Sunday Sermon for May 27, 2012, Pentecost, Year B

Readings: Acts 2:1-11; 1Cor 12:3b-7, 12-13; Jn 20:19-23

In the Gospel reading today St. John tells us that our Lord, in one of His appearances after the resurrection, breathed on His disciples and said: “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them and whose sins you retain are retained.” This act of breathing on the disciples is very important because it is similar to what we hear in the book of Genesis when God created Adam and breathed into him the breath of life.

The breath God gave to Adam was natural life; the breath Jesus breathed into His Apostles was supernatural life. It does demonstrate, however, that this action marks a new beginning. In the death and resurrection of the Lord the world has been recreated, but not on the natural level. There is a new creation that builds upon what is already present. It is spiritual and it transforms us to be more Godlike.

There was already the natural, human spirit within us, but now there is the supernatural Holy Spirit Who is sent to dwell within us. His task is multifaceted, but He is to raise us up and make us holy. Part of what He does in us is to give us insight to discern the gifts God has given us and providing the grace to know how to use these gifts according to God’s will.

St. Paul talks about the variety of spiritual gifts, each given to individuals for some benefit. There is not one of us who has not been endowed with one or more spiritual gifts. The question is which gift or gifts have you been given? Beyond that, in what manner does God want you to use those gifts in His service and in the service of others? All of them are given to build up the Body of Christ, but even gifts that are very similar can be used by the Lord in very different ways. This is why it is necessary to pray for knowledge of God’s will and to allow the Holy Spirit to lead us.

Sometimes the Holy Spirit will lead us into certain situations and then, in those situations, reveal the gifts that have been given for that purpose. We see this to some degree in the first reading where we hear about the Apostles preaching, presumably in their own native tongue, while people from many nations each heard them speaking in their own native languages.

Our Lord had told them that they would have to preach and bring His Gospel to the ends of the earth, but He did not tell them how this would work. So, the fact that the Holy Spirit prompted them to preach should not come as a surprise to anyone, but the fact that they spoke in one language and people heard many different languages coming from their mouths must have been quite a shock to the Apostles. Although we are told that they began to speak in different tongues as the Spirit prompted them, I do not assume that they would have thought they could just start speaking and have a simultaneous translation taking place for all the people who heard them.

This is an example of the Holy Spirit revealing the gift He had given only when the Apostles were in the proper context for the gift to be employed. They certainly would not have noticed this gift if they were all speaking to one another, because they all spoke the same language. Beyond the revelation the gift of tongues, we can see that the gift was given to bring about unity. Everyone heard the same truth being preached in a way that could be easily understood, so they could all be united in the same truth.

First and foremost in the list of truths they, and we, need to Holy Spirit to inspire in us is the point St. Paul makes in the second reading when he says that no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit. If we believe this truth and if we believe that the Holy Spirit is given to lead us into all truth, then we have to recognize that there can only be one truth revealed by God in which we are all to be united.

The division among Christians is a scandal and a repudiation of the gift of the Holy Spirit. There is certainly a spirit involved whenever there is division within the Church, but it is not the Holy Spirit. This division is like the sin of Adam and Eve which destroyed the order and the unity which God created. Each of us has been gifted by the Lord for the building up of the Body of Christ. Pray to know your gifts and how the Lord wants to use them to further the cause of truth and charity.

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