Father Donald Senior, CP

May 31: Pentecost

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

‘Heal our wounds; our strength renew’

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

Will the pandemic we are enduring bring us closer together as human beings or drive us apart? A lot of thoughtful observers have begun to ask that question. Some wear masks; others consider it a sign of weakness. Some keep social distancing; others ignore it. Some are wary about opening up businesses; others suffer from unemployment and isolation.

These, of course, are not abstract or easily answered questions for any of us. It is interesting to consider such questions in the light of the great feast we celebrate today.

Suplican Father Raymond Brown, the great Catholic biblical scholar, said that whenever he preached in a parish on Pentecost, he would begin by declaring that this is the most important feast of the liturgical year. But he knew nobody in the congregation believed him. Pentecost cannot compete with Christmas, they thought.

Yet, in fact, Pentecost is a unique and unparalleled feast. It is the moment when the church was born with the power of the Spirit sent by Jesus, transforming the stunned and fearful disciples into courageous preachers of the Gospel to the Jerusalem crowds. From that moment on, the church of Jesus would take flight and reach out to the world, eventually, in Luke’s account, bringing the Christian message to “the ends of the earth.”

Each of the readings for this feast celebrate the expansive and inclusive spirit of the Gospel. It was never meant to be a small story for a few people. That is signaled in the way the Acts of the Apostles describes the event of Pentecost. 

Pentecost was a Jewish feast celebrating 50 days after Passover. Crowds of Jewish pilgrims from all over the Mediterranean world came to Jerusalem to worship in its temple and to join with family and friends. 

Luke cites some 14 regions, each with their own language and customs, whose people fill the city. Yet, the Spirit enables the apostles to speak to this diverse crowd in a way they all understand. “Are not all these people who are speaking Galileans? Then how does each of us hear them in his native language?” Different languages, different cultures and different races are transcended by the Spirit of God that embraces them all.

This wide and inclusive embrace of God’s Spirit is also signaled in the other readings for this Pentecost. In the second reading taken from First Corinthians, Paul commends that dynamic community for their many gifts and talents but pleads (throughout the letter, in fact) that this not lead to competition and factions. “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord.” 

Paul introduces a powerful metaphor for the church that he will develop later in this letter: “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free persons, and we were all given to drink of the one Spirit.” We are members of the one Body of Christ and therefore must care for each other, especially for the most vulnerable.

The Gospel for today is John’s beautiful account of the risen Christ appearing to his disciples who are huddled behind locked doors out of fear and confusion. The risen Jesus enters, shows them his wounds — unimpeachable signs of his love for them — and greets them with the greatest of gifts: “Peace be with you.” 

Reflecting the fundamental message of Pentecost, Jesus “breathes on them” and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” As in the account in Acts, the power of the Spirit will send these disciples out into the world in the same way that the Father had sent Jesus. As with Jesus, their message will be one of forgiveness and healing.

Special to the Pentecost liturgy is the beautiful medieval poem “Veni Sancte Spiritus,” “Come, Holy Spirit.” It implores the Spirit to heal and animate us. I have quoted one line as the title of this reflection: “Heal our wounds; our strength renew.” As our country and our world experience the deep stress and tensions of this pandemic, the Christian Spirit gives us the capacity to be healers and reconcilers across our divisions.



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