Our Lord’s promise of his enduring presence through the Holy Spirit is fulfilled today—the Solemnity of Pentecost. We commemorate the transformation of the disciples from the ill-equipped and fearful followers of the crucified Jesus to the effective and zealous witnesses of the risen Lord. This is illustrated both in the first reading and in the Gospel.
In the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Luke narrates that the Holy Spirit enables the disciples to break through various forms of barriers in their proclamation of the deeds and words of the risen Lord. One of these barriers is the lingua franca (Koine Greek) of the eastern side of the Roman Empire where the disciples first proclaimed the Gospel. Most of the disciples were illiterate Aramaic-speaking Galilean peasants who could probably understand a little Greek but could hardly explain the teachings of the Lord in that language. When the disciples speak about the mighty acts of God, each of the listeners who have come from diverse places and ethnicities hears them speak in his native language. It is striking that Luke provides a superfluous list of the ethnicities of those who have heard the disciples (e.g. Parthians, Medes, etc.), comprising almost 25% (Acts 2:9-11a) of the Pentecost passage (Acts 2:1-11). If anything this superfluous list is meant to emphasize that upon the descent of the Holy Spirit, the enlivened disciples set forth immediately to proclaim the Gospel outside of Israel.
In the Gospel reading, John tells us that the risen Jesus appears to the frightened disciples and consoles them with the greeting of peace. The Lord breathes on them the Holy Spirit and authorizes them both to forgive and to retain sins.
These two accounts differ in many details but agree on the core message, namely, that the disciples are sent to mission upon their reception of the Holy Spirit. How can we—the present-day Christians—live out the core message of Pentecost? First, we must always be receptive to the presence and guidance of the Holy Spirit who manifests himself in varied and dynamic ways in our life. In the first reading the disciples experienced him as a “strong driving wind” (Acts 2:2) and in the Gospel as a gentle “breath” (Jn 20:22). Similarly we may feel his presence both in high and low points of our life. Becoming aware of the presence of the Holy Spirit and heeding his guidance need some training in contemplation and meditation. Observing silence on the regular basis may be a good start.
Second, according to the Vatican II document on mission, the pilgrim church is missionary by its very nature. We, as church or as a community, are sent out to bear witness to the Gospel message “to all nations” (Mt 28:19). Pope Francis has warned that if the church neglects its missionary dimension and becomes self-referential or closed onto itself, it shall become old and irrelevant, and may eventually die.
How could we become Holy Spirit-inspired missionaries in our present context? The Gospel reading gives us a clue. To his disciples who have been hiding for fear of the Jewish authorities, the risen Jesus says, “Peace be with you” twice. It should be remembered that these disciples have abandoned and disowned the Lord when he was tortured and crucified. Instead of demanding them an explanation for their betrayal, Jesus offers them peace. Giving or promoting peace is one of the concrete ways of doing mission in our day-to-day life. Perhaps, the anonymous writer of the song “Make Me a Channel of Your Peace”(Watch youtube video) had this Gospel passage in mind when he composed the lyrics:
“Make me a channel of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me bring your love; where there is injury, your pardon; where there’s doubt, true faith in you [God]…. Where there’s despair in life, let me bring hope; where there is darkness, let me bring your light; where there’s sadness, ever joy…. Make me a channel of your peace. It is in pardoning that we are pardoned; in giving to all people, we receive, and in dying that we’re born to eternal life.” (Fr. Roy Ervite, OSA)