A. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)

B. Reflection & Dialogue: The Holy Spirit and dialogue with the modern age

A. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)

First Reading (Acts 2:1-11). They we re all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak. This reading is about events that took place on the day of Pentecost, commonly known today as Whitsunday (that is White Sunday, from the white clothes once worn by newly baptized on this day). Pentecost, of the Acts of the Apostles written in Greek, is a Greek word, pentecoste, meaning “the fiftieth”, the fiftieth day after Easter. It was one of the three Jewish festivals listed in the Bible to be celebrated with special solemnity. The first was Passover (Easter) itself. It was originally a harvest festival, but later, and very probably by New Testament times, it commemorated the giving of the Law to Moses on the Mountain (Sinai, Horeb), just as Passover commemorated the exodus from Egypt.

            The coming of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles and the Church. like the ascension of Christ to the right hand of the Father, is a religious reality, a mystery, that may be expressed as such or recounted as something experienced by the senses. In John’s Gospel (John 20:22-23) Jesus is presented as having given the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Apostles (the Eleven) on Easter day itself. Luke in today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles is recounting the visible beginning of the Church and the Christian mission to the Jewish people and the world.

            There are two scenes in today’s reading. The first speaks of the apostles, together with women and Mary the mother of Jesus and his brothers, in prayerful expectation for the coming of the Holy Spirit, but in fear. The coming of the Spirit is accompanied by traditional signs of divine intervention, such as a mighty wind. The tongues of fire represent the power of speech for the new mission. The Spirit would bring internal faith conviction of what Jesus stood for and his enthronement at God’s right hand. Speaking in tongues (glossalalia) was a phenomenon of the early Church.

            The second scene takes us outside the upper room, and represents the earliest preaching of the Gospel and the foundation of the Church. Pious Jews from all over the Roman Empire would have been on pilgrimage in Jerusalem for the festival. Luke lists them anti-clockwise: from the East (present-day Iran and Iraq), the north (present-day Turkey), the west, Egypt and the northern African coast, as well as Rome. Luke may have been thinking of this Pentecost as the reversal of the Tower of Babel incident with the confusion of tongues and the scattering of the nations of the world. With the Pentecost events the Church’s mission to the world had begun.

Responsorial Psalm Psalm 103/104). Send forth your spirit, Lord, and renew the face of the earth.

Second Reading (Romans 8:8-17). Everyone moved by the Spirit is a child, a son or daughter of God. In this letter to the Romans Paul often contrasts “flesh” with “spirit”.  By the word “flesh” he means not the physical nature of human beings, but their whole nature in so far as they are weak and ruled by selfish interests. They may will to do what is right but cannot do it. Christ’s religion not merely brings a new vision of life here and hereafter, but also through the gift of the Holy Spirit gives to power to live this new life. This weak, self-centred human existence, today’s reading calls “unspiritual”, and incompatible with true Christian existence. This new inner life lived out in keeping with God‘s calling is the gift of the Holy Spirit, who unites believers with God, makes them “belong” to God.  Weak human nature, prone to sin, will always be there, but this weakness is overcome by the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. Paul returns to a theme already there in the presentation of the resurrection and ascension of Christ: the power of God present in these two mysteries are also present for each believer on earth, giving true Christian life here below and guaranteeing eternal life beyond. It is the Spirit that gives life, inner life of the soul lived in keeping with God’s law. True Christian life may be hard to define; there can be devotion that is merely external. The true Christian life is mystical: being moved by the Spirit of God, this is the criterion of being truly God’s children. The Holy Spirit makes us aware that we can call on God our Father as Father, with the very word Jesus use to address him: “Abba”, the Aramaic for “Father”, used by Jesus in Gethsemane (Mark 14:36; Galatians 4:6). The reading ends with the reminder that being children of God like Jesus cuts both ways: we are heirs of God with Christ, but we must be prepared to share his sufferings so as to share his glory.

Alternative Second Reading: Second Reading (1 Corinthians 12:3-7. 12-13). In the one Spirit we were all baptized. The New Testament texts treat in a variety of ways of the essential role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the individual and of the Church as a whole. Among other designations, in John’s Gospel the Holy Spirit is called the Comforter, the Paraclete, the Advocate who gives the internal conviction of faith to believers in the face of opposition and persecution. In other writings the Spirit of Jesus, of the risen and exalted Christ himself, gives the various gifts and charisms of the Church and its members. In today’s reading Paul lists some of these gifts. First is the gift of faith, that of professing that “Jesus is Lord”. This brief early profession of faith confesses that Jesus is risen from the dead, seated at the right hand of the Father and gives the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church. Faith is the supreme gift of the Holy Spirit. Paul then notes that in the Christian community there are different roles to be fulfilled, tasks to be done, and the Holy Spirit gives a variety of gifts for this purpose. He is at pains to point out that these gifts are not just for personal fulfilment; they are intended for the good of the entire community, of the Church. Here he compares the Christian community to a human body, in which the different members compliment one another. This unity of the community is underlined by Christian baptism, in which all receive the same spirit, irrespective of any difference of social standing, slave as well as free citizens.

Gospel (John 14:15-16, 23-26).  The Holy Spirit will teach you everything.  This reading is part of Jesus’ Farewell Discourse to his disciples before his departure visibly from this world. There is to be a bond between Jesus, believers in him and in the Father. This bond of love is to be shown be keeping Jesus’ commandments. What these commandments are the text does not specify, but elsewhere Jesus speaks of the commandment of believing in him and loving one another. It speaks of Jesus’ love for his disciples and for the Father and the Father’s love for them. They are all united in Jesus’ word, and in the Paraclete, the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, that the Father will send at Jesus’ request.  Great stress is laid on Jesus’ “word” or “words”. This means much more that our meaning of the term. Jesus’ word implies union (or its absence) with him. His word is the communication of his Father’s plan of salvation. The Paraclete (in Greek parakletos) will see that Jesus’ work continues. Many truths are conveyed in John’s Gospel by this single word “Paraklete”. The Paraclete (Holy Spirit) is an Advocate and a witness; he also consoles the disciples. He has them remember Jesus’ work and leads them into the whole truth. In a sense the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, replaces Jesus. He establishes continuity between believers and Jesus, not merely by recalling Jesus’ words and work, but by being Jesus’ living presence.

Alternative Gospel: Gospel (John 20:19-23). As the Father sent me, so I am sending you; receive the Holy Spirit. The day in question in this reading is Easter Sunday, the day Jesus rose from the dead. John’s gospel has just recounted before this passage how the risen Lord first appeared to Mary Magdalene. Jesus now appears to his disciples, who are in a room with the doors locked, out of fear of their enemies. Coming through closed doors Jesus shows he has a risen body, but the one in which he was crucified, with the wounds of the cross. This account of the appearance is also in Luke’s Gospel (Luke 24:36-49). In Luke’s account, Jesus draws attention to the wounds in his hands and his feet, to indicate the continuity between him in his now glorious state and his earthly life, and death on the cross. In today’s reading, Jesus showed his apostles his hands and his side, with the wound made by one of the soldiers. Jesus is about to send them the Holy Spirit. This gift of the Spirit had already been signalled in John’s Gospel at the death of Jesus (John19:28-30). At the moment of death, Jesus, knowing that everything had been completed, said: “It is fulfilled” – that is the Father’s plan of salvation had been brought to completion. The text goes on to say that bowing his head Jesus handed over the Spirit, the spirit promised to his Church at his own glorification at death, as earlier promised by himself (John7:39; 16:5-7). The gift of the Spirit would be symbolized by the wound in Jesus’ side, when blood and water came out (John 19:34). The risen and glorified Jesus now appears to his disciples on the evening of that first Easter Sunday. The promised gift of the Holy Spirit is now about to become a reality. This is a solemn moment, with Jesus’ commissioning of the disciples as those chosen by him to continue his work on earth. There is to be continuity between his mission from the Father and their mission as sent by Jesus himself. Jesus breathed on them, and they are, as it were, baptized in the Holy Spirit who will guarantee the continuation of Jesus’ mission. Jesus died so that sins might be forgiven. As he said in the words of the Eucharistic consecration: his blood was shed for the remission of sins. Now, through the gift of the Holy Spirit, his disciples and the Church will continue his saving work in forgiving sin.

B. Reflection & Dialogue: The Holy Spirit and dialogue with the modern age

In recent decades in Catholic spirituality and liturgy there has been renewed interest in the role of the Holy Spirit in Christian life. This is particularly in evidence in the new Eucharistic prayers. One of them recalls that Christ by rising from the dead has destroyed death and restored life. And that we may live no longer for ourselves but for him, he sent the Holy Spirit from the Father, as his first gift to those who believe, to complete his work on earth and bring us the fullness of grace. Before the words of consecration in the new Eucharistic prayers the celebrant prays to God the Father to send the Holy Spirit on the offerings so that they may become the Body and Blood of Christ, and after the consecration a similar prayer is addressed to the Father to look upon this sacrifice and by his Holy Spirit to gather all who partake of the Eucharist into the one Body of Christ, a living sacrifice of praise—a prayer that the community becomes a living Eucharist..

            Central to New Testament and Christian teaching is the unity between God the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit and creation. The death of Christ is evidence of God’s love for the world. The life of the Father is fully in the Son, and Jesus’ wish is that this his own life and love, and that of the Father, be in believers.

            For dialogue with our own age this implies that all that is good in the world is from God, loved by God. All the manifold gifts and traits of humanity are from God, even in those who may not advert to this, or even believe in God – all the social concerns, the service of one’s fellows.

            Believers are carriers of this message in our own day or in any other. But together with this very positive message, and the call of believers to be witnesses to it,  Jesus makes it very clear to his disciples that they should be prepared to bear this message in hostile surroundings and even in persecution. Part of the hostility they are told to be prepared for is indicated as attacks on Jesus’ person and message. They will need strong faith conviction, and this Jesus promises with come through the Holy Spirit, the Advocate for the truth of Jesus’ message, and the Comforter in their trials. The two great commandments according to the First Letter of John are faith and love of the neighbour, faith in Jesus Christ as Son of God against all opposition. All this can be of significant help to us to day in our dialogue with questions of our age.

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