pentecost The Sánchez Archives

Year C

Patricia Datchuck Sánchez

Spirit of God

ACTS 2:1-11
1 CORINTHIANS 12:3-7, 12-13
JOHN 20:19-23

When Pope John XXIII announced his plans for convening the twenty-first ecumenical Council (now known as the Second Vatican Council) on January 25, 1959, he invited the church and the world to join him in “opening the window to allow the Holy Spirit to come in.” When the council officially opened on October 11, 1962, he complained about those whom he called “prophets of doom, who are always forecasting disaster as though the end of the world were at hand.” Moreover, Pope John invited all believers to realize that Divine Providence is leading us to a new order of human relations. In his desire that the council would “promote concord, just peace and the brotherly unity of all”, he invited the world to share his optimism. “The council now beginning rises in the church like daybreak, a forerunner of most splendid light. It is now only dawn.” Building on Pope John XXIII insightful analogy, it is the opinion of this author that, thirty-five years after he first uttered it, it is now only about eight o’clock in the morning!

Granted, the renewal spawned by the Council has been a spiritual and theological breath of fresh air, much needed by the church and the world. But the sixteen council documents with their profound pronouncements, teachings, challenges and visions have yet to become fully known or realized among all believers. Therefore, the annual feast of Pentecost affords the gathered assembly an opportunity for being renewed in the Spirit which has catalyzed the church from the outset and which continues to be a source of life and guidance for all who will open the window of their minds and hearts in welcome. To that end we pray:

Spirit of God, renew in us the awareness that the church is not solely a means of salvation but a mystery or sacrament, i.e., a “reality imbued with the hidden presence of God” (Paul VI and the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church).

Spirit of God, when human foibles cause us to backslide toward the comfort of the hierarchical institution, remind us that the church is the whole people of God (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church).

Spirit of God, alert us to the truth that the mission of the church is not relegated to a few, nor is the laity being recruited simply because of the growing shortage of ordained ministers. Instill in us the conviction that all of us, lay, religious and clergy are, by virtue of our baptism, called to active participation in the mission of Christ, Prophet, Priest and King (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church and Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity).

Spirit of God, chastise us when we forget that the mission of all the People of God necessarily includes service to human needs in the social, political and economic orders as well as the preaching of the good news and the celebration of the sacraments (Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern Word and Decrees on Apostolate of the Laity, Ecumenism, Bishops’ Pastoral Office, Ministry and Life of Priests, Church’s Missionary Activity).

Spirit of God, enlarge our hearts and minds and extend our horizons with the awareness that the Church is the whole Body of Christ, Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans and Protestants (Decree on Ecumenism, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church).

Spirit of God, cause us to remember that all authority in the Church is to be exercised as a service and in a collegial mode (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church).

Spirit of God, free us from exclusivism and affirm in us the knowledge that religious truth is to be found outside the Body of Christ and is to be respected wherever it is discovered (Declarations on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions and on Religious Freedom).

Spirit of God, correct our ecclesiological errors and help us to understand that the church is not identical with the kingdom of God, but, by nature and mission is to be understood in relationship with and subordinate to the kingdom (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church and Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World).

Spirit of God, teach us, as we teach others, that Christian education must be broadly humane, up-to-date with a concern for personal maturity and social responsibility (Decree on Christian Education).

Spirit of God, inspire us, enliven us, challenge and chasten us, empower us and humble us. Illumine our way that we, in turn, may illumine the way of others. Help us to bring on the light of your day so that, next year at this time, it will be later than eight o’clock in the morning.

ACTS 2:1-11

Fire and wind -- these two elemental forces of nature enabled Luke, the author of Acts, to describe what would otherwise have been an indescribable phenomenon. Fire and wind lent themselves toward understanding a situation in which human beings were transformed from hiding, fearful cowards into bold, courageous and imperturbable leaders. When the Lucan author attempted to explain the transformation that took place in Jesus’ disciples and when he used terms such as “a noise like a strong driving wind” and “tongues as of fire” he was also referencing phenomena which would have been familiar to his Jewish readers.

For example, and as Raymond E. Brown (An Introduction to the New Testament, Doubleday, New York: 1997) has pointed out, in depicting the scene of the first covenant at Sinai, the author of Exodus (chapter 19) employed the typical theophanic props of thunder and smoke. Philo, a Jewish writer, and a contemporary of the early Christians, described angels taking what God had said to Moses on the mountaintop and carrying it out on tongues to the people on the plain below. Philo wrote, “Then, from the midst of the fire that streamed from heaven, there sounded forth, to their utter amazement, a voice, for the flame became articulate speech in the language familiar to the audience, and so clearly and distinctly were the words formed by it that they seemed to see rather than hear them” (On the Decalogue). Acts 2, with its description of fire and wind echoes that imagery and thus presents the Jerusalem Pentecost as a renewal of God’s covenant.

This new covenant, however, would differ from the former one in that it was not exclusive to Israel but was to be extended to all the people of God. The catalogue of peoples (Parthians, Medes, etc.) included nationalities which stretched from one end of the Roman Empire to the other, the implication being that the new covenant was universal in scope. That these all heard in their own languages and understood what the apostles were proclaiming is further attestation to the inclusiveness of God’s new relationship with humankind.

Careful readers of the Lucan literature will notice that Pentecost or the birth of the Church, in Acts, corresponds to the birth of Jesus in Luke’s gospel. Just as Jesus’ birth was an event marked by a proclamation of “good news of great joy that will be for all the people” (Luke 2:10), so would the birth of the Church result in the proclamation of good news and joy for all the world. And, just as Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit and empowered for his ministry of healing and service (Luke 4:18-19) so also would his disciples be filled and empowered at Pentecost.

Throughout both volumes of his contribution to the Christian scriptures, Luke featured the Holy Spirit as the source of the continuity between the mission of Jesus and that of the Church. As the years between Jesus’ two advents stretched into decades and then into centuries, the Spirit secured the unity of the growing and expanding community of believers and assured the Church of the authentic and abiding presence of the risen Lord among them. Bestowed by the resurrected and glorified Jesus, the Holy Spirit could be described as “the gift that keeps on giving. . .” and so it shall be until Jesus returns. Until that time, the people of God everywhere are called upon to daily appropriate and cooperate with the gift of the Spirit whenever and in whomever it is manifested.

1 CORINTHIANS 12:3-7, 12-13

In his commentary on this text, Richard B. Hays (First Christians, John Knox Press, Louisville: 1997) suggests that “for many of our contemporary churches, 1 Corinthians 12 will look like somebody else’s mail.” Indeed, as we can deduct from Paul’s correspondence with the Corinthian church, it was decidedly charismatic. The Holy Spirit operated in powerful and palpable ways through gifts of healing, miracles, and revelatory speech including tongues and prophecy. Although these gifts continue to be manifested in some Christian communities and are slowly being recovered by others, many shy away from them or hold them in suspicion. Fully cognizant of the workings of the human psyche, Paul seemed to have anticipated this difficulty and offered criteria by which to discern authentic gifts of the Spirit from mere ostentation and self-promotion. Two of these criteria are mentioned in today’s second reading.

The first criterion cited by Paul is a confessional one. No one can truly confess Jesus as Lord unless prompted to do so by the Spirit (v. 3). Many in the Corinthian community had turned away from a pagan past when they converted to Christianity. To confess Jesus as Lord meant that they had chosen to never again profess their allegiance to Zeus, Hermes, Athena or even to the Roman Caesars. United to the church by a shared confession of faith, the spiritual gifts of these believers were to be accepted as authentic.

Second among Paul’s criteria for discerning the genuineness of spiritual gifts is whether or not such gifts benefit the common good (v. 7). Although different individuals have been given different gifts, all of these gifts are to be manifested in a complementary and cooperative effort such that the entire community is enhanced and edified. As Paul alludes elsewhere, the sensational character of certain gifts had caused conflict within the Corinthian church. To avert further problems, Paul reminded his readers that their charisms were not personal talents for which they could take credit, but gifts from the same Spirit for the good of all.

Paul also qualified what he meant by all: every baptized believer, whether Jew or Greek, slave or free, are members of the one body of Christ. Gone were the distinctions that had been made in the worshipping community of the old covenant wherein Jews and gentiles, men and women, were relegated to separate areas of the temple. In the covenantal community formed by and founded in Christ, all confessed one creed, “Jesus is Lord.” All were gifted by the same Spirit. All were baptized into one body. These factors enabled the Corinthian church to overcome and even to appreciate their differences. Today, as contemporary Christians celebrate the reality of the Spirit in their lives, each of us is called to do likewise.

JOHN 20:19-23

Shortly before Lee Atwater (George Bush’s campaign manager) died at the age of forty from a brain tumor, he commented that prior to his illness he had been able to acquire considerable wealth and honor but he felt a deep inner emptiness. “My illness”, said Atwater, “helped me to see what is missing in society and what is missing in me, a little heart, a lot of brotherhood.” He concluded that: “We must speak to this spiritual vacuum at the heart of American society.” Jesus was even more profoundly aware of what was missing in society and he came to fill the void, first with his incarnate presence, then with his saving words and works, through which all of humankind has been forgiven and redeemed. Aware that his death would renew the deep inner emptiness of those he left behind, Jesus spoke to the spiritual vacuum at the heart of human society and breathed into it the abiding gifts of the Spirit.

Earlier in the gospel, the Johannine author had promised that “rivers of living water will flow from within” for those who believe in Jesus. The evangelist explained that this was a reference to the Spirit which had not yet been given because Jesus had not yet been glorified (John 7:38-39). Only when Jesus was lifted up in the full glorification of his death and resurrection was the Spirit bestowed. On the cross, the dying Jesus “handed over the spirit” (John 19:30). When he was pierced, blood (signifying his sacrificial death) and water (signifying the Spirit) flowed out (John 19:34). On Easter Sunday evening, Jesus breathed over his own and they received the Holy Spirit (John 20:22). Like God, who caused a mighty wind to sweep over the waters and bring forth the created universe (Genesis 1:2), and like God, who blew breath into the nostrils of the first human and thus created a living being, Jesus breathed and brought to life the new creation of the church, comprised of renewed and recreated believers.

As the Johannine evangelist has illustrated in today’s gospel, the gift of the Spirit filled the disciples with peace and empowered them to continue Jesus’ ministry of forgiveness. In later centuries, Jesus’ mandate of forgiveness was cited as a seminal text for the later development of the sacrament of penance or reconciliation. Some have interpreted the reference to forgiving and binding as the church’s prerogative to confer or to withhold baptism, upon the catechumens’ acceptance or rejection of the gospel. Others, citing the rabbinical equivalents, asar, and sera’ (bind, loose) and, referring to Matthew 18:18, understood Jesus’ mandate in the context of church discipline, i.e. the granting or refusal of admission to the community based on reasons of worthiness or sinfulness.

Operative in all of these ways, the Holy Spirit remains with the church as it attempts to speak to the spiritual vacuum in society and to help to fill up what is missing with love and communal caring and sharing.

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Illustration prepared by Julie Lonneman.

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