May 17, 2013

Pentecost Sunday / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionIn the Church’s liturgical year, only Easter and Christmas eclipse Pentecost. The importance and grandeur of these feasts, of course, derive from the events being commemorated. The Church also sees the feast as highly important because of the lessons to be learned from the biblical readings at Mass, lessons very useful for growth in the spiritual life and for understanding the faith.

Pentecost also was an ancient Jewish feast, celebrating the first harvest. It took place on the 50th day after Passover and received the name of Pentecost, taken from the Greek, as the Hebrew culture more and more was influenced by the Greek civilization. The first Christians almost invariably were of Jewish origins. The Apostles were Jews. So they observed Pentecost.

More broadly, in the Jewish context, this feast celebrated the identity, unity and vocation of the Hebrew people. With the coming of the Holy Spirit, and in the overall context of salvation in Christ Jesus, Pentecost took on a greater meaning for Christians, a meaning centered in Christianity.

So Christians now see, and so long have seen, Pentecost as their holy day, recalling the moment when God the Holy Spirit filled the Apostles with new life. Receiving strength and power from the Holy Spirit, the Apostles then went forward to proclaim salvation in Christ to the entire world.

For the second reading, the Church presents a passage from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. Absolute faith in Christ, as God, and as Savior, is key. It also is vital. Without grace, humans are confused and liable to even fatal missteps.

St. John’s Gospel is the source of the last reading, a Resurrection narrative. The Apostles are afraid. They are clustered together in hiding. Then, the risen Lord appears before them. He comes to them and their fear vanishes. He grants them not only supreme confidence but divine power—the power to forgive sins.

The reading is profoundly relevant for Catholics. As God possessing the Holy Spirit, Jesus gives the Apostles the power to forgive sins, extraordinary because only God can forgive sins.

A critical message in this Gospel reading is that the Apostles were empowered by Jesus to continue the work of salvation.

Reflection

For weeks, the Church has rejoiced in the Resurrection, excitedly proclaiming that Jesus is, not was, Lord. He lives!

Throughout the Easter season, the Church, in the readings at Mass, has called us to realize what effect the Resurrection has upon us and upon human history. The salvation achieved by Christ on Calvary never will end. It is for all time and for all people.

How will this be accomplished? It will be accomplished through the Lord’s disciples in every consecutive age.

The bond with Jesus experienced by every authentic Christian is so strong, and unique, that all Christians themselves are bound together. They form the Church.

In their bond with Christ, they share in the mission of Christ, to bring God’s mercy and wisdom to the world. It is an individual role but also collective, the collective dimension seen in the ministry and witness of the Church.

As Acts reveals, a determination to be near the Apostles under the leadership of St. Peter is essential to the Church. For this reason, the Church still looks to the chosen successors of the Apostles for guidance and direction.

Pentecost commemorates an event long ago, yet it teaches a very contemporary lesson. In 2013, as 20 centuries ago, it is the Apostolic Church, the community created by God that brings divine mercy to weary and wandering humans. As was the case in Jerusalem so long ago, it loves all, serves all and reassures all. Quite visibly, it still gathers around the Apostles, with Peter at the center.

Christian commitment necessarily is personal and individual. It also is collective. †

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