Pentecost, which we celebrate today, has been celebrated for over two thousand years, and it will be celebrated until the end of time and Christ’s return in glory. Pentecost is the fulfillment of Christ’s promises to His Apostles to send the Holy Spirit, the Spirit who would lead the Church into the fullness of truth, and enable them to proclaim that saving Gospel to the ends of the earth.
On the night before he died, Jesus promised to send a new advocate, the Holy Spirit who will teach the Apostles all truth, and will keep them united as one body and will pour forth the new life of Jesus in the Church. So these three things are connected with the Spirit: Life, Truth and unity. After the resurrection, Jesus continues to speak of the Spirit and promises to send the Spirit from the Father. But the Apostles must await this gift from their Master, after His ascension, and they are to begin the evangelization of the world only when this gift has been sent.
Pentecost, then, has to be understood in terms of the mission of Christ, through the Church, to the world, and the gift of the Spirit received at Pentecost is for this purpose, to bring the light and life of Jesus Christ to the world for the salvation of all mankind. This sending of the Spirit is not something purely personal as in other instances where we see the Spirit descend upon individual persons, but something ecclesial, Christ’s gift for the sake of the Church as a whole.
There are times in the scriptures when the Spirit descends upon individuals for their own personal salvation, and others where the Spirit descends upon the individual the sake of others. In the latter category we see the Spirit’s descent upon Mary who conceives the Lord, for the sake of the world. In the Gospels, we see something parallel where the Spirit descends upon the apostles on Easter, but for the purpose of forgiving the sins of others. And there are other similar situations where the Spirit descends upon individual Christians to enable them to perform miracles, or prophesy or speak in tongues. All these gifts are for the sake of others, not for the personal salvation of the person taken hold of by the Spirit.
Then there are cases where the Spirit descends upon individuals precisely for their own salvation. This happens to unbaptized persons, as in the case in Acts 11 where Peter preaches to the family of Cornelius and suddenly the Spirit takes hold of them, and Peter sees this as a sign they are to be baptized. Indeed whenever anyone is baptized, the Holy Spirit descends upon that person and communicates the gift of Sanctifying Grace and other supernatural virtues; and so this descent is for the personal salvation of the one baptized.
But, on the day of Pentecost, the Spirit descended upon the Church as a whole, represented in the persons gathered in that upper room, among whom we can confidently number Mary and the Lord’s brethren as well as the Apostles. Here, the Holy Spirit descends upon the Church to unify it in love, and to strengthen it for the sacred mission in which it will make Christ present in her activity for the salvation of the whole world. This is the day of the Church’s “confirmation,” the day on which the Church collectively receives the gifts of the Spirit to be distributed down through the ages and is strengthened for her mission across the centuries until Christ returns.
Moreover, the purpose of this particular sending of the Spirit becomes immediately clear when the Apostles begin to proclaim the Gospel, and the people gathered there in Jerusalem from all over the Near East begin to hear them each in their own language. This is a clear manifestation of the unifying purpose of this descent of the Spirit on the Church. The Spirit has come to make us one by His gifts, to answer the prayer of Jesus that we may all be made one, just as He is one with the Father and with His Spirit.
The work of the Spirit and the Church, then, is not simply to save individual souls, but to make all the saved one in the Church, to recreate the lost unity of the human race, lost by Original Sin and by our countless personal sins. Jesus prayed that this original human unity be restored and promised us the Spirit who would make it possible. Life without the communion of love is not life worth living. The new life Jesus brings is life worth living because it unites his members in the bond of unity sealed by divine love.
Christ and the Spirit unite us, then, in the one Church, as one body, one mind and heart, the mind and heart of Christ. He makes this unity, this deep communion, possible in many ways through the many gifts of His Spirit. \
He unites us first of all by infusing His Life into our souls through the Gift of the Spirit in the Church’s Sacraments, beginning with Baptism. We now share one common supernatural life with Jesus and with each other.
He then unites us with the gift of truth, for we cannot be truly united where God’s truth does not prevail. And so he promised that the Spirit would teach us all truth, but it would happen through His Bride the Church.
He also unites us in love, the bond of all true unity and communion, and he does this through the gift of His Spirit, who is Love, the same Love that unites the Holy Trinity, makes the Trinity of Persons one.
And finally Christ unites us by enabling us by His Spirit to share in His saving mission. Think of how united this country was in the Second World War, united in a common mission to save our country and others from tyranny. Likewise, Jesus makes us his instruments to destroy the tyranny of sin and lies and hatred, the tyranny made possible by what Paul refers to as the destructive power of sin, which he enumerates: ” immorality, impurity, lust, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions,occasions of envy…” (Gal. 5:19-21) All of these destroy unity by destroying mutual love.
So, from Pentecost forward, the Church will struggle to unify the world in Christ, first of all, by growing and maintaining her own inner unity compromised by all heresy and dissension. She will help us overcome the evils Paul lists and achieve an ever greater unity. The she will enable us to proclaim this good news to the world and draw many other sinto nthe communion of life and love that is Christ’s Church.
There is only one way back for mankind to that unity which lasted only as long as original innocence lasted, so briefly in Paradise, and that way is through Christ, through His Spirit, and through the Church whom ministers His truth and His grace through her preaching and through her sacraments and family life.
Jesus Christ, then, is not just another prophet, another religious leader but the Redeemer of all Mankind, and His Spirit is at work in this world reuniting mankind by uniting individuals to God in the Body of Christ. Just so, the Church is not just another religious body, but the body of Christ, in which Christ is gathering others into this unity by teaching them the truth and communicating His life to those who believe.
Today the Church once again rejoices as the Lord continues to send His Spirit to make possible her mission, His mission, of the salvation and the reunification of the children of God everywhere. We pray today in a special way for that Gift of His Spirit to be poured out once again in our day so that the truth can be heard today in all the languages of mankind, and salvation may come to all who believe in this great saving truth: Jesus Christ is Lord, Amen.