Msgr. Joseph Prior

(See the readings for Pentecost Sunday, May 23)

Sam sat by the side of the river and watched the sailboats go by. He sat there for a couple hours enjoying the sites and the beautiful sails and boats passing along. He was amazed at how fast they moved through the water, almost effortlessly. He began to think that he wanted to learn to sail. So he bought some books on sailing and learned what he could. Then Sam found some sailors and asked them many questions on how to operate a sail boat. He even took a course on sailing.

Finally, Sam was ready and eager to get out on the river. He envisioned the boat moving swiftly down the water as he had seen months previously when he sat watching them. So he rented a sailboat, got ready and went through his checklist. This was it, the time was now. Sam untied the dock cord. He let the current carry him out into the river. This was the moment he was waiting for, in a matter of minutes he would be sailing. He hoisted the sail. Then nothing happened. Confused, he went through his checklist and everything was in order. All of a sudden it dawned on him, there was no wind.

Today we celebrate Pentecost. The word “Pentecost” means 50 days. Fifty days since Jesus rose from the dead and 10 days after he ascended to the Father, the Spirit was poured out on his apostle and disciples binding them together as one, as the church. He had prepared the disciples for this outpouring through his preaching and teaching. The Spirit would be his abiding presence among them and enable them to continue his saving mission. Today we celebrate this great gift of the Spirit.

The presence of the Spirit among us helps us to live and share the Gospel we proclaim. The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles recalls the day of Pentecost. The apostles were gathered in Jerusalem. The Spirit arrives like a strong driving wind filling the house. A fire appears in the air separating into tongues of fire which hovered over each one of them. Then they begin to proclaim the gospel in different languages (tongues). When people in the area heard the loud noise, they came to the house to see what was happening.

St. Luke tells us that there were people from many nations among the crowd. (Pentecost is a also a Jewish pilgrimage feast when many Jews from the diaspora would come to visit). The apostles, now filled with the Spirit, go out and courageously proclaim Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Though they were speaking in many languages all heard the same message.

The reading recalls the power of the Spirit which animates the work of the church. It is the wind that powers the sail. The apostles and some of the disciples had been with Jesus during the public ministry. They were formed, taught and prepared to carry on the mission. But it was not until the Spirit arrives that the work can be done. It is the Spirit working through them that allows the saving message to be proclaimed in word and deed.

The Gospel account is one of the resurrection accounts that we heard proclaimed on Divine Mercy Sunday. The account recalls Jesus appearing to the apostles. They were gathered in fear when Jesus enters through the locked door. He greets them: “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Then he breathes on them saying: “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”

Just before the passion, Jesus had made this prayer: “Father…. I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me.”

The gift of the Spirit, now given, binds them together as one. Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection manifest God’s mercy on his people. They are now one with him. The gift of the Spirit unites us with one another and through this union the healing mission of Christ continues.

We all have a part in this mission. St. Paul reminds us of this in his First Letter to the Corinthians. “As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.”

He speaks of the many gifts of the Spirit that are given to individuals in the communion. The gifts may be different but all work to the same proclamation and the benefit of all.

Looking at our world today, especially in our own country, we see great divisions and a lack of trust. Political divides are huge. The situation has been growing for some time but in the past few years in particular we see the gap visible in conversations (many times heated), in rallies, protests and social media. We realize something is “off.” Rarely would we hear people speaking that this situation is a “good.” Rather people seek a basis for unity.

Looking at the economic situation we see a growing division between the uber-wealthy and the rest of society. This division too seems to be growing in the past two decades. We see division based on race or religion where injustice has led to a widening gap and a longing for fairness. The point is that the things that once united us seem to be not working. Healing is needed.

Our celebration of Pentecost reminds us that the power for healing comes from God. The gift of the Spirit, dwelling in and among us, can provide the power to heal and to unite. Sometimes when we consider those situations that divide us we might come to the conclusion that the gaps are so wide they are impossible to bridge. Sometimes we might think the same in our personal lives.

Things that divide us or our families, broken friendships or relationships, situations that beg healing, understanding or forgiveness might seem too far beyond us to handle. We are reminded today that with the Spirit, the healing and communion we desire is possible.

In the story above Sam forgot the most important part about sailing, the wind. Without wind, the boat will be at a standstill. The same is true in our lives as Christians. When we think we can solve all the problems or heal all the wounds, we can only go so far. But when we realize, recognize and receive the gift of the Spirit, he will direct our course and swiftly lead us to where we need to go.

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Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.