June 4, 2017-Pentecost Homily

The Book of Acts describes the events of Pentecost and proclaims the birth of the Church and the mission of the apostles. The second reading, from Saint Paul’s letter, reminds us that our Christian life is centered around the Lord, who sent the Holy Spirit to guide the life of the Church. The sending of the apostles echoes today’s Gospel, which describes the first encounter of these men with the risen Christ.
Today we celebrate the great feast of Pentecost, in which we relive the birth of the Church…. “Fifty days after Easter, the Holy Spirit descended on the community of disciples…gathered with ‘Mary, the mother of Jesus’ and with the Twelve Apostles…. “In this extraordinary event we find the essential and qualifying characteristics of the Church: the Church is one, like the community at Pentecost…. “The Church is holy…because, animated by the Holy Spirit; she keeps her gaze on Christ, to become conformed to him and his love. “The Church is catholic, because the Gospel is destined for all peoples… “The Church is apostolic…she faithfully keeps [the Apostles’] teaching through the uninterrupted chain of Papal succession.”
Our gospel reading from John tells us that Christ appeared in the upper room before His disciples, where they had met for the Last Supper. The mood among the disciples following the death of Jesus was that of fear. The room was locked for fear of the Jews trying to persecute them as they had done to Christ. If Jesus had been killed, certainly they would be next. Having barricaded themselves behind locked doors, amazingly the risen Lord appeared to them. And what is the first thing that Christ does? To His disciples He offered them his peace (John 20:19). Shalom… The greeting that all Jews’ greet each other with, similar to us greeting each other and saying, “Hello, how are you?” “Shalom – Peace be with you.”
Jesus penetrates their fear with his peace. Peace is a gift Jesus can now give the disciples because of his resurrection which now completes his mission. Jesus demonstrates his real presence by showing the disciples the marks in His hands and His side. This is to show them that it is truly Him – Christ who died on the Cross.
The disciples are able to see through the wounds and recognize Jesus as the risen Lord (John 20:20). Jesus reaffirms his gift of peace to the disciples and follows this with a commissioning. That is why Jesus instructed the apostles to wait in Jerusalem until “you are clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). Why did they need power from on high? The Gospels tell us that Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit when he was baptized at the Jordan River: “And John bore witness, ‘I saw the Spirit descend as a dove from heaven, and it remained on him… this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit'”(John 1:32, 33; Mark 1:8; Matthew 3:11). “And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan, and was led by the Spirit for forty days in the wilderness… and Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee” (Luke 4:1,14). Just as Jesus was anointed with the Spirit at the beginning of his ministry, so the disciples needed the anointing of the Holy Spirit to carry out the mission entrusted to them by Jesus. After his death and resurrection Jesus promised to give his disciples the gift of the Holy Spirit. This commissioning makes them officially apostles, “those who are sent” (John 20:21). The gift of the Holy Spirit was conditional upon the ascension of Jesus to the right hand of the Father. These newly commissioned disciples are then empowered by Jesus as he breathes on them the gift of the Holy Spirit (John 20:22). He said to them, Receive the Holy Spirit! (John 20:22). Jesus knew that his disciples would need the power of the Holy Spirit to carry out the mission entrusted to them. Just as God had sent Jesus, so now Jesus sends his disciples. They are now fully empowered to do the works that Jesus did.
The final aspect of this commissioning is the power to forgive sins (John 20:23). In John’s gospel sin is ignorance of God’s presence in the world in and through Jesus. Forgiving sin is equal to erasing that ignorance by making God known in the world.
Today is the feast of Pentecost, the birthday of the Church. On this day, the Spirit came to a group of men and women, Jesus’ disciples, who were locked in a place of fear. Like these men and women, we need to be radically open to the gifts of the Spirit and to use those gifts for the benefit of the body. That’s the Church. In the Acts of the Apostles today, we find a fabulously interesting story about the beginning of the Church. We see in this story a focus on the acts of those who received the Spirit-the actions of the apostles. Those actions are interesting because they give us wisdom about how the Church works. The gift of Pentecost – the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and the spiritual gifts and blessings of God – are made possible through the death, resurrection, and ascension of the Lord Jesus. Just as God breathed life into Adam, so the gift of the Holy Spirit is an imparting of ”new life” for his people. With the gift of the Holy Spirit a new creation begins. God recreates us for his glory.
St. Paul reminds us: All who believe must be aware of the different spiritual gifts poured out by the Holy Spirit. We know the Spirit empowers every gift we have. A gift that has been given to one person is given for the good of all. The body of Christ has many parts that work together to become the active presence of Christ in the world.
The Lord Jesus offers each one of us the gift and power of his Holy Spirit. He wants to make our faith strong, give us hope that endures, and a love that never grows cold. He never refuses to give his Spirit to those who ask with expectant faith. Jesus instructed his disciples to ask confidently for the gift of the Spirit: “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13). Basil the Great (329-379 AD), an early church father, explains the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives: “The Spirit restores paradise to us and the way to heaven and adoption as children of God; he instills confidence that we may call God truly Father and grants us the grace of Christ to be children of the light and to enjoy eternal glory. In a word, he bestows the fullness of blessings in this world and the next; for we may contemplate now in the mirror of faith the promised things we shall someday enjoy. If this is the foretaste, what must the reality be? If these are the first fruits, what must be the harvest?” (From the treatise by Basil on The Holy Spirit)
Experiencing the risen Christ isn’t a private affair; it is always a commissioning to proclaim the good news. Today’s Gospel leaves no doubt: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” The Spirit’s gifts are meant to be shared. The Holy Spirit is given to all who are baptized into Jesus Christ to enable us to live a new way of life – a life of love, peace, joy, and righteousness (Romans 14:17). The Holy Spirit fills our hearts with the love of God (Romans 5:7), and he gives us the strength and courage we need in order to live as faith-filled disciples of the Lord Jesus. The Spirit helps us in our weakness (Romans 8:26), and enables us to grow in spiritual freedom – freedom from doubt, fear, and from slavery to our unruly desires (2 Corinthians 3:17; Romans 8:21). The Spirit instructs us in the ways of God, and guides us in living according to God’s will. Isaiah foretold the seven-fold gifts that the Spirit would give: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord (Isaiah 11:2). The Spirit is the source and giver of all holiness.