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A Scripture Reflection for Pentecost Sunday

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by Mark Francis, CSV | June 4, 2017

A Scripture Reflection for Pentecost Sunday

June 4, 2017: Acts 2:1-11; Ps 104:1, 24, 29-30, 31, 34; 1 Cor 12:3b-7, 12-13; Jn 20:19-23

Those paying close attention to today's readings will have noticed an inconsistency. When was the Spirit given to the disciples? According to the Gospel of John, it was given to them the evening of the Resurrection. But we read in the Acts of the Apostles that it came upon them fifty days later, after the Ascension, on the Jewish pilgrimage feast of Pentecost (Shevuot).
 
Trying to pin down what must have been a powerful communal religious experience for the first Christians is a tricky thing -- and perhaps that is the way it should be -- for the Spirit itself cannot be contained, pinned down, quantified. But what both versions have in common is the place where the Spirit was given. The Spirit came upon them in the upper room, the place where the fearful disciples took refuge after the crucifixion. After the Ascension, tradition has it that they returned to this place of refuge. But they are still tentative about sharing their experience of the risen Christ, even after he assured them many times when he appeared to them after the resurrection that they had nothing to fear.
 
In the midst of this fear and tentativeness they experience the Spirit - this "ruah" the wind/spirit/breath spoken of so often in the Hebrew Scriptures as the very presence of God. This wind/ruah cannot be stopped, contained or controlled -- it even invades upper rooms that are sealed against it -- and it effects a change in all present. These first disciples are transformed from a group of self-absorbed cowards to joyful people able to communicate in ways they never thought possible. They speak and preach in foreign tongues to the many international Jewish pilgrims present in Jerusalem. No longer tentative, self-conscious and self-doubting, they freely reach out to this wider public with the saving message of God's love for humanity in Jesus Christ.
 
It seems to me that what we have read today is crucial for understanding Pope Francis' focus on joy as the Spirit's gift to believers and a necessary requirement for being credible evangelizers. He has pointed out that we sometimes place too much emphasis on Church structures and ways of proceeding that often make as tentative and self-conscious, isolating us from discerning the real needs of our suffering world. He has also pointed out that our narrow perspectives often blind us to the amazing ways in which God has moved in all human cultures. The Spirit empowers us to leave the security of the upper room -- our comfortable ways of doing things -- and equips us to reach out with joy to humanity in all it's diversity and complexity. Pope Francis, quoting the Aparecida document of the Latin American Bishops' Conference, prays that "...the world of our time, which is searching, sometimes with anguish, sometimes with hope, be enabled to receive the good news not from evangelizers who are dejected, impatient, or anxious, but from ministers of the Gospel whose lives glow with fervor, who have received the joy of Christ."
 
Like Jesus's first disciples we cannot leave the upper room without help. We need the Spirit in order to shed our fear and go out to the streets and witness to what God raising Christ from the dead really means for our world: justice, mercy, compassion toward the poor, community with one another, self-sacrifice and forgiveness. This is why Pentecost has been called the "birthday" of the Church. And the most important lesson at this birthday celebration is to remind ourselves that this amazing power to communicate the Good News and to move hearts and minds is not due to our efforts or our cleverness. It comes from God's Spirit that enables us to witness to the One who suffered, died and rose again for us to transform our fears -- and our world.
 

The above image is from the Public Domain.

Author information Mark Francis, CSV

Fr. Francis is a member of the Clerics of St. Viator (Viatorians) and was ordained to the priesthood in 1982. He obtained a Master of Divinity degree and a Master of Arts degree in Theology from Catholic Theological Union (CTU). He served for three years in Bogotá, Colombia, and then, in 1988, he earned a Doctorate in Sacred Liturgy (S.L.D.) from the Pontifical Liturgical Institute of Sant'Anselmo in Rome. He taught liturgy at CTU for 12 years and was a regular lecturer at the Institute for Liturgical Consultants and its Spanish language counterpart. In 2000, he returned to Rome as Superior General of the Clerics of St. Viator, where he oversaw the mission of the international community until 2012. Fr. Francis was elected to the presidency of CTU on April 15, 2013.

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