Sunday Sermon for June 5, 2022, the Solemnity of Pentecost, Year C
Readings: Acts 2:1-11; 1 Cor 12:3b-7, 12-13; Jn 20:19-23
In the Gospel reading today St. John describes when our Lord appeared to His Apostles after the resurrection and imparted the Holy Spirit to them by breathing on them. Contrast this with the first reading where St. Luke describes the events of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles like tongues of fire. There was a loud noise that everyone in Jerusalem heard and to which they were drawn. Once the people had gathered, the Apostles emerged to preach to the people so that each person heard of the mighty works of God in his own native language, even though the Apostles spoke in tongues.
The presentation of these events could not be more different. Several explanations are possible. First, these are two completely different events. After all, St. John tells us the event he recounts took place on the evening of Easter. St. Luke, on the other hand, tells us the event he presents took place fifty days later. Certainly, from the difference in time, it is most likely that these are two different events.
However, there is also a second possibility. We know that St. John often addresses the deeper and more spiritual meaning of something which is presented by the three Synoptic Gospels. The clearest example of this is with the Holy Eucharist. Saints Matthew, Mark, and Luke tell us what happened at the Last Supper when Jesus consecrated the bread and wine and changed them into Himself. St. John, on the other hand, says nothing about the Eucharist at the Last Supper, but tells us about Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. Because his Gospel was written last, St. John knew the other evangelists had already taught about the Lord’s institution of the Eucharist, so he focused his attention on the deeper meaning of our Lord’s actions. Recall that in St. John’s Gospel, Jesus’ teaching about the Eucharist follows the multiplication of the loaves.
If we follow this line of thought, it is possible that St. John is simply presenting us with a deeper understanding of Pentecost. Rather than focus on the extraordinary events that took place, St. John presents a very calm, but very profound event that points back to the creation of man. In the second chapter of the Book of Genesis, we read about God breathing into the nostrils of the man He had made in the Garden and how Adam became a living being. In the Gospel, Jesus breathes on His Apostles and imparts divine life to them in the Person of the Holy Spirit.
This gift of the Holy Spirit changed the Apostles forever, but it affected them in different ways. St. Paul, in the second reading, tells us that the Holy Spirit is given to each person, but He manifests Himself in different ways according to the individual. There are many different spiritual gifts, but none of us has them all. God gives each person His gifts so that each person can accomplish His will. This is wonderful for the Church and for each member of the Church, but St. John is pointing to something even deeper. It, too, will affect every member of the Church, but it will affect them all in the same way. This gift of the Holy Spirit imparted by the Lord’s breathing on the Apostles is given to those who will minister in the Church as priests and bishops, but it is necessary for each member of the Church since it brings about the forgiveness of our sins.
Another aspect of the Lord breathing on the Apostles for the reception of the Holy Spirit must be considered. We have seen the correlation of our Lord’s breathing on the Apostles with what happened in the Garden of Eden. This being the case, by breathing the Holy Spirit into the Apostles, the Lord is signifying there is a new beginning, a new creation. This new creation really started with our Lady when the Holy Spirit overshadowed her and the New Adam was conceived in her womb. But in the present context, the Apostles would be the first offspring of our Lady’s spiritual maternity. Now the Man from Heaven breathes the life of Heaven into the men of earth, raising them to a supernatural level of being.
Of course, this grace of the new creation did not stop with the Apostles. Each of us, at the moment of our rebirth in Baptism, also had this supernatural life breathed into us. With the imparting of the Holy Spirit, various gifts have been given to each of us. With our sins forgiven, pray and ask the Holy Spirit to manifest in you the gifts He has given, and ask Him to lead you so you will use those gifts for the glory of God and the benefit of others. Come Holy Spirit!
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.