Pentecost Sunday, June 9th, 2019
Readings: Acts 2:1-11; 1 Cor. 12:3b-7; 12-13; Jn. 20:19-23
“Receive the Holy Spirit.”
Today we celebrate Pentecost, the birthday of the Church, when the Holy Spirit of God came upon the disciples of Jesus and they burst out into the world, preaching the Gospel. They were lit on fire with love for God, and that love gave them courage and power.
One could say that the Holy Spirit is the living, personified Love of God, an all-consuming, transforming fire of pure and total Love; Scripture tells us that “God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him,” (1 John 4:16). As human beings, who we are and what we do are two separate things; our actions should correspond with who we are, but the two are still different. Yet in God’s case, God is not only loving, but He Is Love: in this case God is what He does. So what is this? How can God be what He does: how can God be Love?
In our alternate Gospel reading for today, Jesus says “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate…Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him…” (John 14:15-16, 21). This passage, and others in Scripture, tell us not only that the Holy Spirit is Someone other than the Father and the Son, but that the Spirit is a gift from them both, literally from the Heart of God.
One way to think about the Trinity is this: the Father loves the Son completely, totally, and out of Love for His Son He gives His entire Self. The Son, in response, gives His entire Self to the Father. Both the Father and the Son are God: their expression of love is their own Self-Gift to the other. God gives God to God: when God gives Himself totally out of Love, this is the Holy Spirit. The very act of God loving, and the very act of giving Himself is so total and perfect, it Is its own Person. When God loves Himself, it is not selfish, as it is when we love ourselves too much: this is a key difference between Christianity and other monotheistic religions: even before humanity and the angels existed, God was still a loving God because He could love fully, freely, and fruitfully within Himself. His love is utterly selfless, as God’s self is completely given away for the sake of the Beloved. We always hear that“God so loved the world that He gave His only Son…” (John 3:16) and it is true. This is how He proved His love for the world, but Jesus promised later that God would send the Holy Spirit: that the very Love of God would dwell among us. God not only won the forgiveness of sins and victory over death by the self-sacrifice of His Son, but He hoped that, by seeing with our own eyes how God loves us we might, in spite of the hardness of our hearts, start to love Him in return. The disciples hiding in the Upper Room loved God, because they loved Jesus: they were ready to receive God’s love. Are you?
After you were baptized in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, you were anointed with Sacred Chrism, to signify that you, like Jesus, have been anointed, marked, and chosen by the Holy Spirit of God. You are another Christ, a Greek word that simply means “anointed.” It also symbolizes the Sacrament of Confirmation that you would receive later in life. But already, in your first moments of Christian life, you came to live in the Holy Spirit of God: God the Father poured out His love upon you just as He did Jesus at His Son’s baptism in the Jordan. He said to you “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” (Matthew 3:17). Do you not realize, brothers and sisters, that by your Baptism, God the Father loves you with the very same love—the Holy Spirit—with which He loves His Only Begotten Son? In our alternate Second Reading we would have read the following: “…you received a Spirit of adoption, through whom we cry, ‘Abba, Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.”
When God the Father looks upon you, He see His Son; through the power of the Holy Spirit you have become children of God, just as Jesus is. In His Heart He loves you with the same love: will you love Him in return, as He has loved you? Will you allow the Holy Spirit to stir up your own love and respond to God’s total gift of Himself to you?
It is difficult to do that, and God knows this, so He gave the Church a gift we could never have asked for nor fathomed: the Holy Spirit Himself. That is what we celebrate today: just as the Father gives Himself to us unreservedly at Baptism, making us His children, and just as Jesus gives Himself to us unreservedly in the Eucharist, nourishing us who are members of His own Body, the Holy Spirit gives Himself to us unreservedly at our Confirmation: we experience our own personal Pentecost through the laying on of hands by the bishop, the successor of the apostles, just as those in the Acts of the Apostles and the early Church received the Holy Spirit. In addition to Himself the Spirit brings with Him His Seven Gifts:
Wisdom, to help us understand the things of God and to live for Him alone. Understanding, to grasp more clearly the many mysteries of our faith. Counsel, or Right Judgement, to discern what is truly right and truly wrong according to the Truth of God, to always see His path before us. Knowledge, to help us to find God’s will in every situation. Piety, or Reverence, to help us love God and to obey His commandments, as Jesus says “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Fortitude, or Courage, to give us the strength of heart and will to do God’s will, to choose and carry out what is truly right. Fear of the Lord, or Wonder and Awe of God, to see God as glorious and almighty, to revere and respect Him as the Lord of all things. In the Sacrament of Confirmation God keeps the ancient promise make through the Prophet Joel: “It shall come to pass I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh…” (Joel 3:1).
Not only does the Holy Spirit empower us to love God more and more perfectly and completely, but He does something else: He more fully immerses us in the life of the Trinity. When we have received all three Sacraments of Initiation, God has given us as much of Himself as He can give this side of Heaven. We are, especially through Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit, made partakers in the very life of God. When you were Confirmed and marked, once again, with the Sacred Chrism, God set His seal upon your soul, just as ranchers here brand their cattle: you have been branded by God, marked with His sacred mark, so that all the angels and saints of Heaven, and even the demons of Hell, know to Whom you truly belong. And like a brand, it cannot be erased.
In our First Reading, when the disciples of Jesus received this tremendous gift, a gift so many of us—myself included!—take so much for granted and so often never fully appreciate, what do they do? They run out into the world to proclaim the Gospel, to tell the world not merely of the God they love, but more so about the God who loved them first (1 John 4:19)! Do we do the same? Do we allow the Holy Spirit to stir our hearts aflame with love for God, who has shown us so much love: do we respond to that love? Do we use the Gifts we have been given: wisdom, fortitude, and so on? Do not let this amazing gift go to waste: open it, call on the Holy Spirit whenever you are struggling in your faith, and ask Him to ignite your heart. Today is the birthday of the Church, when the flaming hearts of the apostles first brought the Gospel into the wider world: only by that same Holy Spirit will the Church continue to live and grow, and only by the Holy Spirit will each of us be able to be a part of that glorious mission.
Fr. Jacob Boddicker, SJ