Thirty-first in a series of reflections on Mass readings during the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy
Readings: Acts 2:1-11; 1 Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13; John 20:19-23
“If Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin the spirit is alive because of righteousness.” With these words in his letter to the Church at Rome, Saint Paul encapsulates all our hope. We have already seen how Christ dwells with us in a spiritual way through the Redemption afforded by His Resurrection and Ascension. We’ve even seen how He dwells with us in a physical way, through the Sacrament of the Eucharist where we literally take Him into ourselves. But it is through the events of today – the great feast of Pentecost – that Christ dwells with us in a psychological way too, empowering our intellect and strengthening our will through the Advocate He promised to send. It is through the Holy Spirit that we truly live as people of hope, engaging our daily realities through mental processes enhanced by supernatural grace.
The First Reading tells us how it was with Jesus’ disciples on that Pentecost Day 2000 years ago: the sound of the wind in the locked room, the tongues of fire upon their heads, the sudden speaking in a multitude of languages, the ability of all the diverse crowd outside to understand the message the disciples were so energized to proclaim. It seems a far different experience from that in the Gospel reading, where Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit upon His Apostles and grants them His authority to forgive or retain people’s sins. And it is certainly a far different experience of the Holy Spirit in our own time, where He so quietly bestows His gifts in the Sacrament of Confirmation, the authority of Christ in the Sacrament of Orders, and the wisdom of the Father in the gatherings of the Bishops. And yet in each of these things are displayed “the mighty acts of God” just as in the early days. Just as the Incarnation of God engages our physical senses to perceive God’s presence more directly and intimately, the coming of the Holy Spirit goes further into our perception to make God’s unfathomable power and love and mercy more comprehensible, more intimately felt in the very thoughts of our actions, in the very decisions that we make every day.
If we think back to the days before Lent, when we read Saint Paul’s discussion of the Body of Christ, this is part of what he was trying to convey when he said that there are “different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit.” This is what he meant when he said “no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.” The benefits of the Spirit’s gifts are not simply reaped by the world at large; His gifts benefit us too. Our awareness of the relationship of all things to God, even of our own place seemingly small in His great cosmic design, deepens through the exercise of these these gifts – which must still be a free exercise if it is to be done in obedience to the command of love. It is so fitting, then, to have this same passage from the First Letter to the Corinthians among the readings for today’s feast; this same Spirit, moving through the Church since the beginning, connects the whole Body of Christ across time and space and even dimension. It unites us to those first disciples so long ago, and empowers us to communicate the Gospel to those yet to be born.
One final thought: on the night Jesus appeared to His Apostles after His Resurrection, His first words to them were “Peace be with you.” He had promised them this peace, a peace very different from the one the world gives, half a week earlier – the night He also first promised to send “the Advocate,” the One Who would provide them the assistance they would need to carry the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Perhaps that is the greatest gift we can receive from this psychological encounter with God which is our cooperation with the Holy Spirit – the peace that is being securely within the Presence of God. No one can receive this peace without acknowledging the Lord, and no one can acknowledge Him Lord “except by the Holy Spirit.”
May we always allow the peace of Christ to dwell within us. May we always be alive in the Spirit that animates our hope. May we recognize the Father’s mercy at work in our every choice. And until next year, one more time: Happy Easter!