J. Thomas Pohto, O.S.A.
Church of Our Mother of Good Counsel
Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania
Acts 2: 1-11
Ps 104: 1, 24, 29-30, 31, 34
1 Cor 12: 3-7, 12-13
Jn 20: 19-23
Today we celebrate Pentecost. The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles describes the event for us: there was a noise like a strong diving wind and it filled the entire house. Tongues as of fire appeared and came to rest on those in the house. They were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak as the Spirit enabled them. And each in the audience heard them speaking their own language. In such stories of God breaking into our world, we find symbolism, because words alone are not enough to describe this world beyond our own.
Wind was a part of some of the great stories of God’s saving work, such as the strong east wind that parted the Red Sea so that the Israelites could be saved from the Egyptians or the wind that cleared the flood waters from the land so that those on Noah’s Ark could disembark after the flood and begin their new life. The wind of the Pentecost scene strengthens the message that the work of the Holy Spirit is to bring us salvation and new life. And, furthermore, God’s work for our salvation is very powerful in our lives. (It was a strong wind.)
The strong driving wind filled the entire house. One story of emptiness and fullness we have often heard is the story of the Prodigal Son. The prodigal son after abandoning his father and his family and his religion and his God found himself feeding the pigs in a foreign country, but he had nothing to feed himself. His stomach was empty. He repented and decided to return to his father, hoping his father would take him back as a servant. But his father took his son back as more than a servant and had a great feast so that the son was no longer empty but filled. God is lavish. God, the Holy Spirit, gives us not just a little to whet our appetites, but everything we can use to be saved and happy today and tomorrow and the next day. God’s Spirit touches every part of our being.
“And there appeared to them tongues as of fire” that rested on them. In the Psalms when the Law of God is in someone’s heart, that person’s “tongue utters what is right.” The Holy Spirit permits the love and faith in our hearts, which may already be seen in the way we live, now to be communicated through words of our mouth to the ears of others and into their hearts. Again in the Psalms, for the captives being brought back home, their tongues were filled with rejoicing. The words touch the hearts of others with joy. And these words are like fire. Fire is often used to describe the destruction of evil, as, for example, in the parable of the weeds and the wheat—the weeds were burned and the wheat harvested. We might want to think of this as a purifying fire, removing all the obstacles that befall us as we journey to God. The column of fire also showed the Israelites the way out of Egypt and through the desert to the Promised Land. God’s words enter our hearts through our ears and transform us into God’s family from within. These words show us the way like the light from fire.
The Acts of the Apostles says that the crowd was confused because they heard the Apostles speaking to them in their own languages. We are surprised to hear the word “confused,” because we usually think of confusion as a bad thing, like being lost. But here the joy-filled moment is such good news that everything is changed. It is no longer “business as usual.” Perhaps the real confusion comes when we try to figure out how to turn on the experience of the Holy Spirit for ourselves. It is not going to happen! God became part of our world in Jesus. Now we are being drawn into God’s world by the Holy Spirit. God’s saving power and generous fullness and heart-healing love and forgiveness are beyond our control. We receive them and become them.
In celebrating the Sacrament of Confirmation, we celebrate the receiving of the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is with us today transforming us into who we really are.
With the Holy Spirit doing so much in us and for us, what is left for us to do? We are invited to participate in the work the Holy Spirit is doing in us. One way we participate is through the forgiveness of our sins as today’s Gospel reminds us. The Holy Spirit gives us insight to see where we might be at odds with the life of the Spirit in us—selfishness, greed, lust, and other things that deprive us of true joy. Then we receive power to change. Repentance strengthens our awareness of the Spirit in us. Going to confession helps a lot.
Another way we participate in the work of the Spirit is by looking at the special gift or gifts each of us has received from God—such as the spiritual gifts St. Paul wrote about in today’s second reading or other special talents we may have—and make sure we are using the gifts especially for the benefit of other people. What special gifts do you have? Nurturing, consoling, listening, healing, teaching, comforting …? And if you are not sure of your special gift, remember that the greatest gift is to love one another.
Happy Pentecost! Today we acknowledge this wonderful gift of the Holy Spirit we have which transforms us into the family of God. We participate with the Holy Spirit in turning from sin and in sharing our gifts with each other. We are all gifted people.