Participating in Pentecost
The Church’s first scripture for this Sunday describes the disciples of the Lord Jesus gathered for the celebration of Pentecost. On this occasion the Holy Spirit is revealed in an extraordinary way, and in the wake of the Holy Spirit’s revelation, the disciples of the Lord Jesus are transformed, changed forever. Their transformation is manifested in signs and wonders.
What does this all mean?
Pentecost is a festival of the Israelite religion that occurs fifty days after Passover. Passover commemorates the liberation of the Israelites from the enslavement to the false gods of the Egyptians. The one, true God defeated these false gods, and freed from the tyranny of these false gods, the Israelites could fulfill their God-given mission. That’s Passover.
Pentecost commemorates the gift of the law of Moses, or the covenant of Moses, and as this festival coincided with a time of the wheat harvest, the pageantry of this festival incorporated thanksgiving to God for the fruits of the harvest. When the temple of Jerusalem was still standing, the high priest would present two loaves of bread to the Lord with great solemnity.
These details help us to understand why the early disciples were gathered, but also indicates how they understood their experience. The “Passover” of the Lord Jesus had occurred fifty days earlier; by this I mean his passage into suffering and death on the cross, and along with this, his defeat of sin, death, and the devil, a victory that was revealed in his Resurrection.
Through his Passover, Christ had revealed his Law, his Covenant, a covenant that is revealed to the world when his disciples gather in worship and see and receive the offering of the Eucharistic Mystery called the Blessed Sacrament. This is what happens during the Church’s worship called the Mass.
Thus, what this text from the Book of Acts is doing is evoking and connecting the Passover and Pentecost of the Old Testament with the Passover and Pentecost of the New Testament. The rituals that commemorated the gift of law, rituals that culminated in the offering of bread to the Lord, suggested or foreshadowed the worship the Lord that happens in the Mass, when we receive the Law of Christ in the revelation of the Eucharist.
So you see, Pentecost is not simply an event from long ago, but a reality that we participate in ourselves by participating in the Mass.
Through the Mass, the Holy Spirit desires to unleash for us signs and wonders, gifts for our mission, gifts that imbue the Church with creativity, enthusiasm, and life. The marvelous signs and wonders described in the Book of Acts are meant to be gifts given to us, gifts that are imparted through the Mass.
This is what the Church’s worship in the Mass is meant to accomplish, to unleash in us heavenly gifts that have the power to change us and to change the world. This can happen if we are willing to cooperate with the Lord and accept the Eucharist he gives to us, a Eucharist that is what it is by the Holy Spirit, as not just an experience of individualistic spiritualized affirmation, but a real communion with the divine person of the Lord Jesus.
Every Mass is meant to be another Pentecost.
If Pentecost can be understood as the power God unleashes in our experience of the worship of the Mass and through our adoration and reception of the Eucharistic Mystery of the Blessed Sacrament, then what is this Holy Spirit, this Spirit that unleashes heavenly gifts and imbues disciples with vigorous strength for mission?
The Holy Spirit is the love that is shared between God the Father and God the Son. This is perhaps the most helpful way to think about what the Holy Spirit “is.” The Holy Spirit is the love shared between God the Father and God the Son.
Therefore, to receive the Holy Spirit means that you receive the same love that is shared between God the Father and God the Son. The Holy Spirit gives you the relationship Christ has with his Heavenly Father. This is why those who have received the Holy Spirit often do such marvelous things, because those that have received the love that Christ shares with his Heavenly Father and share the relationship that Christ has with his Heavenly Father become more and more like Christ.
The gifts of the Holy Spirit are those qualities that make us like Christ.
The power of the Holy Spirit is the power to make us like Christ.
Becoming more and more like Christ is what it means to be holy.
Holiness is not simply an attitude that favors the spiritual or means you are interested in religion. Holiness is being like and becoming like Christ.
This is what the Church is about: helping us to become holy, which means, helping us to become more and more like Christ. The Church transforms the world, not through institutional projects, political causes, or faith-based curriculums, but by inviting people to know Christ and helping people to become like Christ. The Church’s strategy for changing the world is to help more and more people become holy, become like Christ.
Becoming like Christ becomes possible for us because we participate in the sacraments. The sacraments are possible for us because of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit draws us to Christ in the sacraments, and through the sacraments, offers us the possibility and the opportunity of becoming like Christ.
Becoming like Christ is what it means to be holy. And when this happens, the power and gifts of the Holy Spirit are not only given to us; they are lavished on the whole world.