PENTECOST SUNDAY (B)
Today we celebrate Pentecost Sunday, considered the "birthday" of the Church. It is the day on which the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles, fulfilling the promise made by Jesus we heard last Sunday. "[Y]ou will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8). Immediately after the descent of the Spirit, the Apostles get about fulfilling their mandate. They preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and draw in converts to the Church right there in Jerusalem. In the rest of the book of Acts we see them doing the same in Judea and Samaria, and even as far away as Rome. That fulfilling of Christ's mandate continues today as the Church ever vigilantly proclaims the good news of Jesus to the ends of the earth.
Pentecost Sunday is one of the high points of the Church year, but it is not like some of the other major celebrations on our calendar. At Christmas, for example, Christmas Day is only the beginning of the celebration. We celebrate Christmas Day for eight full days, called the Octave of Christmas. This is followed by the whole Christmas season running through the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. Easter is also celebrated with an octave, and we just concluded the long Easter season which lasts for seven weeks. But there is no Octave of Pentecost. There is no Pentecost Season. Instead, tomorrow will be celebrated on the Church calendar as "Monday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time."
Ordinary time seems so anticlimactic. We call it "Ordinary Time" because the Sundays in this season are named after ordinal numbers (first, second, third and so forth). But the word "ordinary," to most of us, also means plain, mundane, or hum-drum. Certainly nothing exciting. But I say it is rather fitting that Pentecost should be followed immediately by Ordinary Time, for it is immediately after Pentecost that we find the Apostles getting on with the ordinary business of the Church -- making disciples and bringing souls to Christ. And there is nothing hum-drum about that. The coming of the Holy Spirit redefines "ordinary" for the Church. And it should redefine ordinary for you and I, as well.
Ever since that first Pentecost we have been living in the Season of the Holy Spirit. Each of us who has received the Sacrament of Confirmation has had the Holy Spirit descent upon us. Confirmation is like our own personal Pentecost. We personally receive the Holy Spirit, but its effects are intended to be anything but personal. Christ promised the Apostles that they would receive power, but it was not to be a self-promoting power. It was the power needed to serve God and to serve others by being witnesses to Him. The Apostles receive the power to speak in tongues, not for their own good but to enable them to preach the gospel to others.
One of the options for today's gospel reading is Jn 20-19-23, wherein Christ breathes on the Apostles and says, "Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them." Again we see the Apostles being given a power of the Spirit not for their own good, but for the good of the Church so that they may reconcile others to God.
Just as the Spirit gave power to the Apostles, so does each Christian receive special power upon their Confirmation. We receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord. While these are all good qualities in their own right, the primary purpose of each of these is to better enable us to serve God and serve others. And consider these words from the Catechism. Confirmation "gives us a special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, to confess the name of Christ boldly, and never to be ashamed of the Cross" (CCC 1303). As St. Thomas Aquinas puts it, "the confirmed person receives the power to profess faith in Christ publicly" (Summa Theolgica III, 72, 5, ad 2).
Receiving special strength and unusual power sounds like something from a comic book superhero story, but that is precisely what the Holy Spirit offers us at our Confirmation. Yet how many of us (and maybe this is true of yourself), view our Confirmation as a graduation allowing us to move on with our "ordinary" life? But as we see with the Apostles, the Holy Spirit has a way of redefining ordinary. The ordinary life of the Confirmed Christian is to be a life serving God and one another, using the particular gifts the Spirit gives us to advance God's Kingdom.
The fact that many look upon Confirmation as the end of their Christian formation, rather than the beginning of their Christian mission, is why some bishops in the Western Church are working to restore the original order of the Sacraments of Initiation -- Baptism, Confirmation, and then first Eucharist -- an order always maintained in the Eastern Church. (Dioceses in the US in which Confirmation is celebrated at a much younger age include Phoenix, Honolulu, and now Denver).
It is never too late to start putting the gifts you received from the Holy Spirit at Confirmation into action. May this Pentecost be the day you begin seeing your "ordinary" life in the light of the Holy Spirit. Christ has given you your mission. The Spirit has given you the power to fulfill it. Let's get to work.
Recall then that you have received the spiritual seal, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of right judgment and courage, the spirit of knowledge and reverence, the spirit of holy fear in God's presence. Guard what you have received. God the Father has marked you with His sign; Christ the Lord has confirmed you and has placed His pledge, the Spirit, in your hearts. --St. Ambrose