GOSPEL, FIRST READING & PSALM TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
This Sunday the church celebrates one of the great feasts of the liturgical year.
You could call it, in a sense, the feast of the Holy Spirit because it's the celebration of the gift of the Spirit to the Apostles on the Feast of Pentecost.
Some people even refer to this as the birthday of the church, and so what we are going to do today is we are going to look at the Feast of Pentecost and we are going to ask ourselves, what is the meaning of Pentecost in the life of the mission of the church, and how is it connected to the Jewish festival of Pentecost in the Old Testament, and then also, why does the church give us the gospel of Jesus breathing on the disciples and giving them the gift of the Holy Spirit on this particular feast day?
So there a number of questions revolving around that.
Before I do, just a quick note and something to think about.
If you look at the Old Testament calendar from the book of Leviticus 23, the Jews had an annual cycle of festivals and feasts just like we Catholics do.
They had seven major festivals in the book of Leviticus: festivals like Passover, First Fruits, the Feast of Weeks, the Feast of Tabernacles, the Day of Atonement, that kind of thing.
What is interesting is that of those festivals, two of them have come over into the new covenant.
One is Passover, which we celebrate at Easter.
If you recall, the word Easter in Latin is pascha, that is simply Passover. The second though is Pentecost itself.
Pentecost was a Jewish festival before it became a Christian festival.
So obviously those two feasts come over in to the new covenant because they are important.
So we are going to look at that today in some detail and try to unpack this festival, which sometimes gets overlooked by Christians; we don't give it as much importance as it really has.
In the same way, the Holy Spirit sometimes gets overlooked by Christians as we ponder the mystery of the Trinity.
It is kind of the forgotten member of the Holy Trinity in some circles and in some cases.
So let's look here at the gospel for today.
The church gives us the gospel from the Gospel of John 20:19-23, and again although we are in Year B this shouldn't come as a big surprise because one of the characteristics of the Easter season that we've seen over the last seven weeks is that the church has been repeatedly choosing from St. John's Gospel.
And, in a sense because Pentecost brings the Easter season to its climax, she does that again one more time with John chapter 20:19-23.
This is a story we've seen before.
It’s the breathing on the disciples, the giving of the Holy Spirit to disciples, although in this case we are going to look at it from a slightly different angle...
SECOND READING TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
And then finally, the last part of the reading for today, you’ll notice it says:
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:12-13)
So notice here, there are really two parts of the reading for today. The first part focuses on specific gifts of the Holy Spirit—whether it be miracles or prophecy or healing or the discernment of spirits or the gift of tongues or the interpretation of tongues—that are meant for building up the Body of Christ, building up the Church...the Church’s mission in the world as we see, which begins on Pentecost.
But Paul also mentions here the grace of conversion itself, the grace of Baptism—the fundamental gift of sanctifying grace, that makes a person a member of the Body of Christ, which is Paul’s distinctive. — it’s unique to him — it’s his distinctive image for the Church. It’s very common for us to talk about the Church as the Body of Christ, as the mystical Body of Christ—of which all Christians are members. But we sometimes forget that that’s only Paul. It’s only Paul who uses that image to describe the Church as the Body of Christ.
So here Paul’s talking about the grace of Baptism, which also takes place through the Holy Spirit, by which we’re united not just to Christ but to one another...so that whether we're Jews or Greeks—Paul says here—slaves or free men (which are two of the major categories in the first century in the Roman Empire), we are all now one in the Body of Christ through the power, the unifying power, of the Holy Spirit. So you can see real easily why this is such a fitting reading for the feast of Pentecost.
Now I’d like to close out our discussion with a couple of key quotations, though, from the Catechism
that are really helpful for understanding the passage that we’ve just read...and for understanding the theological distinction between what the Church refers to as sanctifying grace and charismatic graces. So in the Catechism of the Catholic Church,
paragraph 768, we read these words. This is in the section of the Catechism
on the Holy Spirit, the article of the Creed “I believe in the Holy Spirit.” And it says this:So that she can fulfill her mission
, the Holy Spirit “bestows upon [the Church] varied hierarchic and charismatic gifts, and in this way directs her.”
So you’ll see there, the Catechism of the Catholic Church
quoting the Second Vatican Council, is talking about the reality of these charismatic gifts. And that’s drawing directly on the language of gift, charisma
, that Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 12. Now what exactly are these charismatic gifts? Well, in paragraph 2003, the Catechism
gives a little bit more detail, and I think this is a really helpful paragraph for understanding the nature and the distinction—not the separation but the distinction—between the different gifts of the Holy Spirit. So this is what the Catechism
says about grace:
Grace is first and foremost the gift of the Spirit who justifies and sanctifies us. But grace also includes the gifts that the Spirit grants us to associate us with his work, to enable us to collaborate in the salvation of others and in the growth of the Body of Christ, the Church. There are sacramental graces
, gifts proper to the different sacraments. There are furthermore special graces
, also called charisms
after the Greek term used by St. Paul and meaning “favor,” “gratuitous gift,” “benefit.” Whatever their character—sometimes it is extraordinary, such as the gift of miracles or of tongues—charisms are oriented toward sanctifying grace and are intended for the common good of the Church. They are at the service of charity which builds up the Church.
Alright, so notice there: the way the Catechism
is distinguishing between these two is simple but really profound. In the Sacrament of Baptism (and other sacraments), we receive sanctifying grace. This is the grace that’s ordered properly toward our own sanctification, i.e. our own becoming holy—our justification, as it also uses there, which means being forgiven of sins and becoming a member of the Body of Christ...being set apart from Original Sin or mortal sin and being set apart for Christ as a member of His Body. Those are sanctifying graces, like we receive in Baptism.
But in addition to sanctifying grace, the Holy Spirit also operates in the soul of the Christian by giving them special charismatic graces that are not ordered primarily toward our own sanctification or salvation but toward the salvation of others—toward the mission of the Church in evangelization. And those charismatic graces, as the Catechism
says, sometimes they can be extraordinary, like the gift of miracles or the gift of tongues. So if you think about in the context of Pentecost in the book of Acts, the gifts of performing miracles and the gift of tongues are specifically evangelical charisms. In other words, they’re ordered toward the conversion of others, especially the pagan world. So as the Gospel goes out into the pagan world, one of the things that miracles and tongues are going to function are as signs of the supernatural character of the Gospel. They’re signs that the Church isn’t just a human institution, but it’s a divine institution.
In fact, in St. Gregory the Great, in his Dialogues—this is Pope Gregory the Great writing the 6th century. In his famous work of Dialogues, which is a kind of category of the various miracles of the saints, he’s very clear about this...that miracles are extraordinary graces of the Holy Spirit that function primarily as witnesses to outsiders, as signs to unbelievers like the pagan world, that Christianity is a supernatural religion. However, there are also somewhat less flashy or fantastic or extraordinary charismatic gifts like faith or wisdom or knowledge or the discernment of spirits. These also serve—think here how wisdom or knowledge would serve in the catechetical mission of the Church, building up the Body of Christ by having the wisdom and the knowledge to explain the faith to teach others. That too is a charismatic gift of the Holy Spirit that’s not ordered primarily toward your or my personal salvation, but toward the salvation of others.
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