You probably know that Pentecost Sunday comes fifty days after Easter; the word Pentecost means fiftieth. And you surely know that on Pentecost we celebrate the day that the Holy Spirit was sent by the Father down upon the Apostles to take over where the Risen Jesus left off. He became man, taught, suffered, died, arose from the dead, and then spent forty days giving the Apostles final instructions before he ascended into heaven on Ascension Thursday. After he ascended the Apostles and their followers were all alone, without inspiration, without wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and without fear of the Lord. These were the gifts of the Holy Spirit that the Apostles didn’t have—until they received them on Pentecost. Pentecost was the day of Confirmation for the Apostles, the day they confirmed their faith, confirmed their baptismal call to carry on for Christ until death. After Pentecost, they had the Spirit’s gifts and they were all totally changed—they could now stand up and boldly represent our Risen Lord before the world, proclaim the good news, and do it with wisdom, and understanding, and fortitude, and all of the other gifts they had received from the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.
What you probably don’t know is that Pentecost was already a Jewish festival, and it never ceases to amaze me how brilliant God’s plan has been, first to reveal himself partially, dimly, to the Jews, and then fully to the Apostles and all of us Catholic Christians who have followed after them in faith over the past two thousand years.
As a Jewish festival, it was called the Feast of Weeks, in fact a “week of weeks,” seven times seven days after the Passover, when about twelve hundred and fifty years before Christ, the Jews were delivered from bondage in Egypt by God through Moses and the passing over them by the Angel of Death. The festival had begun as an agricultural feast celebrating the gathering of the barley harvest. It was one of three feasts called for by the Torah, or the Jewish Law, in the Old Testament Book of Leviticus. At some point in time, it took on the additional dimension of covenant renewal, because the Old Testament Book of Exodus said that the Jews arrived at Mt. Sinai fifty days after the Passover, and it was at Mt. Sinai that they received the Ten Commandments, the Law, and made that greatest of covenants with God: they would be his people and he would be their God—forever. In the Book of Exodus, we hear about wind and quaking and fire, as Moses brought down the Ten Commandments and the old, great covenant with God was established.
How masterful was God’s plan. Just as there was wind and quaking and fire, on the first Pentecost, fifty days after Passover, when God’s chosen people, the Jews, made their old and imperfect covenant with God, there was wind and quaking and tongues of fire, on the Christian Pentecost, fifty days after the Resurrection of the Son of God, as God sent down the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles.
The first reading today, from the Acts of the Apostles, tells us how much greater our Pentecost was, compared with the Pentecost of the Jews. Our Pentecost was intended to gather in all the nations of the world, not just the Jews. We hear about Parthians and Medes and Elamites, inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egyptians and Romans, Cretans and Arabs—representatives of every nation in the then-known world—all being called by God through the Apostles, and all miraculously hearing the Aramaic-speaking Apostles in their own languages. The mighty power of God was demonstrated that day—and his church on earth was founded. We count ourselves among its members; we are the beneficiaries of that first Pentecost. We have all been baptized and confirmed, and we too have received the gifts of the Holy Spirit—to be used, as best we can, to carry on, like the Apostles, the work of Christ in the world—to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ, and show others the way to eternal life and resurrection on the Last Day.
We all have been given personal abilities, charisms, gifts, to be used as we can to carry on this great work of Christ in the world. The second reading, from the First Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians, reminds us that all of our gifts come from the Holy Spirit and must always be used for the upbuilding of the Body of Christ as a unified body, a unified church. We can tell if our gifts have been given to us by the Spirit if they do indeed help contribute to the unity of the Body of Christ. If they do, they are from God; if they don’t, they are not!
The gospel reading confirms what we already know about the Church: that it is headed by the successor of the Apostle who became the bishop of Rome, originally Peter, now Francis. Our own Cardinal Sean, is a successor of the other Apostles, who, along with the other bishops of the world, in union with Pope Francis, preach and teach in the name of the Risen Jesus himself, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. In the gospel, Jesus said to the Apostles, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
We know that the day of Pentecost two thousand years ago didn’t just call the Apostles to go forth with the Holy Spirit within them, and do Christ’s work in the world; it kicked off a process of calling all of the baptized and confirmed from then until now, to do the same. By our baptism and confirmation, we are all called by God to be, as St. Paul described it, ambassadors for Christ—living his life, so that everyone around us, everyone we come in contact with, will see God when they see us. That is why we must refrain from any and all sin, not only because sin will affect our own destiny, but because it may affect the destiny of all those God wants to reach out to, through us.
As I have quoted in the past, St. Paul said it best, when he said in his Letter to the Galatians: “I, and that means all of us, have been crucified with Christ, and the life I live now is not my own; Christ is living in me. Oh, I still live my human life, but it is a life of faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” May that be our conviction, and may we live our lives with that in mind. Our lives are not our own. The Spirit of Christ is living in us, and we will have Jesus himself living in us when we receive the Eucharist in a few minutes. Let us always be Christ, as best we can, for the benefit of everyone around us, and indeed, if enough of us do that, for the benefit of the entire world.