May 19, 2013 –– Pentecost Sunday
Jesus appears to the disciples for the first time, and the Lord says, “Peace be with you.” He shows them His hands and His side, and then He says it again, “Peace be with you.” Is there a reason He says this? There were so many ways He could address them.
The readings for this Pentecost Sunday are filled with the Holy Spirit — from the first reading from Acts: “And they were filled with the Holy Spirit,” to the second reading from 1 Corinthians: “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body…and we were all given to drink of one Spirit,” to the Gospel from John, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
In the first reading from Acts we learn how the Holy Spirit permeates the Church throughout the world. On that first Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit entered all those present, they each heard the Word of God in their native tongues. This is considered to be the absolute beginning of the Church. Thus, Pentecost is the birthday of the Church. From the Catechism of the Catholic Church, second edition #767: “When the work which the Father gave the Son to do on earth was accomplished, the Holy Spirit was sent of the day of Pentecost in order that He might continually sanctify the Church.”
St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians was written because of the divisions that had developed among the Christian community in Corinth. In this particular reading Paul speaks of community — community that is cemented by the Holy Spirit, and in which each person, through the stewardship of her or his gifts, contributes to the good of the whole: “To each person the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” This is in effect the universal call to each of us to be good stewards: to recognize that we are gifted by God through the Holy Spirit, and that we are an intricate part of the Body of Christ. “As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ.”
It is in the Gospel of John nonetheless that we can grasp the completeness of the Holy Spirit. As stated Jesus announces Himself — greets the disciples — by saying “Peace be with you.” Jesus is not hoping that they will feel the peace of His presence; He is gifting it to them. That is important to understand — His greeting is not a wish; it is a gift. What he said most likely was “Shalama,” the Aramaic version of the Hebrew Shalom. Some words just do not translate well, and this is one of them. Yes, Shalama means “peace,” but it means much more than that. It is a greeting and a farewell. It means “complete peace.” It is a feeling of contentment, completeness, wholeness, wellbeing, and harmony. In fact, Aramaic scholars say it means all of the following: completeness, wholeness, health, peace, welfare, safety, tranquility, prosperity, perfectness, fullness, rest, harmony, the complete absence of discord.
This is the Lord’s gift to us as well. Everything in that word Shalama is what we strive for. It is through stewardship, through our ability to find our place in the Body of Christ through the Holy Spirit, that we might achieve the kind of peace Jesus presents to us.