The Easter Season concludes with this glorious Solemnity of Pentecost, sometimes referred to as “the birthday of the Church.” This conclusion, then, does not imply an end but a launch forward, as we are sent out into the world, into the future, in the power of the Spirit.
The Church was conceived at the foot of the Cross. As Jesus offered himself in his passion and death, Mary united herself with him, trusting in the promise of the resurrection. After Jesus ascended to the Father, Mary joined the disciples in the Upper Room, where together the Church awaited the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. How her nurturing, prayerful presence there strengthened the faith of the disciples! This is still Mary’s role on our behalf, spiritually nurturing each of her children, her poor ones, the anawim.
Today’s Gospel takes us back to Jesus’ first appearance to the disciples on the evening of Resurrection Day. In their fear, the disciples were hiding behind locked doors. Jesus, who broke out of the sealed tomb, has no trouble entering the Upper Room. He stands in their midst and says to them, “Peace be with you.” The disciples rejoice as the truth begins to dawn on them. They receive the first breath of the Holy Spirit and are empowered to forgive sins in Jesus’ name. The newly conceived Church’s mission is a continuation of the mission of Jesus himself: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” But as yet, the disciples are still in the room, as in a womb. We recall that Jesus had told them to wait there for the promised outpouring of power from on high.
Today, we celebrate that momentous event! The reading from Acts tells in detail the story of what happened “when the time for Pentecost was fulfilled.” The Holy Spirit comes as divine wind clearing away the dust of doubt. The disciples are set on fire, a fire of love that overcomes all fear. They immediately begin to proclaim the message of salvation in Jesus Christ. The time of gestation is over; the missionary Church is born.
The first people to hear the Spirit-filled disciples are “devout Jews from every nation.” Perhaps many of them have been searching for something more than the oppressive judgments placed on them by the scribes and Pharisees in the name of the Mosaic Law. The exuberant joy of the disciples proclaiming “the mighty acts of God” gives them new hope. For the message they receive is that in Jesus Christ their sins are forgiven and they are free to live a new way. Yes, they are amazed that the disciples can speak to them in their various native languages, but the greater miracle is the message: In Jesus Christ we are fully reconciled to the Father who has loved us so much that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. This message of hope is also an invitation to become a part of the body of believers, to follow this new way of life in the Spirit, together with the disciples. This is the Church’s mission from the beginning on that first Pentecost to this very day.
Living by the Spirit, however, is a daily challenge. While we are reconciled with God, we still bear the lingering effects of original sin which confuses our thinking, weakens our will and disorders our desires. St. Paul in his Letter to the Galatians points out the ongoing war between the flesh and the Spirit within us. He says that “the works of the flesh are obvious” and then lists some examples. These sins lose their influence over us when we welcome the power and guidance of the Spirit. We have all received the Holy Spirit in Baptism and more fully in Confirmation. We have been set aflame with the same divine Fire who filled the Apostles. We can see the fruit of his action in our lives: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Paul urges us, then, to live according to the gift we have received: “If we live in the Spirit, let us also follow the Spirit.”
Do I rely upon Mary for spiritual nourishment? What are my doubts and fears? How can I live more deeply in the Spirit?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 14, no. 5. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.