Sunday Sermon for May 19, the Solemnity of Pentecost, Year C
Readings: Acts 2:1-11; 1Cor 12:3b-7, 12-13; Jn 20:19-23
In the Gospel reading today we see our Lord breathing upon His Apostles on the night of Easter Sunday. Although this was still seven weeks prior to Pentecost, our Lord gives the Holy Spirit to His Apostles so that they would have the power to forgive sins. He had already made them priests, indeed bishops, at the Last Supper; now the grace to reconcile sinners with God was granted.
This act of breathing on the Apostles is reminiscent of the day God created Adam and breathed life into him. There is indeed a new creation happening here, not only on the first day of the week but on the very day of the resurrection. Although the Holy Spirit was given for the forgiveness of sins, the other gifts of the Spirit would wait until Pentecost. Even with the gifts of priesthood and the ability to forgive sins, we do not hear about the Apostles preaching and calling people to conversion until after Pentecost.
Our Lord had told His Apostles that it was better for them if He left so that the Holy Spirit would come. This did not make sense to the Apostles at the time, but it is interesting to see how much reflection and teaching they do regarding this gift they had received. They had not, of course, understood what it meant to rise from the dead, not did they understand Who the Holy Spirit was, so they could not grasp the meaning of our Lord’s words that it would be better for them if He left.
The Holy Spirit is the third Person of the Holy Trinity; He is God. He has been given to us and with Him comes a variety of gifts as St. Paul tells us in the second reading. Because of the outpouring of the Spirit we have God in us, not just among us as was the case when our Lord was physically on earth. Because all three Persons of the Trinity are present wherever one is present, we also have our Lord with us and God our Father as well.
With all of this providing context for us, we now have to consider this gift Who comes from God and Who is God. One problem that we can have as Catholics is to keep God at a distance. We know that our Lord is present in the Blessed Sacrament, so it is easy to think of Him as being “over there” in the tabernacle. We can also run into the problem of making everything objective because we know the teachings of the catechism. This gift, however, is interior and calls us to a relationship which takes place in the heart, not “over there” somewhere.
Beyond this, the relationship calls us to come to know the Lord rather than to know about Him through objective statements of Church teaching. This is not to say that we can disregard the teaching of the Church; never can we do such a thing. Instead, it is to say these objective teachings provide the parameters for our subjective relationship. Because our own ideas and imagination can get in the way and, because the evil one can stir up problems, we need to have objective criteria so that we can know that we are truly uniting ourselves with the Lord.
Some might say that it is safer to just keep everything objective and then there is no need for concern of getting off track. The problem is that if everything is kept objective, neither is there concern for growth in the spiritual life or growth in our love for God. Our Lord commanded us to love God and neighbor. The Holy Spirit was given for that purpose. When we fail in our attempts, He has also been given so that we can be forgiven and reconciled with God.
After the Apostles received the gift of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, they went out and began preaching and calling people to conversion. They prayed and they allowed the Holy Spirit to lead them into all truth. Those truths are objective, but they would not have been grasped if the Saints did not have a subjective relationship with our Lord first. It was because of their prayer life that they were able to discern the truth; the same will be true for us as we try to conform ourselves to those truths.
For each of us, like the Apostles, we have become new creations; God has breathed forth His Spirit upon us. Because the Spirit is within us, we should not be trying to keep Him at an arm’s distance. We should enter confidently into a loving relationship with Him knowing that we have the objective teachings of the Church to keep us on track. Let the Spirit lead and conform yourself to God.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.