Pentecost Sunday

Gifts Abounding

By: John Dalla Costa


After mass last week, a friend who has served in a host of ministries for many years shared a growing rift in her soul. “The pandemic has changed me,” she explained, “but my Church hasn’t changed.”

This is a Pentecost moment.

Just before the cease-fire between Israel and Palestine, a colleague from Minneapolis called to express his growing despair about our years of work on dialogue between Jews, Christians, and Muslims. The hope conjured by the Pope’s recent visit to Iraq now seemed lost.

This is a Pentecost moment.

On a Zoom last weekend, my god-daughter from Montreal asked me to serve as god-parent at the baptism next month for her two-month old daughter – Mia. Their pastor (obviously as tech-wise as ours) pre-approved me to do this virtually.

This is a Pentecost moment.

Soon most of us will resume long-familiar routines for work, school, mass, and socializing, however, not without at times having to break old habits or form uncomfortable new ones.

This again is a Pentecost moment.

The Spirit we celebrate and welcome today is always at work in us, and around us. In fact, the Spirit is cited 100 times or so in the Hebrew scriptures: blowing over the primordial waters at creation; leading the people into the Promised Land after the death of Moses; enflaming the prophets, such as when Ezekiel summoned the Spirit to restore to living flesh the vast desert of bones.

Much shorter though it be, the New Testament references the Spirit of God – or Holy Spirit -roughly three times more frequently. Mary receives the Holy Spirit, and conceives the Son of God. The Paraclete descends on Jesus at his baptism, and then drives him into the desert. We are told that  Jesus’ teaching authority and healing came from the Holy Spirit, as did the inspiration for those who acclaimed Jesus as a prophet. And after his passion – with its excruciating death on the cross – Jesus is raised from the dead by the Holy Spirit.

Faith in Jesus Christ is at once gift of the Holy Spirit, and belief in the Holy Spirit: it is the light for seeing, and the light itself.

The monk and mystic Thomas Merton explains that encountering the Holy Spirit requires learning the prayer of silence. This contemplative aspect resonates in today’s gospel. While the first reading from Acts explodes with the vibrant coming of the Spirit, the gospel takes place in the almost claustrophobic space where Jesus is breaking open his heart to his cherished disciples. He has given all he has humanly to teach and prepare them. Yet from loving them so, he also sees their anguish, confusion, and hesitation about what comes next. In addition to surrendering himself to the cross awaiting him, Jesus now exposes his innermost truth – the obedient Son, sending the sustaining Spirit, who comes from the loving Father.

This is the Pentecost moment.

In Acts, the disciples who could not understand the truth of Jesus before the crucifixion and resurrection, are now able to be understood even in languages they do not speak. Acts is like the pyrotechnic symphony of the Holy Spirit, while in today’s gospel we glimpse the intimate act of God’s creative composing.

We are not told by John why the disciples could not yet bear the Spirit of truth. Perhaps they were still too self-absorbed in their grief. Or perhaps they had not yet let go of their Messianic expectation that the truth could be owned, controlled, and used. Most of us know from our own experience that truth-making is as hard as peace-making – that it is far easier to avoid truth; to evade its grasp.

In his prophetic and beautiful encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that truth ultimately derives its credibility and potency from charity – from love. Facts alone won’t reveal what is needed for human flourishing. We can only learn such truth by loving. “In Christ,” writes Benedict, “charity in truth becomes the Face of his Person, a vocation for us to love our brothers and sisters in the truth of his plan.”

This is the Pentecost turn.

We are not only recipients of the Spirit’s gifts. We also become their embodiment – what Greg last week so beautifully called “the caress of Jesus in the 21st century.” Yes, we depend on the Spirit, but each of us – with our unique talents, charisms and vocations -are  indispensable to the Spirit’s vivifying work in history.

This personal indispensability is affirmed at every Eucharist. When our priests extend their hands for the epiclesis prayer – when they summon the Holy Spirit to bless the gifts that are about to be consecrated – it is all of us as the mystical body of Christ who are invoking sanctification. Only those with Holy Orders perform the consecration, but the summoning of the Spirit belongs to all of us for sharing in the priesthood conferred by baptism.

This, then, is the Pentecost we bear – as blessing, and as offering.

With today’s reminder that the Holy Spirit is among us, and in us, we can begin to enact this epiclesis prayer for a world awakening from its biological – and informational – pandemic. We don’t have to settle for what was, nor have our future defined by outdated assumptions. With prayerful questions and care, with contemplative creativity and persistence, we can summon the Holy Spirit, and become an instrument for pulling our world towards it’s God-given destiny of holiness.

This is our Pentecost moment.