John 14:15-16, 23b-26 [63C]
As we transition out of the Easter season and into ordinary time, over the next three Sundays the Catholic Church celebrates three solemnities of the Lord: Pentecost, the Most Holy Trinity, and the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. Today on Pentecost Sunday we celebrate the descent of the Holy Spirit onto the apostles in the upper room. The ascending and descending of the divine is the action that marks the birth of the church. Pentecost Sunday reminds us that the church is grounded in the risen Christ and guided by the Holy Spirit.
In the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Luke tells us that “there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.” This description of the descent of the Holy Spirit onto the apostles recalls the words of John the Baptist to the people he baptized (see Lk 3:15-20). John tells the crowd, “I am baptizing you with water … he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Lk 3:16). The symbol of fire was important to Luke in his discussion of the birth of the Church. Fire represented God’s transformative presence that purified and refined the apostles in preparation for the challenge of building the church from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth. The transformation of the apostles was immediately realized as they changed from disciples in hiding in the upper room to disciples openly proclaiming in the streets of Jerusalem “the mighty acts of God.” The mixed reaction of the crowds—from astonishment and bewilderment to scoffing and dismissal—foreshadowed the many hurdles the apostles would have to overcome in evangelizing the world.
In the second reading from Paul’s Letter to the Romans, we hear Paul speak of the dichotomy between the Spirit and the flesh. As believers in Christ, we no longer live “in the flesh,” that is, in the state of sin. With our faith comes the assurance that the “Spirit of God” now dwells in us. Paul then offers a remarkable claim: “If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit that dwells in you.” As Christians, we are destined for resurrection from the dead by the very same Spirit that raised Jesus and by the very same Spirit that animates and guides our church today.
In the Gospel reading from John’s farewell discourse, we hear Jesus speak of the descent of the Holy Spirit onto the disciples. Jesus assured the disciples: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always… The Advocate, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.” (This is the same Gospel reading heard two weeks ago on the Sixth Sunday of Easter.) In the Gospel of John, the Holy Spirit is foreshadowed by Jesus to play a key role in the life of the apostles after Jesus’ departure.
John the Baptist, Jesus, and the apostle Paul all spoke of the outpouring of God’s Spirit upon all flesh. This is what the Catholic Church celebrates today: the fulfillment of God’s promise. God has sent his Holy Spirit to guide the church and remind the church of our profession of faith in his own beloved Son. It is God, in the form of Father, Son, and Spirit, that leads and guides the church until that day when Christ returns to claim for himself a people faithful to his word and to his work.
Dr. Daniel J. Scholz
Studying God’s Words