31May 31 May, 2020. Pentecost Sunday, Year A

1st Reading: Acts 2:1-11

The Spirit of God inspires the apostles and sends 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.”

Responsorial: Psalm 103: 1, 24, 29-31, 34

Response: Lord, send out your Spirit and renew the face of the earth

Bless the Lord, my soul!
Lord God, how great you are,
How many are your works, O Lord!
The earth is full of your riches.

You take back your spirit, they die,
returning to the dust from which they came.
You send forth your spirit, they are created;
and you renew the face of the earth.

May the glory of the Lord last for ever!
May the Lord rejoice in his works!
May my thoughts be pleasing to him.
I find my joy in the Lord.
Lord, send out your Spirit and renew the face of the earth.

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

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

My friends, 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 14:15-16; 23-26

The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, will teach you everything

Jesus said to his disciples, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever….

Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me. I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.”

or: John 15:26-27, 16:12-15

The Spirit who will lead believers to the complete truth

Jesus said to his disciples: “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

or: John 20:19-23

They disciples receive the Holy 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.”


May your words, O Lord be on my lips, and in my heart. May they guide me on life’s journey and keep me near to you.

Who were present at Pentecost?

The Roman Lectionary renders Acts 2:1 as: “…the apostles were all together in one place…” This gives a particular interpretation to the text, suggesting that only the twelve apostles were the recipients of the Spirit at Pentecost. The actual text says that when the day of Pentecost had come, ésan pantes homou epi to auto, (literally “THEY WERE ALL together in one place”). Who were those “ALL” who were present?

The preceding chapter lists eleven of the Lord’s chosen Twelve, now gathered in the Upper Room, “constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers” (1:14). The next verse refers to a larger group of believers (about 120 persons in all) among whom Peter stood up, to propose selecting a replacement for Judas (Ac 1:15).

After the selection was made (by election, followed by drawing of lots) the final words of that chapter say that Matthias “was added to the eleven apostles” ( μετa τwν eνδεκα aποστόλων, Acts 1:26). But it is not clear from the story as a whole that the THEY who were all together in one place, and received the gift of the Holy Spirit, refers only the restored circle of the Twelve.

The answer to this puzzle could have practical implications for ecclesiology. Might not the group who experienced the first Pentecost include the whole faith-community of 120 persons, or at least the smaller group (perhaps twenty in all) — consisting of the apostles, plus certain women and Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers? Most paintings of the Pentecost event include Our Lady, flanked by the Twelve, but without any other recipients. But St Luke may have meant that spiritual power was given to the whole group who still treasured the memory and message of Jesus. It could diminish his story, were we to limit his Pentecost scene only to the inspiriting of the Twelve who became the founding leaders of a structured church.

 Source of our best impulses

The Holy Ghost (der heilige Geist) used to be the forgotten person of the Trinity. Perhaps from being a spirit, since for many people today, only tangible, material things are the whole of reality. The Father and Son could be imaged as tangible because one took flesh and the other was portrayed with a venerable beard, reflecting the vision about “the Ancient of Days” (Dan 7:9). Whatever the reason, even among devout Christians the Holy Spirit is often overlooked. But there are good reasons not to neglect the Spirit. The first is the promise of Jesus. At the Last Supper, he promised to send the Spirit, to be an ever-reliable helper, advocate, counsellor, teacher, a replacement for Christ himself. “Unless I go, the Paraclete will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you” (Jn 16:7).

For the earliest Christians, the Spirit sent by Jesus a vital source of energy and missionary spirit. They never forgot his first coming. Beforehand, they were timid and afraid, like children huddling in an attic. When the Spirit came over them in a whooshing of wind, fire and speech, they were transformed, “filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:4), suddenly, mysteriously, eloquent. Some bystanders were less poetic in their reaction and sneered, “They’re drunk” (Acts 2:13). In a sense they were right, for drunk they were, spiritually, intoxicated with the Spirit of Christ’s love and eagerness to proclaim his message.

The Spirit was breathing among them, and from now on the prayer “Jesus is Lord” would be their motto. They stayed spiritually drunk in this sense, never to be soberly timid again. For as long as they lived, the Spirit coursed in their bloodstream. Every decision they made was Spirit-guided: the choice of seven deacons; the admitting of Gentiles to the Church; the sending of Paul and Barnabas on their missionary journey. Nor was the influence of the Spirit confined to the apostles. It was felt at the ordinary level too, at the grassroots. They recognised charisms, gifts of the Spirit, given for service in the Church, unusual gifts like healing or prophecy, designed to meet the needs of an infant Church, and ordinary gifts too, that helped to build up the community: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self control” (Ga 5:22).

Whenever we exercise our charisms we honour the Spirit. When we are loyal to a demanding partner, or console the bereaved, support the old or encourage the young, we are being led by the Spirit. When we resist temptation, we honour the Spirit. When we respond to our better impulses, the Spirit is working in us. The Spirit of God is the rising sap moving all that is best in us. It is through our better instincts that the Spirit works. Our part is to work with him to reach our fullest selves.

The Spirit is for all

Joys and troubles, successes and failures, are woven into daily life, animating or weighing us down. But often we are hardly aware of what’s deepest in ourselves. What we grasp clearly is just a small island amid the wide and deep sea that is life. Sometimes, even what’s most essential and decisive eludes us.

In his book Spiritual Experience, Karl Rahner helps us to plumb our innnermost “experiences” that are often unperceived: the living presence of God’s Spirit working within our own spirit. This can easily be smothered by the many phenomena that occupy our time and attention. The spirit can be drowned out by other impressions and worries that take hold of our heart.

Mostly, we seem to think that what is wonderful must be very rare, but God’s grace is not like that. There’s a widespread tendency to consider the living presence of the Spirit as reserved to chosen and select people. But Rahner reminds us that God’s Spirit lives in the human heart, since the Spirit is God’s way of sustaining our existence. The Spirit of God is present even where apparently nothing is happening. The Spirit is there, wherever life is lived and our daily duties are carried out. God’s Spirit works silently in the heart of regular and simple people, in contrast to the pretension of those who think themselves the sole possessors of the Spirit.

Pentecost invites us to seek that Spirit in our own selves, not to imagine it as a trophy granted only to the elite. We need to welcome the Spirit of God who is the font of all life. This Spirit is for everyone, because the immense Love of God is present to all the efforts and yearnings that spring from the heart of all God’s children. [adapted from Jose Antonio Pagola]

The Spirit bears fruit

In our churches there is no shortage of images, mostly statues, paintings or stained glass. They are mostly of Jesus, Mary and the saints, in accition to images of Old Testament figures like Abraham and Sarah, or Moses an Miriam. The Holy Spirit, whose feast we celebrate on Pentecost, does not lend itself easily to imagery. The traditional image of the dove is drawn from the scene of the baptism of Jesus. But the language in that passage is rather vague; the Holy Spirit descended like a dove, or in the way that a dove might descend. There are two other images of the Holy Spirit in today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles. 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 portray an actual dove at the baptism of Jesus, Luke does not say that the wind and fire at Pentecost were tangible phenomena. The Holy Spirit is impossible to visualise, because the Spirit cannot be seen as such. Yet the Holy Spirit is profoundly real.

Many things in our universe are real even though invisible to the naked eye. What we see with our eyes is only a fraction of our physical world. The Holy Spirit belongs to the spiritual world, and it naturally cannot see the Spirit with our eyes. Yet, there are helpful ways of imagining the Holy Spirit. St Paul uses an image drawn nature when he says that the Spirit bears fruit. He means the visible effect of the Spirit on one’s life. We may not be able to see the Holy Spirit, but we can see the effect of the Spirit in our life, just as we cannot see the wind but can see the effect 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.

In his letter to the Romans he has the wonderful statement, ‘God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us’. He also indicates in today’s 2nd Reading (1 Cor) that the Spirit is at work in our lives, to make us more like Jesus. The good things people do are all manifestations of the Spirit of God. The spiritual is not something other-worldly; it is humanity at its best.

In the Pentecost story, humanity appears at its best, united and sharing in wisdom. Pentecost brought about a wonderful bonding of people from all over the Roman Empire. They were united in admiring and praising the marvels of God. In spite of differences of language and culture there was a real communion among them. Wherever communion of heart and mind exist among people of different backgrounds, the Holy Spirit is at work. Unity in diversity is the mark of the Spirit. Jesus points out another manifestation of the Spirit: the pursuit of truth. Only the Spirit can lead us to the complete truth. If someone is genuinely seeking for truth, and willing to engage in good works with others, there the Spirit is at work. Fullness of truth and love is always beyond us; but the Spirit is given to lead us towards the complete truth and love, in all its height and depth.

Domhnach Cincíse

Bhí na hAspail agus roinnt mná áirithe, maraon le Muire máthair Íosa agus a bráithre, dúnta san seomra uachtarach, faoi ghlas ar eagla na nGiúdach. Ach d’athraigh cúrsaí go tobann le teacht an Spioraid orthu. Baineann Lúcás feidhm as íomhánna traidisiúnta le seo a léiriú: séideán gaoithe móire agus tine. Siombail an labhairt i dteangacha difriúla, b’fhéidir den chumhacht nua chun an dea-scéal a fhógairt. Thabharfadh an Spiorad deimhniú inmheánach dóibh faoi Chríost agus an dualgas a leag sé orthu, an Soiscéal a chraobhscaoladh don domhan mór.
(Máirtín Mac Conmara: Machnamh)

One Response

  1. Pádraig McCarthy

    “The Roman Lectionary renders Acts 2:1 as: “…the apostles were all together in one place…” This gives a particular interpretation to the text, suggesting that only the twelve apostles were the recipients of the Spirit at Pentecost.”

    It is our particular version of the Roman Lectionary that gives this. The original schedule for readings for the world gives the reference, not the text.
    The Vienna International Religious Centre: http://www.virc.at/unit/virc/de/messtexte has the Sunday readings for Mass in 13 European languages. Of those which I can understand, only the English version (in our edition) and the Portuguese specify the apostles.
    The Irish language version (not given there) does not do so, nor does the English language Lectionary for the USA.
    The text in the Jerusalem Bible says: “When Pentecost Day came round, they had all met in one room.” It does not specify the apostles.
    “Apostles” as we have in our Lectionary is an adjustment to indicate a meaning for “all”. We might alternatively see it as referring to “about one hundred and twenty” in Acts 1:15.

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