Feast of Pentecost
This weekend the Church celebrates the feast of Pentecost, one of the most important feasts of the Church’s liturgical year. It is richly biblical in its background, and it is profoundly educational both in its own message as well as in its place in the chronology of events commemorated these past weeks, Good Friday, Easter and the feast of the Ascension being the most important.
Once Christians chiefly were of Jewish origin, and Christians therefore observed the Jewish holy days. Very early in the history of Christianity, this fact changed. Missionaries such as St. Paul himself took the Gospel far and wide, winning converts from paganism. Then, as a result of rebelling against the Romans in 70 A.D., the Jews themselves almost were annihilated.
Consequently, Christians stopped celebrating the Jewish holy days. An exception is Pentecost, although the Christian observance centers upon the distinctly Christian character of the day.
Nevertheless, the Christian character heavily draws upon the Jewish context of the day. In time, Pentecost became for Jews a celebration of Jewish identity, rejoicing in the collective role of the chosen people.
For Christians Pentecost commemorates the ultimate formation by God of the Church. The process reveals the divinity of Jesus, and the perfect union of the Holy Trinity not just in essence or being, but also in mission.
Important in this reading is the obvious community of the Apostles and of believers with them. Together, as one, they received the power of the Holy Spirit, promised and sent by Christ.
The Holy Spirit comes as God. The imagery is strong with Old Testament associations. The divine Spirit comes as fire, an image so often used for God in the Scriptures.
Strengthened by the Holy Spirit, the Apostles have divine power itself. They are without fear. Fortified too are all the members of the community.
Forming the community were people from every place. Salvation is offered to all who love God.
First Corinthians furnishes the second reading. This reading clearly states that belief in Jesus as Lord belongs only to the humble and faithful. Without humility, without faith, humans are confused and seriously subject to their own limitations.
St. John’s Gospel provides the last reading. It is a Resurrection Narrative. The Risen Lord appears before the Apostles, the specially chosen and commissioned, and the special students. He is God, possessing the Holy Spirit, able to give the life and power of the Spirit. He gives this power to the Apostles, specifically vesting them with the most divine of powers, the power to forgive sins.
The Church concludes its brilliant story of the sacrifice and then Resurrection of Jesus. Jesus is the savior. It was to give all people a place with God, and eternal life in God, that God providentially offered the world salvation in Jesus.
Thus, the story of salvation has one central figure. This figure is Jesus the Lord. He lived a human life. God in every sense, Jesus was human. It is the mystery and miracle of the Incarnation.
Jesus ascended to heaven. Jesus did not desert us, however. To continue salvation, Jesus called the Apostles. Specially taught, present when no one else was present, they had unique lessons, revelations, from the Lord.
Their task was to assist us in overcoming our human limitations and in understanding the Gospel.
The community of believers is not a happenstance of people standing side by side. In the Spirit they share one source of life. Thus, Christians act in communion — ideally.
Pope Pius XII, three generations ago, masterfully told us that the Church is the Mystical Body of Christ, no mere human institution. Holiness is not automatic, however, for its members. They must perfect themselves to be in fact part of this Mystical Body.
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