Forty days and ten have passed since we gathered to celebrate the central mystery of our faith—the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Today, on the Solemnity of Pentecost, we arrive at the culmination of Easter, when the Church is confirmed, that is, strengthened by the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Today, using our imaginations, we dare to place ourselves alongside those Apostles and the Blessed Mother in that upper room. It is the time of the Jewish wheat-harvest festival, seven weeks after Passover. Our Lord Jesus has just Ascended to Heaven few days ago, and we have been waiting, half-fearful, half-hopeful, for this Advocate, this Paraclete, to come. We are unsure of what will happen, but our trust in Jesus has been strengthened by our witness of his Resurrection and Ascension into Heaven. Now, we are feeling a little alone and a little anxious. The Apostles and Mary gather to pray, but they do not know how this Paraclete will come—will they even recognize him when he finally comes?
It is this prolonged tension combined with longing that is finally answered on the day of Pentecost. The Apostles hear the rushing wind and see the tongues of fire swirling around the room and coming to rest on them. The Holy Spirit has arrived! And suddenly, the words of Jesus come true, once again: “These signs will accompany those who believe: …they will speak new languages.” The Apostles’ fears are completely annihilated, and they burst out into the streets, proclaiming the mighty works of God. They miraculously speak languages they have never heard before, languages from all corners of the Ancient world. God has breathed his very life into the Church.
The day of Pentecost has such a rich meaning to us Christians, it is almost impossible to know where to start. So, allow me to give you the highlight reel, so to speak, three takes on the significance of this most blessed day.
- Their message goes out to all the world. What’s all this talk about foreign languages? What’s the big deal? The miracle of the languages, left by itself, is amazing enough, but what is more amazing is that it is only half of the story. The other half, like a matching bookend, is found way back in the Book of Genesis. We just heard the story of the Tower of Babel. Those ancient people, who all spoke the same language, were trying to build a tower to the sky. So God mixed up their languages, and because they couldn’t communicate, they abandoned their construction project. But why? I mean, we build skyscrapers today—what’s so wrong with that? The reason is that they tried to build a society without God. Listen to the way the story reads:
- “Come, let us mold bricks.”
- “Come, let us build ourselves a city.”
- Sound familiar yet? What about: “Come, let us make man in our own image.”
You see, the tower-builders were using the same words that God used when he was creating the world. “Come, let us…” This direct parallel shows us that they rejected God’s providence, and that they were trying to create a society of their own making, a society without God.
What’s more, they preferred material wealth to the creation of human life. How do we know this? Tell me, what does one make bricks out of? Dirt/clay/earth. Do you know the Hebrew word for earth? It’s adam. And we also know from Genesis 2 that God made the first human out of earth, that is, adam. The tower-builders, with every brick they formed, perverted that most supreme act of creation, when God created human beings. Instead of wanting a bigger family, they rather wanted a bigger house.
So, God allowed their city to fall apart. He didn’t zap it with fire and brimstone, or blow it up, like Sodom or Gomorrah. Rather, he knew that this social engineering project would eventually destroy itself. He did it by confusing their languages, not because towers are evil, or bricks are offensive to God, but because the human race tried to kick God out of its culture. The people talked past each other instead of trying to understand one another. They tried to build a secular utopia that only resulted in trampling on the dignity of the human person. Thank God, we learned our lesson! We certainly would never do that again.
The meaning of Pentecost is the undoing of that Babel disaster. It is the other bookend of the story. The linguistic lines of division that divided mankind are now erased. All peoples may now speak one language, the language of the Spirit. We speak that language together when we unite in prayer, for we are the Church, and the Church speaks all languages.
Now the Church journeys together towards a city, not a city built by human hands like Babel, but God’s holy city, the Heavenly Jerusalem.
- You are a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. Today the Church is animated. That is, she is given a soul. If the Church is the Body of Christ, then that body needs a soul in order to be alive. The Holy Spirit is that soul. God breathes his very life, his very presence into the Church.
We often talk about the gifts of the Holy Spirit. We say that there are seven gifts, and you all have to memorize them as you prepare for the sacrament of Confirmation. Sometimes it’s hard, after so many years, to recall all seven gifts. But I’m going to let you in on a little secret—there’s really only one gift. The gift of the Holy Spirit is the gift of… The Holy Spirit himself! God gives himself to each one of us when we are baptized! And God the Holy Spirit comes with all of his gifts!
Yes, he surely brings us wisdom, knowledge, understanding, counsel, fortitude, piety and fear of the Lord, but that’s not all! He equips us with countless and various gifts and talents. He gives to some the ability to be teachers, others administrators, others translators. Some are healers, some are helpers, some are good public speakers. Some are book-smart, some are street-smart. Still others can do mighty works. There are many different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. To each of us the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit, and not just for our own benefit, but for the benefit of the whole Body of Christ. The gifts that we have received and developed are not for us to boast about or to flaunt; they are given to be of some service to the whole Church.
Brothers and sisters, if we are going to be the Church, confirmed by the Spirit, emboldened to spread the Gospel, we must first take stock of what the Spirit has given to us! We need self-knowledge. We need to know what our particular gifts are. Only then can we share them and put them into service of one another. “But Father Joe, I’m just not gifted. I can’t play baseball or football. I can’t sing or act.” As if that was the extent of the gift of the Holy Spirit!! We think too little of the Holy Spirit and what he wants to do in each of us! You, a baptized Christian, are a son/daughter of God. And you are called to set a fire on this earth. You have not been given a spirit of slavery and fear, but a spirit of adoption that calls out “Abba! Father!”
- The bread that I will give is my flesh. In the Jewish calendar, this is the day that the wheat harvest is offered. It was traditional for the Jews to offer two loaves of bread, made from the first harvest of the year.
In this Mass, just as every Sunday, the bread and the wine are brought forward in procession, and they are offered to God on this altar. The priest extends his hands over these offerings, calling down the Holy Spirit to sanctify them. The whole Church then unites in prayer, asking the Lord Jesus to come and be present among us by transubstantiating these elements into his very body and blood.
At the conclusion of the Book of Revelation, the Spirit and the Bride say, “Come, Lord Jesus, come!” And the bridegroom, Jesus Christ, hears the voice of his beloved Bride, the Church, and he indeed comes. He comes to dwell with his Bride. He is impelled by his love for her, and he gives himself completely to her.
Jesus is like that grain of wheat, which has fallen to the ground and has died, and now has come to maturity and bears fruit in each of us. The Holy Eucharist, the real presence of Jesus, impels us, in turn, to go and bear fruit that will last. The fruit that the Church bears is the creation of new Christians, new disciples who are destined for eternal life. These new disciples will share in that life-giving spirit, the soul of the Body of Christ, which is the Holy Spirit.
This day, the Father pours into all of our hearts the Gift that contains all gifts, the Holy Spirit. The Spirit manifests Easter to all the nations, uniting all in one Church, in one Body. Together, the whole Church calls out to her bridegroom, Jesus, saying, “Come, Lord Jesus, come.” Let this be our prayer each and every time we approach the sacred altar to receive the Holy Eucharist.
1st reading Genesis 11 (1st option)
2nd reading Romans 8
Gospel John 7
1st reading Acts 2
2nd reading 1 Cor 12 (1st option)
Gospel John 15 (2nd option)
 Psalm 19:5
 Ephesians 2:22
 cf. 1 Corinthians 12:8, 28-30
 1 Corinthians 12:4
 1 Cor 12:7
 Romans 8:15
 John 6:51