04Jun Pentecost: Come, Holy Spirit, be our Light…

(Saints Charles Lwanga and companions, martyrs)

1st Reading: Acts 2:1-11

The Spirit of God gives energy to the apostles and sends them out on their mission

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.

Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs-in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.”

2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 12:3-7, 12-13

It is through the Spirit that Christ works in his community, the church

Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus be cursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit. Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in every one. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body-Jews or Greeks, slaves or free-and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

Gospel: John 20:19-23

They disciples receive the power of the Spirit to continue the mission of Jesus

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”


For exegetical notes on today’s readings, click here

A Pentecost Prayer

Come, Holy Spirit, be our Light.
Shine upon our shadowed hearts.
Warm and change us from within.

Come, Spirit, make your home in us.
Grow us to be our very best
And show us how to practice love.

Come, Spirit, to comfort and console.
Heal the wounded. Calm our dread.
Soothe us when we grieve or ache.

Come, Spirit, energize our being.
Help us to live as Jesus taught.
Lead us in work and prayer and play.

O Holy Spirit, Fire of Love,
Spirit of wisdom and insight,
Direct our lives and guide our ways.

God within us

(José Antonio Pagola)

The great German theologian, Karl Rahner, asserted that the most urgent problem in the church today is «spiritual mediocrity». He felt that our church’s true problem is «trudging with a resignation and an ever greater tedium along the routine paths of a spiritual mediocrity». This problem has only grown worse in these last decades. It serves us little to try to reform institutions, preserve the liturgy or keep watch over orthodoxy. In the hearts of many Christians the interior experience of God is being extinguished.

Modern society has positioned itself in the tangible, measurable exterior. Everything invites us to live on the surface, to move about hurriedly, without stopping for anything or anyone. Peace doesn’t have a chance now to penetrate our heart. We’re almost always caught up in life’s shortness. We’re forgetting what it means to savor life from within. For a human being, our life lacks an essential dimension: interiority.

Sadly, in many Christian communities we seem not to care for and promote the interior life. Many don’t know what’s in the silence of their heart, they aren’t taught to live faith from within. Deprived of an inner experience, we hang on for dear life, forgetting about our soul: listening to words with our ears and pronouncing prayers with our lips, while our heart is nowhere to be found.

In the Church there’s still much talk about God, of course, but where and when do we believers listen to the silent presence of God in the deepest depths of our heart? Where and when do we welcome the Spirit of the Resurrected One in our inner self? When do we live in communion with the Mystery of God from within?

To welcome God’s Spirit within means at least two things. First is to not keep putting God far away and outside of ourselves: we need to learn to listen to God in the silence of our hearts. The second is to get God out of our head and down into our depths; that is, to stop thinking of God only with the mind and to learn to perceive God in the most intimate part of our being.

This interior experience of God, something real and concrete, can transform our faith. You wonder how you could live without having discovered this before. It’s still possible to encounter God within us even in today’s secularized culture. It’s also possible to know an inner joy that’s new and different. In order to maintain faith in God amid the agitation and frivolity of modern life, we need, albeit in a humble and simple way, some interior experience of the Holy Spirit of God.

Source of our best impulses

The Holy Spirit used to be the forgotten person of the Trinity. Perhaps he suffered from being a spirit, since for many of us, only concrete things are real. The Father and Son make an impact because one took flesh and the other was given a beard. Have you ever imagined the Holy Spirit with a beard? Whatever the reason, even among devout Christians, the Holy Spirit had been overlooked. He had been cast in the role of a third candidate, valued for his transfers to the front-runners, but never earmarked for a seat in the House, much less a post in the Cabinet. It’s only recently that he has been coming into his own. And about time too! There are several reasons why we should never forget the Spirit. The first is that he wasn’t forgotten by Jesus. On the contrary. On the eve of the Passion, he promised to send the Spirit to the disciples. In fact, he took pains to emphasise the importance of the Spirit’s role. Here was no poor substitute, a duckling doing “locum” for a swan. He would be a helper, a counsellor, a teacher, a replacement for Christ himself. Indeed, Our Lord’s words of introduction are rather startling: “It is for your own good that I am going, because unless I go, the Paraclete will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you” (Jn 16:7).

Another reason for acknowledging the Spirit is the example of the early Christians. He made such a difference to their lives… Before his coming they were timid and afraid, like children huddling together in a storm. When he came among them in a miraculous blend of wind, fire and speech, they were utterly transformed. “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit.”

At Pentecost, the Spirit was “breathing where he would” and from now on the power of Jesus would be shouted from the housetops. For as long as they lived, this Spirit would stay in the bloodstream. Every decision they made would be Spirit-guided: the choice of seven deacons; the admission of Gentiles to the Church; the sending of Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey. And the influence of the Spirit was not confined to decision-making at executive level. It was felt at the ordinary level too, at what politicians love to call the “grassroots.” It was felt in the gifts that were Spirit, sent for the service of the Church, unusual gifts like healing or prophecy, designed to meet the needs of an infant Church, but ordinary gifts too, required to meet the needs of God’s children everywhere, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self control.”

Imagining the Spirit

When you look around our church you will find that there is no shortage of images, mostly in the form of statues, paintings, stained glass, carvings and plaster moulds. They are mostly images of Jesus, Mary and of the saints. There are also images of some figures from the Old Testament, such as Abraham and Melchizedek to the front of the altar. There is a long tradition of images within the church, beginning with the paintings in the Catacombs in Rome. The Holy Spirit, whose feast we celebrate today, does not lend itself all that easily to imagery. The traditional image of the Holy Spirit is the dove. That is drawn from the gospel accounts of the baptism of Jesus. However the language of the evangelists in that passage is very tentative; they simply saw that the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus like a dove, in the way that a dove might descend. There are two other images of the Holy Spirit in this morning’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles. There again the language is very tentative. Luke says that all who gathered in one room heard what sounded like a powerful wind from heaven; he goes on to say that something appeared to them that seemed like tongues of fire. Just as the evangelists do not say that there was an actual dove at the baptism of Jesus, Luke does not say that there was an actual wind and fire at Pentecost. The Holy Spirit does not lend her/himself to concrete representation, because the Holy Spirit cannot be seen as such. Yet the Holy Spirit is profoundly real .

There is much in our universe that is real but is not visible to the naked eye. It is now accepted that what we see with our eyes is only a fraction of our physical world. The Holy Spirit is part of the spiritual world, and it is no surprise that we cannot see the Spirit with our eyes. Yet, there are helpful ways of imagining the Holy Spirit. In today’s second reading, Paul uses an image drawn from nature, speaking about the fruits of the Spirit . He is talking about the visible impact of the Spirit on one’s life. We may not be able to see the Holy Spirit, but we can see the impact of the Spirit in our life, just as we cannot see the wind but can see the impact of the wind on people and objects of various kinds. Paul is saying that wherever we find love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self-control, the Spirit is there at work. The Spirit becomes visible in and through these qualities and virtues. The person who most of all had those qualities was Jesus because he was full of the Holy Spirit, full of the life of God . The Holy Spirit is essentially the very life of God, and that life is a life of love. It is that divine life, that divine love, which was poured out at Pentecost, initially on the first disciples but through them on all who were open to receive this powerful and wonderful gift. Paul expresses it simply in his letter to the Romans, ‘God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us’. It is that Spirit of God’s love we have received who bears the rich fruit in our lives that Paul speaks about in today’s second reading. The Spirit is constantly at work in our lives, making us more like Jesus. The ordinary, day to day expressions of goodness and kindness, of faithfulness and self-control, of patience and gentleness, are all manifestations of the Spirit that has been given to us by God. We can recognize the Spirit’s presence in the common happenings of everyday life. The spiritual is not something other-worldly; it is humanity at its best.

We have an example of humanity at its best in today’s first reading. On that first Pentecost, there was a wonderful communion between people from all over the Roman Empire. They were united in hearing in their own native language the preaching of the first disciples about the marvels of God. In spite of differences of language and culture there was a profound communion among them. Wherever we find such communion of heart and spirit today among those who are strikingly different, there the Holy Spirit is at work. Unity in diversity is the mark of the Spirit. In the gospel Jesus points out another manifestation of the Spirit, and that is the pursuit of truth. Jesus declares that one of the Spirit’s roles is to lead us to the complete truth. If someone has a genuine openness to truth, a willingness to engage in the search for truth, there the Spirit is at work. Full truth is always beyond us; we never possess it completely. In John’s gospel Jesus declares himself to be the truth and he is always beyond us; we never fully possess him in this life. One of the roles of the Spirit is to lead us towards the complete truth, in all its dimensions and manifestations.

A blackbird and Pentecost

Blackey the Blackbird was feeling the harsh winds and weather cutting through his feathers. The cold winds were coming at him from all sides. Everything seemed to be going against him…. There were slings and arrows coming from all directions, so he was suspicious of everyone and everything. He hoped this would pass …but the forecast for next week was more of the same.

The bird scrambled up on Murphy’s window just to look in. It was then he saw the vision….Someone a little bigger than himself with blue and gold feathers. That bird had his own house ….He had a perch that could swing. Mrs Murphy poured seeds into his feeding trough. It was safer to be inside

Blackey jumped off the window sill.. hopped on to the front door . He pecked and knocked till finally Mrs Murphy opened it. “Could you give me something to eat” ….he squeaked

He couldn’t take his eyes off the blue and gold bird in his cage..and “Please, can I have a house like that?” he blurted out. “Oh I don’t think that would be wise” said Mrs Murphy.. you are not meant to be cooped up in a house… you belong to the world….You have a song to sing… Listen to the wind calling you. See the stars and the fire in the sky inviting you outside. This is your world This is where you belong. Sure, have some dinner and then go and sing your song for the whole world to hear. This dark cold world needs to hear your song!”

Blackey wasn’t having any of it… Eventually Mrs Murphy gave in and that night Blackey thought he was in heaven. From now on he would stay inside and look out at the world.

And so the weeks passed ……and the days got longer and summer came. And now the wind had died down and fire was gone out … and the song had died in his heart.

What a sad story …. But is it the story of our church today ? Today is the birthday of the church. We have a song to sing: “God so loved the world that he sent his only Son so that we may have life.”

Jesus wants us to make this song known to the ends of the earth especially to the poor. He has promised us that his Holy Spirit will be with us to help us. Pope Francis will not let us forget that Jesus is good news and can make the world a better place.


Ss. Charles Lwanga and companions, martyrs

Charles Lwanga (1860-1886) was a Ugandan Catholic catechist martyred for his faith, along with eleven others, during the fierce persecution (1886) under King Mwanga.


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