Solemnity of Pentecost Sunday
June 4, 2017
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
If someone came up to you and said: “who is the Holy Spirit?”
what would you say?
It’s a safe bet that most Christians, unfortunately, wouldn’t know what to say.
And yet today we celebrate the feast of the Holy Spirit—the Pentecost.
If you’ve ever heard me speak about the Spirit you’ve probably heard me explain
that the word “spirit” in Hebrew is “ruah”—which means “wind” or “breath.”
So whenever you hear the words
“wind” or “breath” spoken in relation to God in Scripture,
you’re probably hearing about the Spirit of God—the Holy Spirit.
For example, in the Acts of the Apostles from the first reading today,
as the Spirit descends on the disciples it tells us:
“a noise like a strong driving wind…filled the whole house.”
And tomorrow’s/today’s Gospel tells us that
when Jesus appears to the apostles at Easter:
“He breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’”
But Jesus also tells us elsewhere:
“The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it,
but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes;
so it is with …the Spirit.”
Most of us don’t know much about the Holy Spirit,
but that seems, in a certain sense, to be more or less what the Spirit wants.
He’s sort of the silent partner of the Trinity:
God the Father is the main focus of the Old Testament,
and God the Son, Jesus is the main focus of the New Testament;
but God the Spirit, like the wind,
sort of blows in and out of the pages of Scripture,
like a quiet breeze on a summer’s day,
or like the breath we breathe every second without noticing,
but without which we would die.
But, as I said, that’s the way the Spirit wants it.
He doesn’t mind getting a distant 3rd billing to the Father and the Son.
Because His whole being is about Them,
about being with Them, and bringing us to Them.
Most of what we know about who the Spirit is found in the Nicene Creed.
So we say: “With the Father and the Son is adored and glorified.”
The only one who can be adored and glorified is God Himself
—so this line reminds us that the Holy Spirit is God
—the co-equal third person of the Blessed Trinity.
Here we can get into the whole mystery of the Trinity,
but we won’t since we talk about that next Sunday.
But we also say, He “proceeds [or “goes forth”] from the Father and the Son.”
What does that mean?
When the Fathers of the Church tried to explain the Holy Spirit
they began where all things with the Spirit begin and end:
with the Father and Son.
They said God the Father and God the Son always existed from eternity,
always sharing a common life and love
—a life and love so perfectly and completely unified
that they are absolutely truly one.
But this unity of life and love that exists “between Them,” so to speak,
is so real and complete that it’s actually personified
as the 3rd person of the Trinity.
And so throughout the Mass we refer to the Father and Son living
“in the unity of the Holy Spirit.”
We can say, metaphorically, that the life they share
is like the common breath they breathe.
And this breath they breath together is called the breath of God, the ruah of God,
or the Spirit of God.
And so with every breath the Father and Son take together
they breath out the Spirit,
who “proceeds,” or goes forth from Them both.
Which leads us to understand another line from the Creed:
the Spirit is “the Lord, the giver of life.”
As the Spirit is the breath of
the one life that the Father and Son breathe in together,
we can call Him, the Spirit, “the breath of life.”
And so we say that it is through the power of the Holy Spirit
that God gives life to the world.
And this is powerfully shown in Scripture:
the first time we read about the Holy Spirit
is in the very 2nd sentence of the Bible
—Genesis, Chapter 1, verse 2–
“In the beginning… the wind [or Spirit] of God
moved over the face of the waters.”
The breath of God was present in the beginning
as God gave life to, or created, the world.
Then, in the next chapter, when God created man
it tells us that He built up a lifeless body from the dust of the earth,
and then, to give man life, it says:
God “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life,
and man became a living being.”
We see it again in the today’s Gospels,
when Jesus who was dead and buried in the tomb
has come back to life on Easter
and now visits His apostles who are locked away in the upper room
as if they were dead and buried away in a tomb.
And it tells that, as if to raise them from death to life, Jesus “breathed on them.”
We see it also in today’s first reading,
as the wind from heaven comes down,
and breathes life into the dormant body of the Church
–the body composed of all its parts,
as St. Paul says in today’s 2nd reading,
but like the body of Adam made from dust,
a body lying in wait for the life-giving breath of God.
And when the Holy Spirit blows into the Church, the Church comes alive
as the disciples go from waiting silently
to boldly proclaiming the Gospel to the world.
So there He is: God the Holy Spirit,
breathed forth from the one life of God the Father and Son,
breathing that one life into us so that,
as Jesus prayed at the last supper:
“they may one,
even as you, Father, are in me and I in you,
that they may also be in us.”
And here we are: the Church, the body of Christ,
created by Jesus, and given His life by the Spirit.
And here we are: individual members of that body,
persons filled with that life, that Spirit.
As St. Paul tells us today in the 2nd reading:
“To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit
is given for some benefit.”
“all the parts of the body, though many, are one body….
For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.”
At that first Pentecost we find the beginnings of the Church
and the first Christians.
And we find all those things which, by the working of the Holy Spirit,
give us and sustain us in the one life of Christ.
We find the sacraments:
We read how the disciples in the upper room were filled with the Spirit
—they received the grace of the Sacrament of Confirmation,
empowering them with the gifts of the Holy Spirit,
and we see those gifts of
Wisdom, Knowledge Understanding, Counsel, Piety,
Reverence and especially Fortitude
as they throw open the doors and powerfully proclaim the Gospel.
And that leads to what we read next:
that “3000 were baptized that day”
and so received the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the breath of Divine life,
that comes to us in the Sacrament of Baptism,
and so became sharers in the Life of Christ.
And so then we find the people of the Church,
both the newly baptized and the long-time disciples of Jesus,
who, filled with the Spirit, go out and share the good news of Jesus Christ to the waiting world.
And finally, we find the most important member of the Church:
the Blessed Virgin Mary;
there waiting with the apostles and other disciples
in the upper room at Pentecost,
but not waiting to receive the Holy Spirit,
but to greet Him who had visited her 33 years before,
when she had said yes to the life-giving Spirit,
as we pray in the Creed:
“by the Holy Spirit [Jesus] was incarnate of the Virgin Mary.”
This is the Church then, and this is the Church today.
Today this Church celebrates this great Feast of Pentecost
by gathering together as one throughout the world
—all acting as one by doing the same exact thing
—celebrating the Eucharist.
And this is fitting, because Pentecost was a Jewish feast,
given by God to Moses in connection with the Passover,
to celebrate the “feast of harvest, [the feast] of the first fruits.”
The beginning of the harvest celebration was essentially Passover,
and the completion of the harvest was Pentecost.
But while the sacrifice of Passover was a lamb,
the sacrifice of Pentecost was loaves of bread,
which symbolized the completed project of the harvest.
And while the sacrificial meal of the Passover was simple,
the sacrificial meal of the Pentecost was abundant
—lots and lots of good food from the harvest.
It is not a mistake that Christ chose the day of this ancient Jewish feast
to send His Spirit on the Church.
This is the day when the Passover of Jesus is brought to completion,
and its first fruits are harvested
—the Church is born, and 3000 are baptized.
This is the day Jesus promised to His disciples when He said:
“I have come that you may have life, life in abundance!”
This is a day when ordinary men and women were transformed
by the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit.
Today we gather together and offer bread to represent the fruits of our labor
—of our work and sacrifices for Jesus.
And by the life-giving Power of the Holy Spirit,
this ordinary bread is transformed into the life-giving body of Christ,
our personal sacrifices subsumed into His one perfect sacrifice of the Cross.
And by eating this “Bread of Life,” we receive life in abundance
—the life of God the Son Himself—
and we are strengthened in our Communion as living one body in Christ,
the first fruit of His Passover—His Church.
Who is God the Holy Spirit?
Most people don’t know much about Him.
Some of that is because we don’t try to learn about Him.
But even when we do come to know more about Him,
He still chooses to remain largely a mystery to us
because His very being is not about Himself,
but about the life and love of God the Father and God the Son,
and bringing us to know Them, and love Them, and live with Them.
As we move deeper now into the Mystery of the Holy Eucharist,
and you give thanks and praise to God the Father,
by the sacrifice of God the Son
through the power of God the Holy Spirit,
accept the gifts They offer you in return,
to transform your life into a life perfectly united
to the life and love of God Himself.