The National Catholic Review
Pentecost Sunday (B), June 11, 2000
When you send forth your Spirit, they are created and you renew the face of the earth (Ps. 104:30)

Pentecost, traditionally called 64 the birthday of the church," concludes the Lent-Easter season, as the church returns to ordinary time. Profound theological insights cluster around the feast and its readings. Though originally a Jewish spring harvest festival, the Feast of Weeks, celebrated 50 days after Passover, it gradually developed into commemoration of the Sinai covenant. In Luke's theology the Twelve, the nucleus of God's renewed people of the "new covenant in my blood" (Lk. 22:20), receive the promised "power from on high" (Lk 24:49) by the descent of God's Spirit, which enables them to proclaim the message of the resurrection. The Spirit becomes the energizing presence as the church moves outward to the ends of the earth, breaking through geographical and ethnic boundaries.

The narrative from Acts, in which the disciples, speaking their own language, are understood by people representing the geographical boundaries of the known world, also presents a reversal of the confusion of tongues at the tower of Babel. When humans raise themselves up to God to "make a name" for themselves, they are dispersed and confused m language. When God's Spirit comes down upon them, divisions are broken down. This remains a particular mandate for the contemporary church in an increasingly fragmented world.

The Gospel recalls Jesus' promise that after his departure he will send an advocate, a spirit of truth (also called the Holy Spirit, 14:26) that will bear witness to himself. The Greek term translated "paraclete" has many overtones, suggesting a legal advocate as well as a helper and one who offers consolation (see 2 Cor. 1:37). This advocate will continue the work of Jesus by bearing witness to him, teaching the disciples and bringing to remembrance the teaching of Jesus (Jn. 14:25-26). Like Jesus, the advocate will not be received by "the world" (14:16). Simply put, the Spirit is the continuing presence of the Christ event in the world.

The readings offer directions for proclaiming the presence of the Spirit in the church. Often this is associated with the "enthusiastic" phenomena of inspired speech or other charismatic gifts, like healing. At other times the Holy Spirit is seen as a behind- the-scenes "fixer" of questionable actions or decisions in the church-"Well, the Holy Spirit knows what he is doing;" "Just trust the Holy Spirit; it will work out." John's theology qualifies such views. The life and teaching of Jesus is the criterion of the presence of the Spirit of Truth who brings to remembrance the Way, the Truth and the Life. The Pauline reading conveys a similar perspective-the fruit of the Spirit is seen in acts of love, joy, kindness and generosity. When actions are done in fidelity to the example of Jesus and produce such fruits, the Spirit of Truth is present. Such is the challenge of Pentecost to the church.

John R. Donahue, S.J., is professor of New Testament studies at the Jesuit School of Theology and Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, Calif.

Readings: Acts 2:1-11; Ps. 104; Gal. 5:16-25; Jn. 15:26-27; 16:12-15 (optional: 1 Cor. 12:2-7, 12-13; Jn. 20:19-23)
  • Read prayerfully the Pauline readings for the two feasts, reflecting on how our adoption into the very life of God brings forth fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
  • Pray about ways in which the Spirit is leading the church today to break down barriers that separate people and nations.
  • Making the Sign of the Cross, pray often to God who is Father bringing forth life in love and freedom, Son living and dying for others, and Spirit, teaching and empowering a church to be God's very presence in the world.

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