A half-dozen facts about Pentecost

Readings: AA 2.1-11; Ps. 104; 1 Cor. 12.3-13; Jn. 20.19-23

I want to share with you a half-dozen facts about Pentecost, and then ponder what difference does this feast make to us?

  1. Pentecost Sunday occurs 50 days after Easter. You recognize the Greek root pente, meaning five, which appears also in the word Pentagon.
  2. Pentecost concludes the Easter Season. In the church's liturgical year, way back in mid-February this year, we interrupted the continuous celebration of Ordinary Time. We took time out to celebrate the forty days of Lent, and then the 50 days of the Easter Season. Tomorrow, after about a three month hiatus, we will return to Ordinary Time. Most of the Church's liturgical year consists of Ordinary Time, i.e., 34 weeks of the liturgical year.
  3. Pentecost is regarded as the birthday of the Church. The Father and the Son sent the Holy Spirit to the Church to bring to fullness to and empower the Church which Jesus had founded.
  4. At Pentecost, the Acts of the Apostles report that the Galilean apostles began speaking in a dozen different languages representing the universality of the church. Today, many parishes including our own will demonstrate the Church's universality by speaking the petitions of the General Intercessions in various languages.
  5. On this day only, a lengthy Sequence precedes the proclamation of the gospel. Many of us will remember this hymn as the intellectually and affectively moving Veni, Sancte Spiritus. This Gregorian Chant hymn was written in the 13th century by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langton. He is the same man who organized the Scriptures into chapters and verses. Until that time, each book of the Scriptures consisted of continuous writings with only brief spaces between major sections.
  6. The Holy Spirit bestows seven gifts, namely, wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and holy fear of the Lord. Notice they are all spiritual. We might pray at times for health and wealth, but physical and material blessings are not the primary focus of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit wants us to be holy, i.e., set apart for God, set apart from worldly concerns.

What does Pentecost mean to us? Think of Creation, Salvation, and Sanctification. All three persons of the Trinity act as one God in these activities. We human beings, however, commonly attribute creation to the Father, salvation to Jesus, and sanctification to the Holy Spirit. At creation, we were made good. We were made in the image and likeness of God. God intends that we reflect on earth the image and likeness of God who dwells in heaven. We are created good, but also we have an inclination to do evil. Each of us by the age of reason gives actualization to that inclination.

This is where Jesus comes in. We need his salvation. He came down from heaven to save us from our sins. By his suffering, death, resurrection and ascension, Jesus conquered sin and death, and opened for us the gates of eternal life in heaven.

Not wanting to leave us orphans on earth, Jesus promised in John's Gospel (14.18) that he would send us his Paraclete. The Spirit is to sanctify us. The Spirit comes to, resides in and acts through the Church. To the extent that other churches and religions participate in the Spirit of Truth and Love, these churches and religions share in and experience Jesus' Spirit.

Consider the sacraments. At baptism, confirmation and Eucharist the Spirit initiates us into the church, and fills us with Christ's spirit. The vocational sacraments of Marriage and Holy Orders help us to live our best possible vocations as spouse, bishop, priest or deacon. The sacraments of healing, namely Reconciliation and Anointing of the Sick, forgive us and strengthen us in dealing with temptation, sin and suffering. Through the grace communicated in the Holy Spirit, we become our best possible selves. That means we reveal in our best way, the image and likeness of God. The Catholic Catechism teaches that "They [the seven gifts of the Spirit] complete and perfect the virtues of those who receive them."

I'd like to conclude with the commonly abbreviated Veni, Sancti Spiritus. Please join with me in praying this 800 year old prayer: "Come, O Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful, and enkindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and we shall be created, and you shall renew the face of the earth." All of us, let's try our best to use this day through the Holy Spirit to renew our spirit, and to renew the face of the earth.

Read other homilies by Father O'Malley