Father Donald Senior, CP

June 4: Pentecost

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Acts 2:1-11; Ps 104:1, 24, 29-30, 31, 34; 1 Cor 12:3-7, 12-13; Jn 20:19-23

Some years ago Catholic Theological Union, where I served as president, honored Father Ted Hesburgh, the legendary president of the University of Notre Dame. As host, I had the privilege of sitting next to him at the banquet and in the course of our conversation I asked him the secret to his dynamic energy, still apparent in his mid-80s.

He told me that he began each day reciting the beautiful "sequence" or poetic hymn to the Spirit that is part of this Pentecost liturgy, "Come, Holy Spirit, come!" He mentioned some of the lines that meant the most to him: "In our labor, rest most sweet … solace in the midst of woe … heal our wounds, our strength renew … on our dryness pour your dew … melt the frozen, warm the chill … guide the steps that go astray."

The church reflects on the meaning of the Spirit on this feast of Pentecost. God’s Spirit, sent by the risen and triumphant Jesus, falls upon the still hesitant disciples and inflames them with love and purpose.

The Acts of the Apostles marks this storm of the Spirit as the true beginning of the church’s life. The crowds "from every nation under heaven" gathered in Jerusalem for the Jewish feast of Pentecost — marking 50 days since the celebration of Passover — can all hear and understand the preaching of the apostles as if in their own language. The world-wide mission of the church is underway.

Christian belief in the Spirit reflects our conviction that our one God is triune, a frail and inadequate attempt to glimpse the inner life of God, a mystery far beyond our understanding. Yet we are confident that mystery involves a perfect storm of love expressed completely between Father, Son and Spirit.

While the metaphors of "father" and "son" enable us to imagine some of the qualities of God’s love reflected dimly in our own human experience, imagining the Spirit is more challenging. Here we need to turn to the effects of the Spirit’s presence to understand more about the divine presence in our world. The Scripture passages for this feast help us do that.

The New Testament describes two fundamental aspects of the Spirit’s presence in our world. One is the dynamic sense of outreach foreseen in today’s first reading. The Spirit is a "centrifugal force" propelling the early community to reach out to the wider world to witness to God’s love and forgiveness. This will be asserted over and over in Luke’s account.

The Spirit is out in front of the community, leading it across boundaries it would otherwise hesitate to attempt. What began as a Jewish-Christian community in Jerusalem will, by the power of the Spirit working in people such as Barnabas and Paul and Peter, break out into the whole of the Mediterranean world.

The Gospel passage from John also testifies to this dynamic, expansive impact of the Spirit. The Risen Jesus (recognizable by the wounds of love he still bears) "breathes" the Spirit of God upon his frightened disciples and commissions them to go out to the world with the same message of life-giving love that characterized Jesus’ own mission: "As the Father has sent me, so I send you. … Receive the Holy Spirit."

The other dimension of the Spirit’s presence is expressed in the second reading, from Paul’s First Letter to Corinthians. Paul emphasizes that it is the power of the Spirit that draws a diverse community together into a community of reconciliation and love.

"There are different kinds of spiritual gifts," Paul notes, "but the same spirit. There are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone." The Spirit’s impact on the church is the same as Jesus’ own impact on the world — to form a community of mutual care. Yet not a community turned in on itself but one mobilized to bring the good news to the world.

As we pray in today’s liturgy: "Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love."


  • scripture
  • father donald senior
  • ascension