Solemnity of Pentecost Sunday
May 20, 2018
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Today, as at every Sunday Mass, right after this homily
we’ll all join together to make our Profession of Faith
by praying the “Creed.”
By saying the Creed we proclaim publicly to the world
the very basic truths we believe about God.
Near the end of the Creed, after we’ve professed our belief
in God the Father and God the Son—Jesus
–we begin our profession of faith in the Holy Spirit.
Most of us have probably said these words hundreds or even thousands of times.
But how many times have we stopped to think about
the meaning behind these words?
In particular, what does it mean when we say:
“I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life.”
Sacred Scripture is full of wonderful and mysterious surprises
–like a treasure chest full of precious jewels and gems.
And one of these gems is found as we consider the small word “Spirit.”
The English word “spirit” is used to translate the original Hebrew word “ruah“,
which primarily means “wind” or “breath”.
And so whenever we see references in Scripture to “wind” or “breath”
we see the subtle connection to the “Spirit”.
And this connection isn’t accidental because it’s the Holy Spirit himself
who is truly the author of every word of Scripture.
This symbolism of breath and wind appears throughout Scripture, sort of a code,
or sign to indicate the activity of the Spirit in the history of Salvation.
For example, in the first reading today we see that on the first Christian Pentecost the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples with a loud gust of wind,
and in the Gospel we hear that Jesus
“breathed on them and said: “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
But the first time the Holy Spirit is mentioned in Scripture
is one which often goes unnoticed.
It comes in the second verse of the Bible, in Genesis 1’s story of creation:
“the earth was a formless wasteland…
while a mighty wind swept over the waters.”
Soon thereafter, as God creates man,
He forms man from the dust of the earth and then blows,
“into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being.”
So here, right “in the beginning” of Scripture it is revealed to us
that it is the Spirit, the ruah, who is “the Lord, the giver of life.”
In the New Testament the Holy Spirit continues His life-giving work.
The Gospel of St. Luke tells us that
Jesus was conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary
“by the Spirit.”
So, the human life of Jesus Christ Himself, is the gift of the Spirit.
But this natural human life which the Spirit gives
is only the beginning of his life-giving work with Jesus.
In a key passage of St. John’s Gospel,
Jesus tells us that unless a man be born again,
of water and the spirit, he cannot have eternal life.
In that same passage, Jesus also reveals the mysterious connection
between His being “lifted up” on the Cross
and man’s rebirth into “eternal life”.
This mystery only becomes understandable
as we come to Calvary and Christ’s very last moments on the Cross.
As St. Luke tells us: “Jesus cried out in a loud voice,
`Father, into your hands I commend my spirit;’
and when He had said this He breathed his last.”
With these and many other symbolic references to the Spirit,
Scripture tells us of a wonderful mystery.
In the beginning, He gave natural life to man.
In the fullness of time, he acted in History giving natural human life
to the Eternal God the Son.
Then as Christ gives up his spirit and breathes his last,
the life-giving Spirit is active even still in Christ’s death.
For in his death Christ gives up the natural human life
the Spirit gave him in the womb of Mary,
in order that he might rise again
and send the Holy Spirit to brings us eternal life
–the life of God Himself.
In the 2nd chapter of Genesis
it tells us that God created Adam by first building a physical human body.
And today’s second reading reminds us that the Church is the body of Christ.
When Christ was in the world He prepared a physical body for His Church.
Just like God created a physical body for Adam
that had all the various parts to do different tasks,
Jesus also created a body that had various members
who would do different tasks.
And just like Adam’s body which was made out of the common dust of the earth,
the body Jesus built for His Church was made out of
the most common of human beings–fishermen, tax collectors, sinners.
And just like Adam’s lifeless body,
the disciples that gathered on that Pentecost day
gathered as the body of Christ–but as a lifeless body.
They were still afraid and hiding, waiting for God to do something.
For only God can turn a group of weak and frightened sinners
into the living Body of Christ.
Only God can give life!
And God does give life!
God created the human race by breathing the life-giving Spirit
into the lifeless body of Adam.
Once again, at the Pentecost, we read
that: “suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind.”
The ruah, the breath of God blows the life-giving Spirit
into the house where the disciples are gathered in waiting,
and changes these frightened disciples
into the vigorous living mystical Body of Christ, the Church.
As the psalm tells us today:
“If you take their breath they perish,
but send forth your spirit and they are created!”
At that 1st Christian Pentecost the Church was created
by the breath of the Holy Spirit within her.
But there are some believers today
who try to separate the Spirit from the Church.
They claim that if the Spirit is acting in you, you don’t need the Church.
But as we see in today’s
Scriptures, you can’t separate the Spirit from the Church.
When Christ sends the Spirit into the world
He sends Him for His expressed purpose to give life to His Body the Church.
Others would claim that the Church
is merely the assembly of those who believe in Christ,
and so the most important thing about the Church are its members.
But while the members are very important, the most important thing about the Church
is that it is the Body of Christ given life by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
As today’s second reading points out,
there are many gifts and ministries, but only one Spirit.
And the gifts and ministries given each person
are for the common good of the one Body.
There is one Body given one divine life by the one Spirit.
The Holy Spirit blew into that room on Pentecost
and in a dramatically active way gave life to the Church.
That same Spirit remains actively giving and sustaining this life in the Church
even to this day.
We see this activity as we read Sacred Scripture.
We see it in the Sacred Tradition of the Church
which the Spirit has sustained and kept free from error.
We see it in the various gifts He gives to the various members of the Body.
We see it in prayer as He draws us ever deeper into sharing the life of God.
And we see it in the Magisterium and apostolic hierarchy
–as St. John reminds us in today’s Gospel,
when Jesus appeared to the apostles on Easter He
“breathed on them and said:
`Receive the Holy Spirit.
If you forgive men’s sins they are forgiven them;
if you hold them bound, they are held bound.'”
But this life-giving and life-sustaining activity of the Holy Spirit
is encountered most dramatically in the Sacramental life of the Church.
For example, in Baptism, where we are recreated into the new life in Christ
as members of His Church by the very indwelling of the Holy Spirit in our souls.
Or in Penance, where,
by the power of the Holy Spirit given to the apostles on Easter,
the priest forgives men’s sins,
the Spirit acting to restore them to life in Christ.
Or in Confirmation where we receive the fullness of the gifts of the Holy Spirit
so that we can imitate the Church at Pentecost
and bravely proclaim Christ to all the world.
But most especially we encounter this life-giving activity of the Holy Spirit
in the Eucharist, the Most Blessed Sacrament.
In today’s Mass, and in every Mass celebrated around the world
we invoke the action of the Holy Spirit.
In particular in the Eucharistic Prayer
–at the Epiclesis, when he extends his hands,
the priest recalls and requests the action of the Holy Spirit
to transform ordinary bread and wine
into the real life-giving Body and Blood of Christ
–the very same Body which received life in the womb of Mary
by the action of the Holy Spirit
and gave up that life on the Cross
in order to give us eternal life through the Holy Spirit.
In a few moments we will pray the Creed.
Today, on the Feast of the descent of the Holy Spirit,
we remember that it’s through the Holy Spirit that
all natural life comes into creation.
And through that same Spirit, as He blows into the heart of the Church
and the hearts of its members,
human beings are given a share in the supernatural divine life
of God himself.
And we proclaim with renewed fervor and love:
“I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life.”