May 29, 2020

Pentecost Sunday / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThis weekend, the Church celebrates the Solemnity of Pentecost, one of the most important feasts of the Church’s liturgical year. It is richly biblical in its background and profoundly educational both in its own message as well as in its place in the chronology of events commemorated these past weeks: Good Friday, Easter, and the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord being the most important.

When Christians chiefly were of Jewish origin, they naturally observed Jewish holy days. Very early in Church history, this makeup of the faithful began to change. Missionaries such as St. Paul took the Gospel far and wide, winning converts from paganism. Then, as a result of a rebellion against the Romans in Palestine in 70, the Jews themselves almost were annihilated.

Consequently, Christians stopped celebrating the Jewish holy days. An exception was Pentecost, although the Christian observance centers upon the distinctly Christian character of the day.

Nevertheless, the Christian character heavily draws upon the Jewish context of the past. In time, Pentecost had become for Jews a celebration of their religious identity, rejoicing in the collective mission and identity of the chosen people.

For Christians, Pentecost commemorates the formation by God of the Church. This process reveals the divinity of Jesus and the perfect union of the Holy Trinity, not just in essence or being, but also in purpose.

Important in this reading is the close community of the Apostles and of believers with them. Together, as one, they received the power of the Holy Spirit, promised and sent by Christ.

The Holy Spirit comes as God, the third person of the Blessed Trinity. The imagery of the scene is strong with Old Testament associations. The divine Spirit comes as fire, an image so often used for God in the Scriptures.

Strengthened by the Holy Spirit, the Apostles have a share in divine power itself. They are without fear. Fortified too are all the faithful.

Composing the Church were people from every place. Salvation is offered to all who love God.

First Corinthians furnishes the second reading. This reading clearly states that belief in Jesus as Lord belongs to all. No accident of birth or ethnicity makes one person more worthy of salvation than another. The key is humility and a full and genuine acceptance of Christ.

St. John’s Gospel provides the last reading. It is a resurrection narrative. The risen Lord appears before the Apostles. He is God, possessing the Holy Spirit, able to give the life and power of the Spirit. He gives this power to the Apostles, specifically vesting them with the most divine of powers, the power to forgive sins.

Reflection

The Church concludes its brilliant story of the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus, the Savior. In Jesus, all people have a place with God and eternal life in God. In Jesus, all have the guidance and strength to live amid God’s chosen.

In this great promise, the critical figure is Jesus the Lord. He lived a human life. While God in every sense, Jesus was and is also human. It is the mystery and miracle of the incarnation.

Jesus ascended to heaven, but we were not abandoned. To continue salvation, Jesus sent the Apostles. Specially taught by the Lord himself, present when no one else was present, they had unique revelations from him.

Their task was to assist us in overcoming our human limitations and in understanding the Gospel.

The Church is not a happenstance of people standing side by side. In the Spirit, they share one source of life and live and act in communion—ideally.

Pope Pius XII three generations ago masterfully told us in an encyclical letter that the Church is the mystical body of Christ, no mere human institution. Holiness is not automatic, however, for its members. They must allow themselves to be perfected by grace and the power of the Holy Spirit, being transformed according to the image of Christ. †

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