Jesus promises his disciples that he “will not leave them abandoned” when he is lifted up and returns to his Father. He promises to send the Paraclete, the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, to fill his disciples with his abiding presence. At Pentecost, the promise is fulfilled.
The promised gift of the Holy Spirit fills the room with dramatic signs of his presence. The promised outpouring is signified by the driving wind and the tongues of fire. The promised sending fills the apostles with courage and wisdom. At Pentecost, the promise is fulfilled.
Three Gospel passages are used for today’s liturgy. The Gospel for the Vigil Mass is John 7:37-39 where Jesus invites his hearers, “‘Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink’ As Scripture says: ‘Rivers of living water will flow from within him who believes in me.’” Jesus says these words during the Feast of Tabernacles. The feast recalls God’s dwelling among the people of Israel during the wandering period in the desert. The feast is a reminder that God is with them, no matter where they are.
In the context of Pentecost, Jesus promises the disciples that God’s dwelling in them will be accomplished in a new way. He will send his Spirit to be the “living water” which “flows from within.” He abides in his disciples.
For the other Masses of Pentecost, John 20:19-23 or John 15:26-27; 16:12-15 are the options. The first recalls the resurrection account where Jesus appears in the locked room. The disciples were full of fear. Jesus dispels this fear saying: “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you …. Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”
Here the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is associated with peace and forgiveness. The Spirit dwelling in the disciples is the vehicle for peace, a peace that the “world” cannot take away. The mercy of God is available through the outpouring. Jesus speaks of forgiving and retaining sin through the body of disciples, the Church.
The Church, empowered by the Holy Spirit, thus becomes an instrument of God’s mercy and justice. Discernment of the Spirit will determine what sins are “forgiven” and those that are “retained.”
The second Gospel passage recalls the promise of the Paraclete. The title has various meanings in the Greek language in which it originates. The Missal (lectionary) translates it “Advocate.” The Spirit is our advocate before the Father. He pleads on our behalf. Another aspect of the “Paraclete” spirit is one of counsel. The Spirit counsels us with wisdom, knowledge and prudence. He will “guide us to all truth.”
The other readings for today’s liturgy come from various books of the Old and New Testaments. The reading from Acts of the Apostles describes the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples who are gathered together “in one place.” They are together representing the people who will become the Church.
A theophany occurs when God’s presence is represented through the “driving wind” and the “tongues of fire.” The “driving wind” fills the house surrounding the group gathered. The “tongues of fire” part and rest on each individual. A certain unity is expressed through these signs, as the group is bound together in a communion with God and each other. Filled now with the Holy Spirit they speak in different tongues. Because of the feast day “Jews from every nation under heaven” were present in the city. As the disciples go out of the house, they speak and the hearers hear the proclamation in “their own tongue.”
The Lukan account (recall that Luke is the author of Acts of the Apostles) also harkens back to the Babel account which is the first reading for the Vigil Mass. The story of the Tower of Babel from Genesis speaks of the scattering of mankind into different peoples separated by various languages. This was the result of people trying by their own means to “become gods.”
The division caused by sin is now healed. Jesus has accomplished this healing through his passion, death and resurrection. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit unites people of every land and language into one body. The gift of the Holy Spirit dwelling within and among the Church accomplishes what man by his own efforts cannot. Man cannot build a tower to God; rather God comes to dwell in them.
The Pauline readings witness to the awareness of the early Church of the Spirit’s dwelling among them in the Church. The reading from First Corinthians speaks of the communion shared in the one Spirit — “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.”
Continuing, Paul uses the image of the body and its members to further describe the Church of which the Spirit gives birth. The Galatians passage describes the power of the Spirit to lead one away from “works of the flesh” (such as “immorality, impurity, lust, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies and the like) to a fuller share in life.
The fruits of this life are identified as “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” The Romans reading used at the Vigil liturgy speaks of the assistance that the Spirit provides for living a good life. Paul acknowledges human weakness and the need for assistance of the divine. The Spirit provides this aid. In fact it is the Spirit who animates the person and fills him or her with strength.
Celebrating Pentecost we have the opportunity for a renewal. The feast day reminds us that we have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit. Through the Spirit, God dwells in and among us. He fills us with his presence and we share in his divine life. The Spirit dwelling in us lifts us from the burdens the “world” may place on us. The Spirit, dwelling in us, fills us with the “peace” the “world” cannot take away. The Spirit, dwelling in us, animates our lives to love. The Spirit, dwelling among us, fills us with wisdom to know the Truth. The Spirit, dwelling among us, empowers us to live this divine life, to choose the good and to shun evil. The Spirit, dwelling among us, renews us in hope.
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Morrisville.