Some people call Pentecost Sunday the birthday of the Church, but, while a lovely thought, that’s not entirely accurate. Today, the last day of the Easter season, we celebrate when the Church “goes public”: the frightened men in the upper room are emboldened by the Holy Spirit to go out and proclaim the Good News, and the Holy Spirit helps them to be understood. Some see this moment as reversing what happened at the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9): if the pride and hubris of men led them to division and misunderstanding, the Spirit of the Lord brings them back together again into one people through reconciliation with God and with each other.
The places named in today’s First Reading by the astounded Jews are all places where the Church first spread, aided by the Holy Spirit. The inspiration of the Apostles by the Holy Spirit was always meant to inspire all believers. Like the tongues of flame descending on the Apostles, the Holy Spirit wants to enflame hearts. We’re all called to not only let our hearts be enflamed by the Holy Spirit, but to share that flame with others as well. The devout Jews recalled today are from all over Asia Minor, as well as far flung places like Rome and Cyrene. They went out and brought enflamed hearts to their native places, and shared the flame of an ardent faith inspired by the Holy Spirit.
As St. Paul reminds us in today’s Second Reading (1 Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13), it is thanks to the Spirit that we can pray at all. Pentecost Sunday is a special day for celebrating the many gifts the Holy Spirit lavishes upon the Church. Throughout the Easter season we’ve seen the Spirit emboldening, instructing, dissuading, and strengthening the disciples as they started to spread the Gospel throughout the world. Just as we are the Mystical Body of Christ, a Biblical image of the Church, the Holy Spirit is like the Soul of that Body, giving the Body form and life that makes the Church visible as a living thing. With the Holy Spirit’s help the Church is not just a conglomeration of people who agree on certain teachings, but a communion of life and love that wants to welcome everyone into the fold, reconciling them with God in the process.
In today’s Gospel the Risen Lord gives the Apostles a special infusion of the Holy Spirit that helps them reconcile sinners with God and helps people to see when they haven’t. Pentecost Sunday is not just a day for celebrating the Holy Spirit’s gifts that enable us to be in communion with each other; it is also a day for celebrating the Holy Spirit’s role in bringing us into and maintaining our communion with the Most Holy Trinity, which we’ll celebrate next Sunday. Without this gift of reconciliation through the Holy Spirit there is no communion, and without this communion, little by little, divisions and misunderstandings are sown. Through the Holy Spirit we remain unified and united, among ourselves and with God.
The Church has a beautiful prayer to invoke the Holy Spirit. Take some time this week to pray it in first person:
Come Holy Spirit, fill my heart and kindle in me the fire of your love.
Send forth your Spirit and you will renew me.
Help me to know what is right and to rejoice always in the Spirit’s consolation. Amen.
Readings: Acts 2:1–11; Psalm 104:1, 24, 29–31, 34; 1 Corinthians 12:3b–7, 12–13; John 20:19–23.See also Pentecost Sunday, Cycle C, Second Sunday of Easter, 2nd Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy Sunday), Cycle C, and Pentecost Sunday.