A reading from the Acts of the Apostles
If you wonder why there were so many people from so many countries visiting Jerusalem on the occasion St. Luke describes in this passage, it was because Pentecost was a Jewish feast when pilgrims from all over the near world would come to the Temple to worship. But Luke tells us of strange happenings: “a noise like a strong wind” and “tongues of fire” images that recall the time God established the original covenant with the Jewish people. Luke wanted his audience to understanding that this was God confirming a new covenant with a new, diverse people—hence the people of many languages understanding the apostles from Galilee. Of course, Luke wrote this a few decades after the actual events, and he wanted people to know that this was the beginning of something new that had its roots in a previous tradition —and fulfilled that tradition. Today, we say that Pentecost, the descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles, was the birthday of the Church.
(Psalm 104: 1, 24, 29-30, 31, 34)
“Lord, send out your Spirit and renew the face of the earth.” Here is a common thread between Judaism and Christianity, the Spirit of God. The difference for us Christians is that we believe that the Spirit of God is not just “out there” somewhere but rather lives in each one of us. That is one of the major breakthroughs of Christianity. God is not some distant being but absolutely close to each of us, even when we might not feel that presence. We are never alone.
A reading from the first letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians
(Chapter 12:3b-7, 12-13)
St. Paul tells us that we may each have different gifts and forms of service, but what unites us is the one Spirit. And, “To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.”
You and I each have different gifts from the Spirit. Do you believe that? What are your spiritual gifts? How do you use them, share them? Can you appreciate the gifts of someone else, even though you might disagree with that person on one or more issues? That is particularly important today when our country and even our Church are often divided in many ways.
As we read the Acts of the Apostles and the Letters of St. Paul, it becomes clear that there were major differences within the early Church with so many groups coming in and out of focus, each believing that their version of the truth about Jesus was the right one. This has continued for some two thousand years and been the cause of wars and numerous unjust actions. It is only when we listen to the Spirit and act in the loving power of the Spirit that we have peace and true communion.
A reading from the Holy Gospel according to John
(Chapter 20: 19-23)
Jesus says to the apostles, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so also I send you.” Then, “he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.’”
These few sentences written at the end of the first century, long after the events described, are meant by John to validate the connection between the Church after Jesus with the powerful words of Jesus before he ascended into heaven. He conferred gifts, starting with the Holy Spirit and then the power to forgive sins. Remember, John is writing his Gospel during a time of persecution, and he wants to make sure that his readers know how blessed they are and how they are strengthened amid endless trials and dangers. The Holy Spirit is with them, just as it is with us today.
What are the special gifts that you have received in your life? How have you used them, especially the gifts of forgiveness and healing?
Painting: Fresco of the Pentecostal dove (representing the Holy Spirit) at the Karlskirche in Vienna, Austria. Public Domain.
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.