Breaking Open the Word
May 28, 2023
In the first reading from Acts, the sounds and symbols of wind and fire speak of a theophany, an appearance of God. The tongues of fire descend on everyone present. This is the outpouring of the Spirit on all the people of God, the fulfillment of ancient prophecies. Then they begin to speak and all present understand them in their own languages. But for Luke, all these people of different nationalities hearing the good news preached to them foreshadows the spread of the gospel to the ends of the earth. The various nations listed basically form an arc moving from East to West, ending in Rome, whose empire Luke seems to see as the end of the earth. The reference to Cretans and Arabs is probably a later addition.
In the reading from 1 Corinthians, the first line of this reading is a bit hard to understand in isolation. Paul’s point seems to be that one cannot really profess true faith in Jesus as Lord except through the power of the Spirit. One might say the words, but to really accept Jesus, the crucified one, as Lord of the universe requires the gift of faith, which is given by the Spirit. The Corinthians were apparently overly enamored of certain gifts, like the gift of tongues. Paul reminds them that there are a great variety of gifts, all of which come from the same God. All the gifts are given by the Spirit for the common good. The passage concludes with Paul speaking of the unity of the body. The gifts of the Spirit unite us at a level that is deeper than all the differences between Jew or Greek, slave or free.
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 enough that 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.
We already heard today’s Gospel proclaimed on the Second Sunday of Easter this year. That Gospel passage, however, also included the description of Jesus’ appearance to Thomas. In that context, we were led reflect on belief and unbelief.
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 mirrors God’s act of breathing life into Adam at the time of Creation. 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 forgiving 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.
Sending the Spirit
Before Jesus was crucified, he promised to send the Holy Spirit. Now the risen Jesus sends his followers to continue his ministry of loving people even to death. They don’t go alone, the Spirit makes them inseparable from Jesus. The Spirit is also the one who will speak through them, giving testimony to the truth. Jesus breathes on his disciples just as God once breathed life into the first human being. Now that these disciples share in the life that comes from the risen Jesus, they share his power to bring others into union with God. However, they will also hold people accountable for refusing to accept that Jesus brings salvation to all.
Theme in our Life Today
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 are 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 make the community diverse and interdependent. The community will be unhealthy and ineffective if its members don’t value each other and work together. Isaiah foretold that the Holy Spirit would rest upon the promised Messiah, Emmanuel, and that he would possess wisdom and understanding, counsel and fortitude, knowledge, fear of the Lord (Is 11:2), and piety. As Jesus was blessed with these gifts by his Father, every believer is blessed with the same gifts by the Holy Spirit.
It is through these seven gifts that we grow in holiness and are continually reminded of God's loving presence within us and around us.
Prepare for Sunday
To Prepare for this Sunday’s Liturgy of the Word, consider the following:
1. Recall how some person has inspired courage in you.
2. What gifts of the Spirit can you identify in yourself that could help transform your world?
3. What gifts of the Spirit can you identify in our community?
4. Have you ever been amazed by the work of the Spirit?
Father of light, you have enlightened the minds of your disciples through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Bless us and give us 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.