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Pentecost Sunday

Acts 2:1-11; Ps 104:1, 24, 29-20, 31, 34; 1Cor 12:3B-7, 12-13; Jn 20:19-23

June 5, 2014

Freedom in the Spirit

Pentecost is rightly considered to be the "birthday of the Church." Taking the account we read today in the Acts of the Apostles at face value, today marks the fiftieth day after the passion, death and resurrection, when the disciples of Jesus, empowered by the coming of the Spirit, emerge from behind the doors of the upper room where they had taken refuge for fear of persecution, and boldly go out into the streets of Jerusalem, effectively proclaiming the mighty works of God in Jesus Christ.

While this is a dramatic and inspiring event, we would misunderstand the action of the Spirit - then and now - if we were to limit the "coming of the Spirit" to Pentecost. This event, while a wonderful turning point that expands the community of believers beyond Jesus' original disciples, ought not give us the impression that we can pin down exactly when and how the Spirit operates.

In other words, it is important to note the powerful presence of the Spirit before and after Pentecost - and that the Spirit does not necessarily follow any rules. I'd like to give just two examples. Our reading from John's Gospel today recounts Jesus' appearance in the upper room the very evening of the resurrection, when, breathing on the disciples, Christ imparts the Holy Spirit and the authority to forgive sins. This is, of course, a full fifty days before Pentecost. While Pentecost is described as the coming of the Spirit upon the Jews who are in Jerusalem for the pilgrimage feast of Shavuot (when they are baptized by the disciples) it is later, in chapter 10 of Acts, that we learn of the '"Gentile Pentecost" when, at the preaching of Peter, the Holy Spirit descends upon the Roman Centurion Cornelius and his household - even before they are baptized!

The identification of the Holy Spirit as wind, breath, flame gives us a clue that it is not controllable or in any way predictable by human beings. It underlines the truth that we in the Church - especially those of us who are authorized to administer the sacraments - that God is not in any way controlled by us and that we need to resist the temptation to think that we have all of the answers. This important truth is reflected in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. When speaking about the necessity of Baptism of the catechism states quite plainly: "God has bound salvation to the sacrament of baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments" (1257).

This is one of the reasons why Pope Francis has urged all Christians, especially clergy, to be humble and merciful, and to trust in God's providence allowing themselves to be guided by the Spirit. Paradoxically, when we let ourselves be directed by the Spirit - it is then that we attain real freedom. This is an essential part of the message of Pentecost and a sign of the presence of the Spirit in our lives. As the Pope has eloquently stated: "There is no greater freedom than that of allowing ourselves to be guided by the Holy Spirit, renouncing the attempt to plan and control everything to the last detail, and instead letting him enlighten, guide and direct us, leading us wherever he wills. The Holy Spirit knows well what is needed in every time and place. This is what it means to be mysteriously fruitful" (Evangelii Gaudium 280).

Rev. Mark R. Francis, CSV

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