Gospel reflection for the Solemnity of Pentecost
Father Koch: Today the Church truly celebrates its birthday
At the Ascension Jesus commissions his disciples to go and do the work that he has given them. He tells them to “go,and make disciples of all nations.”
While the disciples have witnessed the work that Jesus has done, they have not done the work themselves. The few times they tried -- such as the time they tried to exorcize a demon while Jesus and three of them were atop the mount of Transfiguration -- have not been very successful. They are undoubtedly left wondering what happens next.
Jesus has promised them the Paraclete -- the one who is to speak on their behalf. Technically this is a lawyer or a spokesperson who intervenes and intercedes on another’s behalf. We are not sure what the disciples were expecting, but we can be sure that they were not expecting to be overwhelmed by tongues of fire and empowered to speak and act on behalf of Jesus.
The disciples were also quick to note, and consistently proclaimed, that they did not speak and act on their own -- it was this Holy Spirit that compelled, inspired and directed them in their work.
They received the fullness of the Holy Spirit to a degree likely that no one else has since. The Spirit empowers and directs the Church -- in and through the institutions and rituals of the Church, but also in and around the Church, driving her forward, protecting her from harm, and evangelizing the world around us in ways that are often unseen and unrecognized,
The Gifts that the Holy Spirit bestows are given, not for the benefit of the person who receives the Gift alone, but for the entire people of God. Some Christians look at this feast of Pentecost, and any bestowal of the Holy Spirit -- either sacramentally or charismatically -- as a Gift for themselves alone. While on one level this feast is about the blessing of the Holy Spirit being poured out celebrating the amazing Gifts given to the apostles, yet we understand that this feast is fundamentally about the Church -- Pentecost: that day the Holy Spirit formed the Church by bestowing the Gifts that serve the Kingdom of God in this world.
The Church continually prays for the wisdom and guidance of the Holy Spirit. We invoke the Spirit at Baptism, we receive the Gifts appropriate to our calling in Confirmation, and it is through the power of the Holy Spirit that the priest confects the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. In the words of absolution in the Sacrament of Penance the priest prays: “God the Father of mercies, through the Death and Resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and poured out the Holy Spirit for the forgiveness of sins.”
In the consecratory prayer of priesthood ordination, the Bishop recites a prayer of anamnesis outlining the presence of the Spirit present through the life of the old and new covenants and then says: “Through the Holy Spirit [Jesus] offered himself unblemished to you and made his Apostles, who were consecrated in the truth, sharers in his mission … Now we pray, O Lord, provide also for our weakness these helpers whom we need for the exercise of the Apostolic priesthood.”`
The Nuptial blessing similarly invokes the Spirit, “Look now with favor on these your servants, joined together in Marriage, who ask to be strengthened by your blessing. Send down on them the grace of the Holy Spirit and pour your love into their hearts, that they may remain faithful in the Marriage covenant.”
Finally, in the Anointing of the Sick the priest prays: “Through this holy anointing may the Lord in his love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit.”
It is the Holy Spirit, whose feast we celebrate today, who lifts us up, sustains us, and draws us into a deeper relationship with God our Father and our Lord, Jesus Christ.
May our prayer be today to seek the guidance of the Spirit in our daily lives, so that we might build up the Body of Christ -- the Church.
Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.