June 8, 2014 – Pentecost Sunday
It is Pentecost Sunday, the day we consider to be the birthday of the Church. Pentecost for us, and Pentecost for those of Jesus’ time, occurs 50 days after Easter. Prior to Pentecost after Jesus’ Crucifixion and Resurrection, there were people who could be considered to be adherents of Jesus — that is, disciples – but in no way could they be considered an organized body. In addition, the Spirit which has driven the Church for centuries, and continues to do so today, did not fill and kindle the Church until that day.
Our readings for this Pentecost Sunday each contribute to our understanding of Pentecost as well as our understanding of the reality of the Catholic Church. The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles recounts exactly what occurred on Pentecost just after Christ’s Resurrection. Pentecost was also called the “day of first fruits.” (Numbers 28:26) One apt description of stewardship is “giving of one’s first fruits.” Pentecost tended to occur at the time of the wheat harvest, and people would bring not just their “first fruits” but their “best fruits” to be given to God in thanksgiving. That relates exactly to our understanding of stewardship, sharing our best first with the Church and with the poor, before we use anything for ourselves. That is a challenging idea in the world we live in, which seems to call us to gather, to keep, and to horde.
In St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, our second reading, Paul refers directly to these same fruits, the gifts we have received from God. “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same spirit.” St. Paul continues with a statement which also has become a reference point for stewardship: “To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.” Paul goes on to spell out what some of these gifts are, but the one truth we must never forget is that there are many gifts but only one Giver. Everything we have and everything we are and everything we can be is given to us by a loving God. From the Lord’s perspective, He expects to work through these gifts, through us, to accomplish and build His Kingdom. Paul also states, “As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so is Christ.” This is a direct allusion to both the Church and to the importance of each of us an active participant in that Church. We are one body in Christ, to be sure.
The Gospel from St. John takes all of these references – giftedness, community, church, and spirit – and unites them with the Resurrected Lord. Jesus appears to the Apostles and He breathes the Holy Spirit into them and empowers them. The Lord says to them, “As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” He gives them a mission. Jesus gives us a mission. Pentecost is a significant day for us. It is the day that the Church began from most perspectives, but it is also a reminder to each of us how important we are individually in the mission of the Church. In Genesis, God breathes life into Adam and Eve. Jesus breathes life into His disciples, into us. It is a time of re-creation. When we receive the Holy Spirit, we are literally “born again.” You may have heard that term used, but it is so applicable to us and to our Church. On this birthday of the Church we, too, need to be “born again,” not just once, but over and over.