REFLECTION/HOMILY FOR PENTECOST SUNDAY

First Reading: Acts 2:1-11
Responsorial Psalm: Ps. 103(104):1,24,29-31,34
Second Reading: 1Cor. 12:3-7,12-13 
Gospel Reading: John 20:19-23

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SUBMITTING TO THE EFFECTS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT

In understanding the origin of Philosophy in the Western Tradition as taught in ‘Ancient Philosophy,’ some Ionian thinkers (who lived in the ancient Greek world around 600 BC) were preoccupied with the basic makeup of things (primary stuff) and the nature of the world and of reality. The pertinent question at that stage of philosophizing was: “From where does everything come? Of what does it really consist (primary substance)? In this regard, Thales, Anaximander, and Anaximenes developed their ideas about the Universe. While Thales opined that the primary substance was water (from the fact that the seeds of all things have a moist nature, and that water is the origin of the nature of moist things), Anaximander asserted that it was the “Apeiron” (ἄπειρον) in Greek, which means: Infinite, boundless, unlimited (because the source from which existing things derive their existence is also that to which they return at their destruction, according to necessity). Anaximenes, on the other hand, proposed that the ultimate stuff of the universe was Air, because, in its thinnest state, air comes to be; being condensed, it becomes wind, then cloud, and when still further condensed, it becomes water, then earth, then stones, and the rest of things comes to be out of these. Heraclitus later joined the Ionian thinkers and opines Fire. He went on to assign contradictory properties to fire. In the light of the antecedence, we have four basic elements to note here: water, the boundless, air, and fire.

Juxtaposing the cognitive ruminations of the ancient philosophers with our Christian belief, we would discover some parallelisms. For example, the book of Genesis opens up with the creation story. It does tell us “In the beginning, God created heaven and earth. Now, the earth was a formless void, there was darkness over the deep, with a Divine Wind sweeping over the waters” (Gen. 1:1-2 – The New Jerusalem Bible, study edition) From this account, we can readily note “Air” (divine Wind) sweeping over the “Waters.”

Dear friends in Christ, these elements (water, the boundless, air, and fire) identified by the pre-Socratic philosophers of Miletus (Ionian thinkers) at various times and manners were used by God to manifest His presence in the Scripture. We are quite conversant with the story of Elijah, calling down fire from heaven (cf. 1Kings 18:38); likewise, God led the Israelites through the Red Sea in the form of a pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night (cf. Exodus 13:21). In addition, from the beginning of the Bible to the end, water flows through the pages of Scripture. It is full of passages that link water to Gods creation, blessing, and saving. We have already identified the divine Wind of Creation hovering across the water. Jesus talks of being born again by water and the Holy Spirit: (Jn. 3: 1-8ff) Later he talks of giving us the Living Water which flows from his heart (cf. Jn. 7:37-39). Also, in Revelations 22:17, we read: “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come!’ Let everyone who listens, answer, ‘Come!’ Then let all who are thirsty come: all who want it may have the water of life, and have it free.” Concerning the Apeiron (infinite/boundless), the Scriptural pages have not failed to describe God as being infinite and transcendent. This can be understood in terms of His omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence. Now, what do all these have to do with Pentecost?

The Solemnity of Pentecost in Christendom is a day in which we commemorate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon Mary and the Disciples. The First Reading (Acts. 2:1-11) tells of the Pentecost event – the manifestation of the Holy Spirit in the form of the aforementioned elements (WIND & FIRE). Luke tells the story in Acts, he says: “…And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving WIND, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of FIRE, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim at Pentecost.

It is pertinent to note that the term Pentecost comes from the Ancient Greek term, “Pentēkostē” [hēmera], “the fiftieth day,” used to describe the Jewish or Hebrew Feast of Weeks called “Shavuot” (Feast of the Weeks), a prominent feast of ancient Israel celebrating the giving of the Law to Moses at Sinai, or fifty days after Passover feast. This feast was commended for the Israelites, “You shall celebrate the Feast of Weeks, that is, the first fruits of the wheat harvest, and the Feast of Ingathering at the turn of the year.” (Ex. 34:22). Meaning that Pentecost is originally Jewish and not Christian. So why do we associate the descent of the Holy Spirit with Pentecost? Let us recall that Jesus instructed his Apostles after His Resurrection, not to leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift promised by the Father… Christ made them realize that they will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon them, and they will be his witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (cf. Acts 1: 5-8). That is why in the Gospel of Matthew, we hear Christ saying: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matt 28:19 – 20). Interestingly, Christ command of “making disciples of all nations” commenced at Pentecost when the Jews usually invited foreigners to celebrate the feast with them (see Deut. 16:11). These foreigners represent “all nations under heaven,” as we heard in today’s first reading: “Parthians, Medes and Elamites; people from Mesopotamia, Judaea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya around Cyrene; as well as visitors from Rome – Jews and proselytes alike – Cretans and Arabs” (Acts 2:9-11), and in verse 41 of the same chapter, we see that they all embraced the message of salvation after listening to Peter’s speech and were all baptized – thus, fulfilling the mandate of Christ; that is, “making disciples of all nations, teaching and baptizing them…” This was realized as under the influence of the Holy Spirit. Here, the Holy Spirit, being the Divine Catalyst was able to transform them all and officially formed the Church.

Similarly, in today’s gospel reading, we hear Christ making use of his spoken word in diffusing the Holy Spirit (the Divine Catalyst) on his Apostles. That is, Christ gave that same “Breath of life” (Air) as at creation to his Apostles. John says that Jesus breathed on his Apostles saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit” and gave them the power to forgive sins; from that very moment, they were transformed by the Divine Catalyst and recreated anew, enabling them to exercise the divine authority of the forgiveness of sins. Put differently, the divine catalyst was able to transform them into a merciful community – the Church (“Whose sins you forgive are forgiven…”) and would aid them to take up the missionary work of Jesus Christ at Pentecost.

Dear friends in Christ, the Holy Spirit comes to us as a gift to instruct and transform us into what God wants us to be, but it remains unchanged in itself. In a world of disunity and tension of the opposites, the Divine Catalyst (Holy Spirit) should enable us to foster unity and become instruments of peace, recognizing the talents/gifts in the life of every individual. The Holy Spirit is the best gift of God to humanity. We are called to utilize the many gifts of the Spirit in service, and foster unity. Just as Paul puts it in the Second Reading – his first letter to the Corinthians: “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. To each individual, the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit. Therefore, it is apparent that our world today needs the continuing effect of the Divine Catalyst in order to create a just world (utopia) – for it is in Him we live and move and have our being (cf. Acts. 17:28).

“Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful, and enkindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created, and you shall renew the face of the earth…”

Shalom!
© Fr. Chinaka Justin Mbaeri, OSJ
Paroquia Nossa Senhora de Fatima, Vila Sabrina, São Paulo, Brazil
nozickcjoe@gmail.com / fadacjay@gmail.com

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Chinaka Justin Mbaeri

A staunch Roman Catholic and an Apologist of the Christian faith.

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