Pentecost Sunday: Mass of the Day – May 19, 2024

 Pentecost Sunday: Mass of the Day – May 19, 2024

Acts 2: 1-11; 1 Corinthians 12: 3b-7; 12-13; John 20: 19-23

 

Theme: In Pentecost, We Celebrate New Life and Oneness in the Spirit

 

Today, we commemorate the Solemnity of Pentecost, which marks the end of the Easter season. In last Sunday’s liturgy, the Ascension of the Lord, we learned that the Ascension of Jesus did not mean a farewell, the end of everything, or the time we needed to claim our reward as the disciples mistakenly thought. Instead, the Ascension of our Lord meant the time to work. Jesus commissioned us, his disciples, to be the witnesses of the Paschal Mystery (his Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension) and preach the Gospel to every “creature” beginning in our “Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria,” which are our families, Church community, neighborhoods, and wherever we live. Before he was lifted up to heaven, Jesus enjoined us not to depart from Jerusalem but to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit who would strengthen us to carry out his mission (Acts 1: 4). That is why, today, we are gathered here in this Church, our local “Jerusalem,” to celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit. Now, there is no more fear; Jesus enables us to go out of our “locked rooms” and testify to the world what we have witnessed with him. The message that the scripture readings of this Pentecost Sunday teach us is that we are a new creation with the coming of the Holy Spirit. Consequently, we are called to live with no division among us. If sin separates us from God and our brothers and sisters, our Risen Lord empowers the Church through the ordained priests to forgive sins and restore this unity with God and one another in the sacrament of confession. 

The Gospel today is taken from chapter 20 in the Gospel according to John. It is situated in the context of Jesus’ appearances after his resurrection. Our Gospel passage is preceded by the stories of the Empty Tomb (20:1-10) and Jesus’ appearance to Mary of Magdala (20:11-18); it is followed by Jesus’ second appearance to his disciples with Thomas present (20:24-29) and the first conclusion (20:30-31). So, our Gospel story is then Jesus’ first appearance to his disciples when Thomas was absent.

The narrator commences his story by giving us some essential details. He says that Jesus appeared to his disciples “on the evening of that first day of the week,” which is the evening of his resurrection. The doors of the Upper room, where the disciples hide themselves, are all locked because they are afraid of the Jews. They think that the Jews who crucified their Master Jesus are looking for them to do the same to them. Jesus appears and stands in their midst. His first word to them is, “Peace be with you,” because he realized they were extremely afraid. Next, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples rejoice in seeing their Master alive. Jesus wishes them peace for the second time. Then, he sends them on a mission like his Father God has sent him. The reading ends with Jesus filling his disciples with the Holy Spirit by breathing on them. With this gesture, Jesus empowers them to forgive or return the people's sins.    

The Easter season is over. We have experienced Jesus' presence in many ways, especially in the celebrations of the Eucharist. We must leave our “locked room” without fear and carry out the mission Jesus has left us. Our Risen Lord fills us with the Holy Spirit. Notice how Jesus uses the symbolism of “breathing” to fill his disciples and us with the Holy Spirit. In the Old Testament, it was God who used that symbolism in the story of creation. The book of Geneses tells us that when Adam was created out of the ground dust, he needed breath to start living. God blew into his nostrils the breath of life and Adam became a living being (see Gn 2:7). Likewise, the disciples, though they followed Jesus for three years and were very well-trained to carry out the mission of the Church, they needed the Holy Spirit to start a new life. Although we have experienced the presence of the Resurrected Lord during this Easter season, we also need the Holy Spirit to start a new life in a new creation. With Adam, we lost the Spirit God blew on us at the first creation; now, with Jesus’ breathing on us today, we are re-created, and the Spirit of God in us is restored. From now on, we are breathing the new breath of the new creation. Let us feel it; the Spirit of Jesus is in us! Our Lord gives us a new life in the Holy Spirit. This is what Pentecost is about. It is the celebration of the New Life that we start with the Holy Spirit.

As new creatures, we are called to live in unity, not in division, as Luke tells us in his Pentecost account, which we heard in our first reading. He says the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit and started speaking in tongues as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim. Many people from different cultures and languages witnessed that first Christian Pentecost. They were astounded and amazed because each one could hear the disciples speaking in his/her native language. The Holy Spirit that we receive today is the Spirit of Unity. It enables us to speak and understand the Christian language of love, justice, peace, compassion, and forgiveness. God created us to be “one” with him and “one” with each other. However, based on the realities of our world today, we can see how we are losing this gift of “oneness.” People are divided based on riches and skin color, families are separated, and even Church members are not one in spirit as they should be. This is what our second reading talks about.

In our second reading, Saint Paul dealt with an issue of division that occurred in his community of Corinth. In fact, among the Corinthians, a charismatic group originated, and the people started speaking in tongues (glossolalia). Dissension resulted. Those who had the gift of speaking in tongues looked upon others who did not have this gift as second-class Christians. Paul was called to solve the incident. He does not condemn the charismatic movement. Instead, on the one hand, he sees the Spirit at work in this glossolalia, and on the other hand, he stresses that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit must build up the community, not tear it apart. Using the analogy of the human body that is one, though it has many parts, Saint Paul teaches us that all of us do not have the same talents and gifts of the Holy Spirit; we do not have the same skin colors, cultures, languages, and opinions; we do not have the same jobs and do not make the same incomes. Therefore, all these differences must build up our families, Church community, and societies but not tear them apart. We were all baptized into one body in one Spirit. We are one in the Spirit; we are one in the Lord.

We know sin damages our relationships with God and our brothers and sisters. To restore our unity with God and our fellow humans, our Gospel tells us that Jesus breathed on the apostles and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whoever sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whoever sins you retain are retained.” (John 20:23). Through these words, Jesus instituted the sacrament of Confession (also called the sacrament of Reconciliation). He empowered the Church through the ordained priests, who are the apostles’ successors, to forgive or return the sins of people. We seek three things in the sacrament of confession: forgiveness of our sins, reconciliation with God and our fellow humans whom we offended, and the healing of spiritual, emotional, or psychological wounds that sin causes.

First, in the confession, we implore Jesus to forgive our sins. The way we go to our shower rooms and take a shower to clean our body from any stain of dirt is the same way we need to go to the confessional room to take a spiritual shower and clean our souls from any stain of sins. On the day of our baptism, we wore a white garment and were given a lit candle. We were told to keep this white garment (which stands for our souls) unstained and keep our souls' lamps always lit until our Lord Jesus returns. These two symbols call us to frequently use the sacrament of confession whenever we sin to ensure we are ready to welcome our Lord whenever he comes back or calls us with him.

Second, in the sacrament of confession, we seek two reconciliations: vertical reconciliation (with God) and horizontal reconciliation (with our fellow humans). Note that the priest who listens to our confessions plays two roles. First, in vertical reconciliation, the priest represents Jesus, who stands on behalf of God, whom we offend through our sins. When we confess our sins to a priest, we confess to Jesus himself. He is our mediator with God. The priest who acts in persona Christi accepts our confession, absolves our sins, and reconciles us with God. Second, in confession, we also reconcile with our fellow humans we offend. For some reason, most of the time, it is difficult and even complicated to meet all the people we hurt and ask for forgiveness to seek reconciliation with them. That is why, in confession, the priest stands for all the people we offended by our sins. He listens to us, accepts our apologies, forgives us, and reconciles with us on behalf of these people. We should not feel afraid or shy to tell our sins to the priest. So, confession restores our relationships with God and our brothers and sisters.

Third, because sins can cause emotional, psychological, or spiritual wounds, we also seek healing in confession. We speak with doctors, psychologists, or counselors to seek healing; it should be the same way we need to speak with a priest to seek emotional, psychological, and spiritual healing through confession. Sometimes, the healing process takes time. In this case, I advise “us” to continue the process in a spiritual/psychological direction with the same confessor priest or a professional psychologist.

Let us take advantage of this beautiful sacrament of confession that Jesus instituted to forgive our sins, reconcile us with God and our fellow humans, and provide us with the spiritual, psychological, or emotional healing we need.

In this liturgy of Pentecost, we celebrate the New Life and the Oneness in the Spirit. Let us pray for all families and communities that are still divided that their unity may be restored. Amen.

Rev. Leon Ngandu, SVD

 

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