THE SPIRIT OF EMPOWERMENT
Acts 2:1-11; Psalm 104:1ab and 24ac, 29bc-30, 31 and 34 (R.v.30); 1Cor 12:3b-7, 12-13; John 20:19-23
Happy birthday to all of us, sons and daughters of the Church. This is the day when we celebrate the birth of the Church. On this day of Pentecost, we celebrate the special outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples of Jesus and those gathered with them (cf. Acts 2:1-11), a fulfillment of Jesus promise to them. This outpouring serves one important purpose – empowerment.
Remember that towards the end of his earthly life, Jesus was constantly telling them that he would send them the advocate, who is going to empower them and make them to understand all that he had taught them. It is through this empowerment that the Church is able to carry out Christs mandate to go out and make disciples of all nations (Matt 28:19).
Etymologically, the word Pentecost is from a Greek word, πεντηκοστή (pentekoste) which means the 50th Day. And traditionally, it used to be a feast of thanksgiving for the wheat harvest among the Canaanites. Later, the Israelites inherited it after conquering the Canaanites. It was normally a celebration that takes place 50 days after the Passover celebration. That was what the people gathered to celebrate on the day of the descent of the Holy Spirit. With that descent of the Holy Spirit however, Pentecost became Christianized.
What then do we mean by empowerment? Jesus had earlier told the disciples, You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem andto the end of the earth (Acts 1:8). Consider what happened on that day of the Pentecost in line with that. Ordinary illiterates, who were not sure of themselves and were afraid of speaking out for fear of the Jews, suddenly became orators that kept the intellectuals alert while listening to them. Most of them could not speak beyond their native Aramaic but on that day, they spoke foreign languages. That is what we call empowerment.
The Gospel has another record of that empowerment. There, Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit on his disciples and empowered them to reconcile men to God. That was the origin of the Sacrament of Reconciliation or Penance or Confession.
It is noteworthy that the different accounts of the reception of the Holy Spirit as recorded in Acts of the Apostles and the Gospel of John respectively might create some confusion. The Johannine account places the day of that reception of the Holy Spirit to be on the day of Easter (cf. John 20: 19-23) while Acts of the Apostles put it on the Pentecost day. Some people have erroneously used that seeming confusion to argue for the existence of different kinds of the Holy Spirit. Instead, we must understand that the different accounts are based on diverse theological concerns of the two books. But they explain the single teaching that the risen Lord gives the Holy Spirit to his disciples and commissions the Church to be agent of evangelization.
So, it is the same Holy Spirit even though the manifestation of that same Spirit differs from one person to another. It is at this point that we talk about the gifts of the Holy Spirit. And as St Paul pointed out in the Second Reading (1Cor 12:3-7, 12-13), all the different gifts are not channeled towards different goals as such as to cause confusion within the body of Christ. They rather serve the single goal which Christ himself set, that is, to make disciples of all nations (Matt 28:19).
Today marks the end of the Easter season. The Ordinary Time of the Year begins tomorrow and we are bound to witness two significant changes in the liturgy. First, the Paschal Candle which represents the risen Christ would now be removed from the Sanctuary. It would now begin to burn in the world through us.
Second, we shall begin to use the green colour again. That invites us to use the gifts of the Holy Spirit that we have received to bear abundance of fruits in the world.
May God help us all in those tasks. Amen. Have a fruitful celebration of the Pentecost. Peace be with you.