Wednesday, May 11, 2016

WHEN WAS THE SPIRIT GIVEN?

Pentecost, Year C.  Acts 2:1-11; John 20:19-23.
AIM: To explain the gift of the Spirit and encourage prayer for this gift.
 
When was the Holy Spirit given? Today=s readings seem to give two different answers to this question. The first reading says that the Spirit came dramatically at Pentecost. The gospel, on the other hand, places Jesus= gift of the Spirit on the evening of his resurrection. Instead of a Astrong driving wind,@ and Atongues as of fire,@ Jesus breathes on his eleven frightened disciples and says: AReceive the Holy Spirit.@  
Why does the Church place these two readings side by side on this feast of Pentecost, despite their seeming contradiction? It does not hesitate to do so, because the Church knows that the primary intention of the biblical writers is not to give historical details. The gospels differ about a number of historical details. John, for instance, places Jesus= cleansing of the Jerusalem Temple at the beginning of the Lord=s public ministry (2:13-22). In the other three gospels the cleansing of the Temple comes toward the end, when Jesus visits the holy city for the first time since his childhood. They also say the Last Supper was the Passover meal. John places it on the day before Passover.
The gospel writers don=t have our modern interest in Ajust the facts.@ They are more interested in the spiritual significance of the facts. The gospels are religious narratives, written to produce and nourish in others the faith which inspired their authors. John=s gospel states this explicitly when it says that it has recorded the Asigns@ Jesus performed Ato help you believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, so that through this faith you may have life in his name.@ (20:31)
In their different ways both accounts of the Spirit=s coming in today=s readings tell us that the Spirit is the Church=s principle of unity. The first reading symbolizes this unity by the gift of tongues. From the dawn of history people have been puzzled by encountering other human beings with whom they could not communicate, because they spoke another language. The ancient Greeks called such people barbaroi because their speech sounded like Aba-ba-ba@ B gibberish. The term lives on in our English word Abarbarian.@
The Old Testament book Genesis explains the existence of different languages by the Tower of Babel story. When people threatened to build a tower that would reach to heaven, the story says, God frustrated their design by confusing their speech so that they could no longer communicate with each other.
The gift of tongues at Pentecost did not reverse this confusion. Those upon whom the Spirit came spoke not in a single language, but in the different tongues of the many nationalities present that day at Jerusalem. The unity effected in Christ=s Church by the gift of his Spirit is not uniformity. It is unity amid real diversity.
The gospel reading symbolizes this unity through the gift of forgiveness.  Breathing on the eleven, Jesus says: AReceive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive, are forgiven them ...@ Forgiveness means wiping the slate clean, starting over. Without this there can be no unity but only an ever lengthening tale of injury, resentment, reprisal, and escalating hatred B as we see in the Middle East today.       
In both accounts the Spirit is given for all. The Adevout Jews from every nation under heaven@ mentioned in the first reading symbolize all races and people on earth. Their response to the Spirit=s coming is a description of the Church=s work down through history. AEach of us hears them speaking in his native language ... of the mighty acts of God.@ 
The gospel expresses this universality less dramatically but no less definitely in Jesus= words: AAs the Father has sent me, so I send you.@ Jesus was sent by his Father to all. No one was ever excluded from his concern or love: not the Awoman known in the town to be a sinner,@ who washed Jesus= feet and dried them with her hair (Lk 7:37f); not the Samaritan woman at the well with her five husbands (Jn 4:18); not the repentant thief crucified next to Jesus (Lk 23:43). Following his resurrection, therefore, Jesus entrusts this universal mission to the Eleven, who represent all of Christ=s followers in all ages, ourselves included.
So when is the Spirit given? Continually! Christ=s gift of the Spirit was not just long ago and far away. The risen Lord bestows his Spirit on his Church and each of its members in all ages. Far from being an embarrassment to be explained away, therefore, the two different accounts of the Spirit=s coming in today=s readings illustrate an essential aspect of Christ=s continuing concern for his Church.
There is never a time when the risen Lord is not bestowing the gift of his Spirit. The Spirit comes whenever two or three are gathered together in Christ=s name (cf. Mt 18:20); whenever we celebrate one of the Church=s sacraments; whenever we read or hear God=s word; whenever, in Christ=s name, the hungry are fed, the naked clothed, the sick or imprisoned visited, or strangers sheltered (cf. Mt. 25:35-40). 
Can we predict or control the Spirit=s coming? We cannot. God gives himself in sovereign freedom. Always, however, the Lord gives his Spirit in some manner, and at some time, to those who pray. With joyful hearts, therefore, we join on this feast of Pentecost in the Church=s unceasing prayer for the Spirit=s gift. 

Come down, O love divine, seek thou this soul of mine,

And visit it with thine own ardor glowing;

O Comforter draw near, within my heart appear,

And kindle it, thy holy flame bestowing.  

 

O let it freely burn, till earthly passions turn

To dust and ashes in its heat consuming;

And let thy glorious light, shine ever on my sight,

And clothe me round, the while my path illuming.

 

Let holy charity my outward vesture be,

And lowliness become my inner clothing.

True lowliness of heart, which takes the humbler part,

And o=er its own shortcomings weeps with loathing.

 

And so the yearning strong with which the soul will long,

Shall far outpass the power of human telling;

For none can guess its grace, till he become the place

Wherein the Holy Spirit makes his dwelling.