Soon after we were born, we emptied our lungs of fluid and breathed for the first time. During an average lifespan, a human being breathes 650 million times before we take our last breath. Life is one breath after another. Our sharing in eternal life is also a drama of breathing. ‘Then the Lord God formed man out of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being’ (Genesis 2.7). The divine name revealed to Moses has been said to be like the sound of breathing. Every time we breathe, we utter God’s name. On the cross Jesus breathed out his final breath that we might live. Today Jesus breaths his breath as his Holy Spirit as breath of life for his disciples and for you and me!.
In a Reader’s Digest’s article, quoted by Fr. Simplicio Apalisok in his homily book, an author tells how as a child, he was captivated by the sight of an old man prayerfully peering into an old cistern. Intrigued about what the old man was looking at, the boy edged up to the cistern and tried to see over the ledge. The old man held him with his hands helped him over the ledge of the cistern.
“Do you know who lives there?” the old man asked. The frightened boy shook his head. “God lives there. Look!” but the boy only saw his reflection in the still water. “But that’s me,” said the boy. “That’s right,” said the old man. “Now you know where God lives.”
Last Sunday we celebrated the Ascension of the Lord Jesus into heaven. Today we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit on the early Church.. Today we come to the high point of our Easter celebration, the Feast of Pentecost. Pentecost means, “fifty days” after the Resurrection. This is the conclusion of the holy fifty days and marks the exaltation of Jesus and the giving of the Holy Spirit by glorified Christ.
This was also the feast day in which the Jewish people celebrated the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai. On Mount Sinai the different tribes of Israel entered into covenant with God and with one another and so became the people of God. God gave them the Ten Commandments as a guide to show them how to be a godly people, because being people of God means relating to God and to one another in a way that God Himself has mapped out, not in the way that we think is right. Prov. 14:12 says, “There is a way that seems right to a people but in the end it leads to death.” The beginning of wisdom, the beginning of true religion, therefore, is when we realize that as humans we are limited and shortsighted, and so we ask God to show us how to be the people of God that He has created us to be.
Through Pentecost, people reunify and bring all of them together under One universal family. This universal family embracing all races and nationalities is called Church. “Catholic” means “universal.” And so the Pentecost is not only the feast reminding us of the coming of the Holy Spirit fifty days after the Resurrection, it is also the Birthday of the Church. For it is the Spirit who is the driving force of the Church and every baptized Christian. The Spirit which Jesus gave as an everlasting gift to the apostles is the same Spirit at work in our present time. Today is, therefore, an opportunity to rededicate ourselves to be active and faithful members of this family of God we call Church.
Pentecost is not only the commemoration of the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles and the Blessed Virgin Mary but it is also a mission-sending as well. After He breathed on them, He said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” This mission of theirs is reflective of Christ’s own mission, namely, the forgiveness of sin. Christ came into this world for the forgiveness of our sins and so in a similar manner, His apostles are tasked to do the same.
Pentecost is also about service. In the second reading, St. Paul says, “…there are varieties of service to be done, but always the same Lord; working in all sorts of different ways in different people, it is the same God who is working in all of them.” Serving the Lord is what Pentecost is all about. It is not just about selling what you have and give the proceeds to the poor but also to do what St. Francis of Assisi did, he went preaching the good news while giving an example of his life as well.
Pentecost is also about courage. The Spirit gives Christians the strength and courage to bear witness to Christ in the world and to proclaim the good news of salvation. This was what happened to early Christians by which after they had received the Holy Spirit, they went out of the room and began preaching….speaking in foreign languages (in our first reading). They proclaimed boldly, “Jesus Christ is Lord” because they were influenced by the Holy Spirit (in our second reading).
The late Pope John Paul II told the youth of Scotland in 1982: “There is no place in your lives for apathy or indifference to the world around you. Christ counts on you, so that the effects of His Holy Spirit may radiate from you to others and in that way permeate every aspect of the public and private sector of life.”
Bishop Fulton J. Sheen once said about the Church that even though we are God’s chosen people, we often behave more like God’s frozen people. God’s frozen people indeed: frozen in our prayer life, in the way we relate with one another, frozen in the way we celebrate our faith. We don’t seem to be happy to be in God’s house; we are always in a hurry to get it over and done with as soon as possible. Today is a great day to ask the Holy Spirit to rekindle in us the spirit of a new life and enthusiasm, the fire of God’s love.
Some people see religion as an escape from life; some religions stress the importance of rising above humanity and the pressures of life to peace in a timeless world where earthly things do not matter. This is not Christianity: we started in the peace of an upper room, but the Holy Spirit found us out and forced us out into the street where the apostles caused a sensation. The life of the Church is to be a sign of God’s love for the world. Jesus spent his time healing the sick, associating with sinners and outcasts; he brought those who lived in the shadows out into the light.
There are those who would prefer to confine the Church to the Upper Room; the prospect of Christ in his Church clothed in his promises roaming the streets challenging the accepted bounds of human society is a threat. But since Pentecost that is no longer an option for us: we are out of seclusion and ready to gather the harvest which the Lord has sown.