On May 20, the seventh Sunday after Easter, Christians will celebrate Pentecost. Below, a friar shares his thoughts on what he has learned and preached for 45 years.
The feast of Pentecost celebrates the full breath and mystery of the Church’s life. It points backward and forward. Backward to God’s creation of the world in and through God’s divine breath and command. Forward to the life, death and resurrection of God’s Son, Jesus, who in union with the Father, bestows the Holy Spirit upon the apostles on the day of Pentecost.
The Spirit becomes the source of the Church’s mission to baptize all nations into God’s Trinitarian life. We sometimes call Pentecost the ‘birthday’ of the Church, because on this day, Christ’s apostles are endowed and sent forth by God’s Spirit into the world to preach and baptize in the name of the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit.
Pentecost, Spirit and Scripture
Pentecost celebrates the life-giving Spirit of God to humanity. The references to God’s Spirit are numerous throughout the Jewish and Christian scriptures. In Gen 1:2, the Spirit (breath, wind) of God moves over the void to initiate the work of creation. In Num 11:17 God endows 70 elders of God’s people to share in Moses’ spirit to aid him in his mission. Israel’s ancient kings are anointed in the Spirit of God: the anointing of David in 1Sam 16:13 stands out. Israel’s prophets share in God’s Spirit announcing “weal and woe.” The “Servant” of Yahweh in the Isaian prophecies is endowed with God’s Spirit of wisdom and understanding, counsel and might, knowledge and fear of the Lord (Isa 11:2). In the book of Ezekiel, a new spirit will be bestowed upon God’s people to soften their stony hearts (Ezek 36:26).
Turning to the Christian Scriptures, it is Mary who is found with child by the Holy Spirit (Mt 1:18,20). It is the Spirit of God that comes upon Jesus at his baptism in the Jordon (Mk 1:10; Mt 3:16; Lk 3:22). In John’s gospel, Jesus is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit (Jn 1:33). The Acts of the Apostles: Chapters 2 and 4, are replete with references to God’s Spirit upon the apostles who are sent forth to preach Christ’s gospel message. St. Paul in his epistles speaks frequently of the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit upon him and on all people (cf. Rom, Chapter 8). In the book of Revelation, the Spirt chastises and encourages the Churches of Asia Minor (Rev, Chapters 2 and 3). At the very end of Revelation, it is the Spirit and the Bride who invite us to come and share God’s life (Rev 22:17).
As I eluded to in my opening words of this reflection, it is the “mission of Christ and the Holy Spirit” (that) “is brought to completion in the Church….” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 737). We speak about the Church’s mission as the sacrament of Christ and the Holy Spirit in the world. The Church is the extension of Christ’s and the Spirit’s work – bringing God’s people to faith and baptism. Its mission is to create a people to hear and embrace the gospel of Christ and to celebrate Christ’s out pouring of the Holy Spirit in the administering of the Church’s sacraments. One with the Church’s community of the faithful, we live out our Christian vocation in the world sustained by the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit. The gifts are wisdom, understanding, council, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord, and the fruits of the Holy Spirit are charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control and chastity (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1831-2).
The Message of Pentecost
As a friar and priest, I have preached on Pentecost for the past 45 years. The liturgical readings for the feast speak of the mysterious tongues of fire that descend upon Christ’s disciples, and their endowment with the Holy Spirit, that inspires them to proclaim Christ’s gospel to the nations of the world (Acts 2:1-11). The readings speak about the many spiritual gifts that are the Church’s treasure for the up building of its faithful, having as their source the same Spirit (1Cor 12:3b-7,12-13). The Liturgy of the Word calls us to live by the Spirit so that its fruits may be made manifest. The gospel of the feast speaks of the Risen Christ bringing his peace to his apostles who will guide them, and all who hear them, to the truth (Jn 20:19-23).
I have always tried to emphasize at Pentecost the centrality of our baptism and the working of the Holy Spirit in our own lives – the Spirit who empowers us to continue to be faithful to the greatest of the theological virtues that St. Paul so eloquently speaks about in 1 Corinthians, Chapter 13: the virtue of love. Love not only for our friends and loved ones but also for the poor, the immigrant and the abandoned that Pope Francis speaks so forcefully about in his writings, and most recently in his Apostolic Exhortation: “Gautete et Exsultate” (Rejoice and be Glad).
We do indeed rejoice on the feast of Pentecost at which the fullness of the Church’s life and mission is made manifest. And we are indeed glad about the life that Jesus Christ has called us to share in for the salvation of the world.
— Fr. Charles, who professed his first vows as a Franciscan in 1968, lives at St. Bernardine of Siena Friary in Loudonville, N.Y., and works at St. Francis Chapel in Colonie. He taught theology and scripture at Christ the King Seminary for nearly two decades.
Editor’s note: Friars interested in writing a reflection for HNP Today on a timely topic – a holiday, current event, holy day or other seasonal themes – are invited to contact the HNP Communications Office at firstname.lastname@example.org. Additional reflections by friars can be found on the Spiritual Resources page of HNP.org.