June 9, 2019

Pentecost – C


Anniversaries are important to us as human beings.  At this time of the year there are many wedding anniversaries and ordination anniversaries.  Next month many of the monks here have an anniversary of profession.  Certain numbers are often seen as important, such as the 25th or 50th anniversary.  This past week, on June 6, we had the 75th anniversary of D-Day, the invasion of Normandy in northwestern France by the allied forces.  This invasion was mostly successful, and it led to the end of World War II in Europe less than a year later.  Today, on the feast of Pentecost, we celebrate an important anniversary in the history of the Church.  Pentecost, 50 days after the Resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday, was the beginning of the Church, due to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that day on the apostles and other disciples present.  As we celebrate this anniversary, we are reminded of the significance of the day of Pentecost, and of the diversity of gifts given through the Holy Spirit, and of the unity that the Holy Spirit gives.


In the Jewish calendar, there were three major feasts, namely, Passover, around the beginning of spring, Pentecost 50 days later, and the Feast of Booths, which was a harvest festival later in the summer.  Pentecost at first was known as the Feast of Weeks, and it a celebration of the First Fruits, the harvest of some early crops.  By the time of Jesus, it also was a celebration of the Old Covenant that was given to Moses and the Hebrew people on Mount Sinai.  For the Church, Pentecost was the beginning of the New Covenant that comes through Jesus and the gift of the Holy Spirit.  According to historians, D-Day involved more than 150,000 troops and thousands of ships and airplanes and countless numbers of weapons.  At the Pentecost celebration 50 days after the Resurrection of Jesus, there were only about 120 disciples, but there were able to have a major impact due to the power of the Holy Spirit.  According to the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, St. Peter gave a sermon to the people, and about 3,000 converts were made that day and were baptized.  The Church got off to a great start.


The description of that first Pentecost makes reference to the diversity of people and to the diversity of gifts given by the Holy Spirit.  There were religious Jews who had come to Jerusalem for the feast from all over the Roman Empire, but they could understand the apostles speaking to them in their own language.  With the passage of time, the Church would spread to people all over the world, even though there were many languages involved.  A big help to the spread of the Church was the gift of many gifts to members of the Church, and these gifts are still at work today.  We have the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit that are given to all Christians at Baptism and confirmation, gifts that are mentioned in Isaiah 11:2.  These include gifts such as wisdom and understanding, counsel and strength, knowledge and fear of the Lord.    In the second reading today from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 12, St. Paul makes reference to nine spiritual gifts.  These include such things as the gifts of tongues, prophesy, healing and other special gifts that are not given to every Christian and do not always operate for the person who may have that gift.  They are given for some benefit or for the common goods.  Some saints, such as St. Pio (Padre Pio), had some of these gifts, and sometimes other people also have them.  There are also, of course, many natural gifts that can help the Church carry out its mission.


Despite a diversity and a variety of gifts given to different members of the Church, yet the Holy Spirit can bring about unity in the Church.  The apostles and early disciples were able to have unity despite personal differences.  St. Paul became a Christian apostle and missionary, even though he had once persecuted the Church.  The early Christian were all of a Jewish background, but they eventually could have a bond of unity with the Gentile converts that came along, despite the fact that Jews and Gentiles were normally enemies and did not associate with each other.  After the Second Vatican Council, those of us who are Catholics could feel a spiritual bond with Christians from other backgrounds, such as those Christians who were Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, or Protestant.  Indeed, the Holy Spirit is bringing about a greater unity among Christians and helping us to work together for the common good in regard to various social problems.


So, today we once again celebrate the feast of Pentecost as the beginning of the Church.  We give thanks that there are now over a billion Catholics and about two billion Christians in the world.  We pray that the Holy Spirit will continue to bless us and other members of the Church.  May the Holy Spirit help us to use our gifts to carry out the mission of the Church, and may the Holy Spirit help bring about greater unity among Christians.  May the Holy Spirit sanctify us and help us to accomplish our goal of everlasting life in heaven.