Gospel reflection for May 31, 2020, Solemnity of Pentecost

Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples, was a moment of complete transformation not for them only but for the entire world. Now, and for the first time in the 50 days since Jesus was raised from the dead are the doors to the Upper Room unlocked. No longer are the Apostles sneaking out, under the cover of darkness, to go into the city. Here, at nine o’clock in the morning, the disciples are freed from their bondage to fear – a consequence of sin – and liberated by the Holy Spirit. They are at this moment sent to bear witness to the Good News of Jesus Christ to the entire world.

They heard Jesus tell them that he came to bear witness to the truth. Earlier in his ministry he sent them forth to preach and to heal the sick. Now, in the final act of their formation as Apostles, Jesus sends them forth with the power to forgive and retain sins. But immediately, as we see in the account of that day in the Acts of the Apostles, they step outside, unlock the doors, and proclaim the Gospel.

Bearing witness – one of the overarching themes of John’s Gospel – becomes the work not only of the newly-formed apostles, but of the entire church. And they indeed bear witness to the Gospel for the rest of their lives.

The word witness carries two distinct connotations. First, it demands seeing or being present. We witness events. When, after the Ascension but before Pentecost, the disciples choose a successor for Judas Iscariot so that their number would again be 12, their first criterion was someone who bore witness to the ministry of Jesus from the very outset.

But a witness is also one who testifies. It is not just enough to see what unfolds one must announce this as well. As they were huddled behind locked doors they were witnesses but they had yet to bear witness to what they had seen and heard. This bearing witness – the necessary consequence of being sent – begins as they step out of the room and testify to all that had happened. St. John Paul II reminded us in a Pentecost homily: “…the Spirit, descending upon the Apostles, gave them the necessary light and strength to teach the nations and to proclaim Christ's Gospel to them all. In this way the Church was born and lives in the fruitful tension between the Upper Room and the world, between prayer and proclamation.”

John Paul continued: “The Apostles’ witness is human: It transmits, in the light of revelation, their experience of life with Jesus. In laying the foundations of the Church, Christ attaches great importance to the human witness of the Apostles. He wants the Church to live by the historical truth of his Incarnation, so that through the work of witnesses the memory of his Death on the cross and of his Resurrection may always be alive and in her.

“’And you also are witnesses.’ Enlivened by the gift of the Spirit, the Church has always been keenly aware of this duty and has faithfully proclaimed the Gospel message in every time and place. She has done so with respect for the dignity of peoples, of their culture, of their traditions. Indeed, she knows quite well that the divine message entrusted to her is not hostile to the deepest human aspirations; indeed, it was revealed by God to satisfy, beyond every expectation, the hunger and thirst of the human heart. For this very reason the Gospel must not be imposed but proposed, because it can only be effective if it is freely accepted and lovingly embraced. We continue to bear witness with the surety of our lives of faith.”

This demands of us, as disciples of Jesus that we bear witness with the totality of our lives. We cannot segment our religious faith into the moments of life where it is convenient or comfortable. The Apostles stepped out of the upper room and proclaimed boldly their testimony to Jesus Christ. Throughout the Easter Season, as we heard the accounts from the Acts of the Apostles each day, we were reminded of the great cost to them that bearing witness caused them to bear. Yet, they did not shrink away or shirk their call.

Neither should we. We cannot proclaim the Gospel only when it is convenient. Otherwise, being a Christian, a Catholic Christian, is no more significant than joining a club or fraternal organization. The greater the sacrifice, the greater the benefit and reward. This is most certainly true for the disciples of Jesus Christ. We are all called to be martyrs – to bear witness in all times and in all ways.

Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.