Sunday Homily: Receive the Holy Spirit

Pentecost Sunday

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Acts 2:1-11
Psalm 104:1, 24, 29-30, 21, 34
1 Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13
John 20:19-23

<p>Throughout the season of Easter, we have seen how the Gospel spread from Jerusalem to Samaria to Asia and to Rome. This was part of God’s providential plan. The Acts of the Apostles tells us that on the day of Pentecost, there were some visitors from Rome present (Acts 2:10); it ends when Saint Paul reaches the capital of the Roman Empire and proclaims the Gospel there (Acts 28:30-31). “Thus the journey of the Word of God which began in Jerusalem reached its destination, because Rome represents the entire world and therefore embodies Luke’s idea of catholicity. The universal Church is brought into being, the Catholic Church, which is the extension of the Chosen People and makes its history and mission her own” (Pope Benedict XVI, 11 May 2008).

Pentecost has a special relationship with the Covenant of Sinai, but it will be helpful to look at the other Old Testament covenants to understand some of the other aspects of the mystery we celebrate today.

The first covenant between God and man was the Covenant of Creation. The Holy Spirit hovered over the waters and on the sixth day of creation, the Lord God formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life (Genesis 2:7). Today, we read in the Gospel that Jesus breathes on the Apostles and gives them the breath of God in a new and greater way. In a sense, Pentecost is the mystery of the New Creation. What was lost through sin is regained in a new and greater way – in a way that can never be lost again.

The second Covenant was made with Noah. A dove is present in the story of Noah and at the anointing of Jesus Christ at the Jordan. The flood is a re-creation event and prefigures the waters of Baptism through which we are saved. The dove signals a new beginning for the world after the flood and a new beginning for the People of God. The Spirit hovers over the waters again and sanctifies them: just as the Ark was the instrument of salvation for the family of Noah, the Church is the instrument of salvation for people of God. The dove is a sign of deliverance from the storm, a sign of hope. The Holy Spirit does not simply lead one family out of the Ark, but the whole world to heaven.

Pentecost also reverses the confusion of the tower of Babel (Genesis 11): not only does it transforms the confusion of sin into the communion of love and mercy, but it overcomes the vain attempt of man to make a bridge to heaven through pride and sees God the Holy Spirit descend from heaven and set humble hearts aflame with love.

The Covenant with Abraham promised nationhood (land), a great name (dynasty), and a worldwide blessing. The coming of the Holy Spirit and the New Covenant signals the extension of the kingdom of God throughout the world, a kingdom through which all nations will be blessed. Abraham is our father, not because we descend from him according to bloodlines, but because we share in his faith.

For Israel, the Feast of Pentecost commemorated the Sinai Covenant, when God gave the people the gift of the Law. The wind and the fire recall that Covenant and help us understand Pentecost as a new Sinai, as the feast of the New Covenant. Through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the Covenant made with Israel is extended to all nations.

On the Plains of Moab (in the Book of Deuteronomy), Israel again enters into a covenant with God. It is a lesser covenant given because of Israel’s hardness of heart. The law of Deuteronomy “was meant to show Israel its weakness so that it would acknowledge its inability to achieve holiness on its own, but rather needed God’s help” (M. Barber,Singing in the Reign, 50). With the coming of the Holy Spirit we are strengthened and given courage and fortitude. The New Law of love is not difficult to follow once we allow the Holy Spirit into our lives.

In the covenant with David, God promises a dynasty to David, an everlasting throne and a royal house. One of David’s heirs will build a house for the Lord. As well, God promises that he will give divine sonship to David’s offspring. We see, first of all, that after the Ascension of Jesus, the Holy Spirit corrects any nationalistic, earthly views of the kingdom and lifts the eyes of the disciples to the universal, heavenly Kingdom of God. Second, the Church is the Temple of the Holy Spirit. The New Temple is Christ’s risen body and the Spirit is like the soul of the Mystical Body, the source of its life, of its unity in diversity, and of the riches of its gifts and charisms (CCC, 809). The union between Christ’s Spirit and his Mystical Body is fully manifest on the day of Pentecost. Finally, the gift of the Spirit makes us adopted sons and daughters of God.

The prophets promised a New Covenant. Ezekiel, for example, promised that, through this new covenant, God would put a new heart and a new spirit in man: “I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances” (Ezekiel 36:27). On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit fills the hearts of the disciples and writes the new law of charity on their hearts (Jeremiah 31:33).

In brief, the Holy Spirit makes us a new creation, saves us from death and gives us hope, brings us into communion, bestows the blessings of the new covenant upon us, writes the new law on our hearts, facilitates our fulfillment of the new law and strengthens us, and gives us divine life and enriches us. The fulfillment of the Old Testament covenants helps us see that God is always faithful and always merciful. He knows that we are weak and that without him we can do nothing. In the age of the Church, then, the Spirit “helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words” (Romans 8:26).

Readers may contact Father Jason Mitchell at

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