Pentecost was a Jewish feast that celebrated the beginning of the harvest. It took place 50 days after the feast of Passover. Jewish pilgrims came to Jerusalem from all over the ancient world for the celebration. Today we hear how Pentecost became a Christian feast.
Today's passage comes from chapter eight of Paul's letter to the Romans which stresses the importance of the Holy Spirit in the lives of Christians. Paul wants us to remember that the Spirit who will raise our bodies on the last day is the same Spirit who enlivens us for holiness every day. Today Paul offers a sharp contrast between life in the flesh (meaning life prone to sin) and life in the Spirit.
Bishop Untener's Pentecost Homily
The Holy Spirit doesn't come upon us simply in one flash, sort of a "born again" experience. The Spirit comes upon us in our Baptism, that is for sure. But the Spirit keeps coming to us, transforming us more and more in the image of Christ. The Spirit comes upon us even more fully in our Confirmation. The truth is the Spirit comes upon us in a special way in every sacrament. For example:
** In the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the priest says: "God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins..."
** In the Sacrament of Marriage the bride and groom place the wedding ring on each other's finger and do so, "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."
** In the ordination of a priest the bishop, just before the laying on of hands, prays: "Hear us, Lord our God, and pour out upon this servant of yours the blessing of the Holy Spirit."
** In the Sacrament of the Sick, the priest anoints the person with oil as he says, "Through this holy anointing may the Lord in his love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit."
But most of all, the Spirit is poured upon us in the Eucharist. Think of this: The Spirit came upon Mary, and she conceived the Lord in her womb. At Mass, in the Eucharistic prayer, the priest extends his hands over the bread and wine and prays, "God our Father, we now ask you to send your Holy Spirit to change these gifts of bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus Christ." And the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ.
In the same way, the Spirit is called upon us at every Eucharist. After the words of Jesus at the Last Supper, there is always a prayer calling the Spirit upon us. For example:
Grant that we who are nourished by his body and blood, may be filled with his Holy Spirit... (Eucharistic Prayer III)
Lord our God listen to our prayer. Send the Holy Spirit to all of us who share in this meal. (Eucharistic Prayer II for Masses with Children)
Therefore, we ask you Father, to accept us, together with your Son. Fill us with his Spirit through our sharing in this meal. (Eucharistic Prayer for Masses of Reconciliation II)
All this comes as no surprise. The Lord promised over and over again that he would send His Spirit upon us, and that the Spirit would be there to help us. He said, "I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you... The Advocate, the Holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you."
In Luke, the Risen Jesus, just before his ascension says, "I am sending the promise of my Father (that is, the Spirit) upon you." He also says, "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you."
The Lord not only promised it. He did it. We just heard him do it in the passage of John's Gospel for today's Mass. The first thing the Risen Lord does when he appears for the first time to his disciples in the upper room... "Then he breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit."
Luke describes this with more flourish in the Pentecost event: "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." Luke then, in the Acts of the Apostles, tells the story of the early Church and repeatedly - 57 times! - talks about the Spirit at work within them.
You know what I think. I think that we tend, unconsciously, to look back to Jesus Christ as he was before his death and resurrection, and like a great person in history, we remember what he did and try to imitate him. We know that he rose from the dead, but we think of him as distant... in heaven. He still helps us, but he helps us from afar. To think that way is to forget that he is present with us now, today, every day, through his gift of the Spirit... and it is a real presence. Think of it. The Lord Jesus present within me, around me, all day every day.
There is a sentence in the third Eucharistic Prayer for children that says it very well. We say to the Father, "Jesus now lives with you in glory, but he is also here on earth among us." We have no trouble understanding the first half of that sentence, "Jesus now lives you in glory," but we forget the second half, "but he is also here on earth among us."
This feast of Pentecost is meant to remind us of the whole truth. It is meant to remind us to be aware of the Lord's presence - his real presence - through his Spirit... present within us and around us when we drive, when we eat, when we work, when we play, when we get up in the morning and go to bed at night, and when we sleep. What a great way to live.
The Prayer After Communion in the mass for the Vigil of Pentecost is a beautiful prayer, and one that we can say in our own words over and over as we walk through life: Lord... send the Holy Spirit into our hearts to keep us always in your love." Amen.
Originally given on June 3, 2001