Last Sunday we celebrated the Ascension when Jesus ascended to the Father and in ordinary terms returned home. This Sunday we celebrate the feast of Pentecost which was the start of the Church. We arrive at the fiftieth day ‑ the completion of the Easter Season, and the completion of the Paschal Mystery: the Lord has died, is risen, has ascended to heaven and now gives birth to his Church, by sending the Spirit upon the apostles. This feast of the gift of the Spirit is so significant for us, because it marks the handing on of Jesus’ ministry to the Church ‑ in the Church we are guaranteed the presence of the Lord, in his sacraments in his ministers, in the Blessed Sacrament and in his Celebrated Word. It also marks the fulfilment of our thoughts about baptism throughout this season: the gift of the Spirit which we receive in Confirmation is the `seal’ of our baptism, guaranteeing and confirming all that baptism achieves.
The gospel reading for the feast of Pentecost has already been read, in a more extended form, on the Second Sunday of Easter. It was read then to include Jesus’ encounter with Thomas ‘eight days later’. On the feast of Pentecost we have the opportunity to focus on the earlier verses, in which Jesus brings the gift of peace and the gift of the Holy Spirit. The account of the day of Pentecost is found in our first reading, from the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. Fifty days after the resurrection there was a spectacular manifestation of the power of the Spirit. Jews and proselytes, gathered from the nations for the Jewish feast of Pentecost, witness the power of the Spirit and hear the preaching of the apostles each in his own tongue. This event launches the mission to the whole world.
Our gospel teaches that the Holy Spirit was also given by the risen Christ before the events of Pentecost. This is a quieter and more intimate demonstration of the power of the Spirit. It is related to the preaching of forgiveness and the possibility of new life for those who ask for it. The disciples are empowered to bring the forgiveness of Christ, but it is possible for people to reject this forgiveness. This seems to be the sense of the final verse, that some have their sins retained. This is the final day of the Easter period. The Lord who died on the cross has shown himself in his risen body. He has taken our humanity into the presence of the Father. He is no longer visibly present, but his Spirit is with us to remind us of Jesus and to lead us into all truth. That Spirit, as St Paul writes to the Corinthians, bestows gifts in abundance for the benefit of the whole Church.
The apostles used the gifts of the Holy Spirit as they encouraged people to turn away from sin and as they transformed the world so that the kingdom of God could emerge in people’s lives. Although in earlier days they had deserted Jesus, most of them were eventually martyred because of their later faithfulness to his teaching. Pentecost was certainly a turning point in their lives. Applying this truth to ourselves, the sacrament of confirmation is our personal Pentecost event. It is the great sacrament of transformation. In confirmation we are ‘filled’ with the Holy Spirit and we receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Our lives are transformed so that, like the apostles, we can be courageous witnesses for Christ. But also like them, we must choose daily to welcome and accept the Spirit.When we are responsive to the Holy Spirit in our lives, we joyfully proclaim the truth of God’s word in every situation whatever the consequences.
Every Pentecost is an exultant celebration of the gift and presence of the third person of the Blessed Trinity and a deep invitation to live out his guidance and purpose in every area of our lives. Pentecost reminds us that we are called and emboldened by the Holy Spirit to bring him into each moment of our lives and every interaction with others. The Holy Spirit gives us his gifts to dwell in and his fruits to bear to the world. In Acts 2 we read that people from every nation were gathered, yet with the coming of the Holy Spirit they all heard each other in their own language. How the Holy Spirit enabled the apostles to do this is a mystery – and yet, in a real way we are also called to “speak” to the world with a similarly unifying language as we share our faith: the language of love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, self-control, gentleness, wisdom, understanding, wonder, awe, right judgement knowledge, courage and reverence. We remain committed to the Church as the guardian and teacher of the faith. We turn away from sin. By doing so, we begin to transform the world so that God’s presence is always glorified and many of the effects of the gifts of the Holy Spirit (what we call the fruits of the Holy Spirit) become evident in our lives. Among these effects are charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control and chastity. Pentecost emphasises the continuous outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Church and the Church’s worldwide mission. It also reminds us about the sacrament of confirmation and the personal transformation that is possible in our lives if we are open to the promptings and guidance of the Spirit. So now let us continue our faith Journey along the roads that lead to God during this year of Faith.