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Breaking Open the Word

Pentecost May 19, 2024

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In today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we hear about the fulfillment of Pentecost. Pentecost was the Greek name for the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot). It was originally a harvest festival celebrated about fifty days after Passover. The feast evolved into a commemoration of God’s giving of the law (Torah) on Mount Sinai, where fire was a sign of God’s presence (Exodus 19:18).

The Hebrew word ruah means wind, breath or spirit. In this passage all three meanings are implied. God breathes his Spirit into those who believe in the saving power of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The Jewish feast of Pentecost has thus come to assume new meaning for Christians.

In the second reading from Paul’s letter to the Galatians shows the seemingly endless struggle for genuine freedom as a part of Christian life. As faith matures, it becomes clearer that we do not practice our beliefs out a sense of obligation to God. The gift of salvation is precisely that, a gift. The acceptance of gifts given in pure love does not create an obligation to reciprocate. It creates an eagerness to respond with similar love. What could be more free than an eager response to love? That said, we can still appreciate what Paul tells us in this reading. He is a realist. He sees that our unredeemed nature (flesh he calls it) keeps trying to replace spontaneous love with something more planned. He appeals to our redeemed nature now endowed with much clearer vision and able to apply the golden rule to every part of our existence.

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Gospel Explained

The season of Easter concludes with today’s celebration, the feast of Pentecost. On Pentecost we celebrate the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles gathered in the upper room in Jerusalem; this event marks the beginning of the Church. The story of Pentecost is found in the Acts of the Apostles, today’s first reading. The account in today’s Gospel, John 20:19-23, also recounts how Jesus gave the gift of the Holy Spirit to his disciples. Yet the event in John’s Gospel takes place on Easter Sunday. There is no need to try to reconcile these two accounts. It is to we know that after his death, Jesus fulfilled his promise to send to his disciples a helper, an Advocate, who would enable them to be his witnesses throughout the world.

In the context of the feast of Pentecost, John 20:19-23 reminds us about the integral connection between the gifts of peace and forgiveness and the action of the Holy Spirit. Jesus greets his disciples with the gift of peace. Jesus then commissions his disciples to continue the work that he has begun: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” He breathes the Holy Spirit upon the disciples and sends them to continue his work of reconciliation through the forgiveness of sins. Jesus’ act of breathing the Holy Spirit upon the apostle’s mirrors God’s act of breathing life into Adam. In fact, both the Greek and Hebrew words for “spirit” can also be translated as “breath.” This Gospel reminds us that the Church is called to be a reconciling presence in the world. The reconciling presence of Christ is celebrated in the Church’s sacramental life. In the Sacrament of Baptism, we are cleansed of sin and become a new creation in Christ. In the Sacrament of Penance, the Church celebrates the mercy of God through the forgiveness of sins. This reconciling presence is also to be a way of life for Christians. In situations of conflict, we are to be agents of peace and harmony among people.

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Today's Theme

Receive the Spirit

The Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, is the love shared between the Father and the Son. The Spirit is present in our lives, revealing the desires of our hearts. Often referred to as the paraclete and advocate, the Holy Spirt guides our lives to goodness and truth in God. In the Baptism of Jesus, the apostle John sees the Spirit of God “come down like a dove.” John was only able to baptize with water, while Christ baptized with the power of the Holy Spirit.

As we hear today in the readings, the Holy Spirit descended upon the first bishops of the Catholic Church at Pentecost and, ever since, has guided the members and leaders of the Church from straying too far away from the teachings of Jesus Christ. It also served as an inspiration to spread this truth to as many people as possible. The guidance and inspiration has remained with the Church ever since by being passed on from bishop to bishop through the Holy Spirit.

Paul makes it clear that every person who believes in Jesus has the Holy Spirit within them and that every gift comes from the Spirit. Therefore, no one should presume to think they’re better than anyone else. Moreover, the gifts of the Spirit aren’t given to make people feel special but to strengthen God’s church.

The Spirit’s presence within individuals draws them into a community. The Spirit bestows gifts that makes the community diverse but also interdependent. The community will be unhealthy and ineffective if its members don’t value each other and work together.

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Theme in our Life Today

Have you ever had a teacher who made a huge difference in your life? The way they taught things just made sense, they were creative in ways you never thought possible and the advice they gave you, turned out to be the best advice every time.  Jesus tells us that this is exactly what the Holy Spirit is like. He expands our soul and our mind to be open to God’s grace and guides us in our lives as Christians. And as a teacher, the Holy Spirit would never lead anyone away from the truth.

The Holy Spirit is often the “neglected” part of the Trinity but be open to receiving the Holy Spirit in your life. In 1 Corinthians 2:10, Paul writes that the Holy Spirit reveals to us the depths of God, allowing us to know Him in all of His complexity. By knowing God more intimately, the Spirit allows us the ability to see as God sees. Through special gifts and fruits, the Holy Spirit guides the faithful in spiritual growth and into a deeper understanding of God.

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Prepare for Sunday

1. Describe how some person has inspired courage in you.

2. What gifts of the Spirit can you identify in yourself that can help transform your world?

3. Which gifts of the Spirit can you identify in our community?

4. How are we developing together with other laypersons a mission of liberation in our everyday life?


Father of light,
you have enlightened the minds of your disciples through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
Bless us and give us the gifts of your Spirit forever.

May that fire that hovered over the disciples as tongues of flame burn out all evil from our hearts and make us glow with pure light.

May the voice of the Spirit strengthen our faith and inspire others who need love, guidance, and hope.

We ask this in the name of Jesus, our Lord. Amen.

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