these signs are: love, joy, peace, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Without them, the Spirit is not at work, regardless of what we might claim. 

By contrast, all human strife, division, negativity and licentious behaviour flows from living according to the flesh — focused on self. 

Using this as a guideline, we can observe our world and our Church and ask an honest question: Is the Holy Spirit present and, if so, when and where? The Spirit is not about talk, but about living.

The Spirit has no use for fear, doubt and cowardice. By all human standards, the Christian community should have been finished after the crucifixion of Jesus. His followers were huddled in fear behind locked doors. 

With the descent of the Spirit on the assembled community, fear was cast aside. The disciples preached boldly and openly and seemed indifferent to the possibility of persecution and death. In fact, they even rejoiced in the opportunity to suffer for the name. That same Spirit impelled them to be always on the move, preaching the Good News and overcoming every obstacle. 

The Spirit is unmoved by human prejudices, traditions or theological opinions. It has an agenda and mission of its own. That is one of the many reasons many people are skittish and nervous about being led by the Spirit. 

It challenged the first believers to rethink their attitudes towards others — especially not of their tradition — and notions of purity and separation. 

It prodded them to welcome Gentile converts into the family of God and refused to recognize distinctions based on ethnicity, religion or social class. Unfortunately, many have undone this work over the centuries — it is a never-ending process. 

Peter’s amazed realization that God plays no favourites and that anyone who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to Him rings just as loudly for us today as it did for him. The Spirit gifts us all and it teaches us not to be possessive. 

If we are granted spiritual gifts or talents, they are for the benefit of all. These gifts are not to be considered personal property or achievements. It is a principle of interdependence and equality and makes us all part of something greater than ourselves — the Body of Christ.

In John’s version of the giving of the Spirit, Jesus suddenly appeared in the locked upper room before His stunned disciples. He greeted them twice with “Peace!” — the promised otherworldly peace that only God can give (14:27). This peace is not merely the absence of violence, but the profound presence of God. 

His giving of the Spirit was quiet and anticlimactic. He merely breathed on them. But the word for breath and spirit are identical in Hebrew, as they are in Greek. 

John’s Gospel opened with “in the beginning,” immediately calling to mind the opening line of the Book of Genesis. 

This is a new creation and a fresh beginning. He then gave them a mission that would seem overwhelming to anyone. They were to go out into the world with the same mission that God had given to Jesus. 

This was to reveal the true nature of God, enlighten the hearts and minds of humanity, and lead others to a personal relationship with God. This would be next to impossible for ordinary people, but with the divine breath coursing through them, all things were possible, as they are for us.

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