PENTECOST SUNDAY YEAR A 2020 (R. 1: Acts 2: 1- 11; Psalm 104: 1, 24, 29- 30, 31, 34; R. 2: 1 Corinthians 12: 3b- 7, 12- 13; Gospel: John 20: 19- 23)
FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO
A NEW BEGINNING
St. Augustine was an early Christian Philosopher and Theologian. He is one of the most important Church Fathers of the West. As a young man, he was very wayward; his conversion is attributed to the prayers and tears of his mother, St. Monica, along with the preaching of St. Ambrose, Bishop. He has many sayings, which many writers and public speakers continue to quote to date. One of his popular sayings is, “Oh Lord, give me chastity, but not yet.” Another of his popular saying is, “You have made us for yourself, Oh Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” The saying that appeals most to me is, “HeHeHe who sings well prays twice.”
One day after his conversion, Augustine was walking through a part of town he had frequented in his younger days. A prostitute with whom he once had an intimate relationship recognized him and called “Augustine! Augustine!” Augustine ignored the call, so she cried out again: “Augustine! Augustine! It is I!” But Augustine slowed down, and with a newfound confidence in Christ, he replied, “But, it is not I, I am not the same Augustine you used to know.”
Today is the solemnity of Pentecost. On this day, we mark the descent of the Holy Spirit on the disciples, which is also the birthday of the Church. This Solemnity is the third of the five glorious mysteries. With Pentecost, the Liturgy brings the Easter Season to a close. After today, we shall return to the ordinary time of the Church’s year, and we shall switch from praying the Regina Coeli to the Angelus.
The word Pentecost is etymologically from the Greek he pentekoste hemera, which means “the fiftieth day.” It began as a harvest festival among the Israelites. It is one of the three great Jewish festivals in which every male Jew living within twenty miles of Jerusalem was legally bound to participate (cf. Exodus 23:14-17; 34:22-23). The three annual feasts that bring all adult male Jews to Jerusalem include the Passover, the Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles. The crowd that gathered when the apostles received the Holy Spirit were not in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit but for their annual Pentecost Celebration to mark fifty days after Passover and to commemorate the anniversary of the giving of the Law through Moses on Mount Sinai.
So Pentecost was first observed as an agricultural or harvest feast, and then later, the Jews began to celebrate Pentecost to mark the giving of the Law. For us Christians, we celebrate Pentecost fifty days after the resurrection, and we celebrate it not as the day we were given the Law, but as the day the Church was given birth to through the descent of the Holy Spirit.
One of the effects of the Holy Spirit on the disciples was that they began to speak in different tongues, and people who came from the different parts of the world could hear them speaking in their own languages. What happened on Pentecost day is a reversal of what happened in Genesis 11, where we have the story of the Tower of Babel, where God confused human language such that human beings could no longer understand one another. In the case of Pentecost, the apostles spoke of the mighty works of God, and they were understood in different languages. The Holy Spirit, therefore, is the principal agent of peace and unity.
It is important to note that Pentecost did not remove all human problems. The truth is that it brought about new challenges. The presence of the Holy Spirit brought about more gifts. The more the presence of the Holy Spirit, the more gifted and talented the people of God, and the more gifted the people, the more others tend to be envious or jealous, some aggressive or proud, and others defensive. St. Paul, in the second reading, had to remind the Corinthians not to allow their different gifts to separate them from the body of Christ. In his instructions to catechumens, St. Cyril of Jerusalem explains that “Water comes down from heaven as rain: water always comes down in the same form, yet its effects are manifold – thus it takes one form in the palm-tree and another in the vine; it is in all things and takes all forms, though it is uniform and always remains itself… Similarly with the Holy Spirit. He is one and of one nature and indivisible, but he apportions his grace as he wills to each one.” Therefore, do not envy others because of their talents, discover yours, develop it, and use it to spread love and serve God.
Jesus breathed on them and gave them the Holy Spirit in today’s Gospel passage, and he immediately granted them the power to forgive sins. He knew right from time, the challenges that the gifts will pose, and so he gave them the cure in advance, which is the power to forgive sins. Jesus also showed them his hands and his side as he said the words, “Peace be with you.” That was meant to show them the price he paid for the peace he has brought. He wanted them to know that peace does not come free of charge. For them to have peace with God, and with one another, he had to pay for it by dying on the cross.
Similarly, as his faithful followers, we must be ready to pay for peace. We must be ready to suffer for one another, to accept one another, to protect and defend one another, and to respect the uniqueness of one another. We must do this, not only in theory but also in practice; not only on papers but also on the streets, not only to come to Church and pray “Our Father” but also to show through our words, silence, and actions that we believe that all human beings come from the same Heavenly Father. It does not matter how many rosaries we recite, how many Masses we celebrate, or what religion we practice. If we do not show it in love, love that is devoid of discrimination, St. Paul says, we are like clashing cymbals, noisemakers (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:1), we are worse than those who publicly deny the existence of God.
The Holy Spirit is the primary agent of peace and unity. The Holy Spirit brings about transformation in our lives. When Augustine gained his conversion through the power of the Holy Spirit, he was able to confidently say to his former prostitute, “But it is not I; this is no longer the Augustine you used to know.” The timid apostles received the Holy Spirit on Pentecost day, and there was a significant transformation in them, as they proclaimed the power of God without fear. Saul, at his conversion, received the Holy Spirit and began to preach boldly against any form of discrimination between men and women, between rich and poor, between Jews and Gentiles, and between slaves and free (cf. Galatians 3:28). The Pentecost we celebrate this year will make no sense if we continue to speak the same language discrimination and double standard that we have been speaking. As we celebrate Pentecost today, may we open ourselves to the transforming power of the Holy Spirit and become real agents of justice, peace, love, and unity, through Christ our Lord. Amen.