Feast of Pentecost
Pentecost, the feast celebrated on this weekend, is the greatest day of the church’s year, save for Easter and Christmas. It is interesting in this sense. It is the only ancient Jewish feast still observed by the church.
In the beginning, Christians almost invariably were of Jewish origins. But quite early in Christian history, the apostles themselves took the Gospels far and wide. As a result of these missionary efforts, many came into the church who were not of Jewish backgrounds.
When the church was born, a series of political upheavals were causing great stresses in traditional Judaism. All these developments meant that the attention that once would have been paid to Jewish feasts faded and eventually ended altogether. Pentecost is the lone exception.
For Jews, Pentecost celebrates the divine bringing together of them as a people. In this act of God, more than just ethnic or genetic unity was achieved. They were unified as a people in their mission to be true to God and to profess God before all the nations.
Christians see Pentecost as their holy day, recalling the moment when God the Holy Spirit vivified the apostles. Receiving strength and power from the Holy Spirit, the apostles then went forward to proclaim salvation in Christ to the entire world.
This first reading recalls this event and its aftermath. Under the leadership of Peter, the apostles were united. They were emboldened. They never relented from their mission of declaring Jesus as lord and savior. According to tradition, all but one died as a martyr.
For the second reading, the church presents a passage from First Corinthians. Absolute faith in Christ, as God, and as savior, is key. Without grace that accompanies this absolute commitment, and indeed enables faith, humans are confused and prone to fatal misstep.
St. John’s Gospel is the source of the last reading, a Resurrection narrative. The risen Lord appears before the apostles. As God, possessing the Holy Spirit, Jesus gives the apostles the power to forgive sins, extraordinary because only God can forgive sins.
For weeks, the church has rejoiced in the resurrection, excitedly proclaiming that Jesus is Lord, and that Jesus lives!
As this season has progressed, the church, through the readings at Mass, also has called us to realize what effect the Resurrection has upon us and upon human history. The salvation achieved by Christ on Calvary never will end. It is for all time and for all people.
How will it be accomplished? It will be accomplished through the Lord’s disciples in every consecutive age.
Since true conversion requires a completely free and uncompromised individual decision, true Christians are bound together in the church. They share their identity with Christ and the grace of the Spirit. As Acts reveals, they are part of the community still gathered around the apostles, under the leadership of Peter, and still looking to the apostles for guidance and direction. Through the apostles, the community links itself to the Savior, to the Father, and to the Spirit. The church lives, and in it Jesus lives.
Christians, however zealous, cannot be ships passing each other silently in the night. They bear together the mission to bring God’s mercy and wisdom to the world. Christians. They belong to, and are one in, the church.
On this feast, the church’s lesson therefore is very contemporary, very immediate and very personal. We belong, as did the first Christians, to an apostolic church, a community created by God to bring divine mercy to weary and wandering humans.
This feast invites us into the framework of holiness formed by Jesus. None of us is alone in faith. We share a common bond with Christ. We share in the mission of Christ.
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