PENTECOST HOMILY

Today is Pentecost Sunday, the last day of the Eastertide. Today marks the inauguration of the Church. What is Pentecost for the Jews? What is Pentecost for us, Christians? How can we manifest this feast in our world today?

The Jewish Feast of Pentecost
The English word “Pentecost” is a transliteration of the Greek word pentekostos, which means “fifty.” It comes from the ancient Christian expression pentekoste hemera, which means “fiftieth day.” It is found only in the New Testament ( Acts 2:1 ; 20:16 ; 1 Corinthians 16:8 ). It was borrowed from Greek-speaking Jews who used the phrase to refer to a Jewish holiday. This holiday was known as the Festival of Weeks, or, more simply, Weeks (Shavuot in Hebrew). From the sixteenth of the month of Nisan (the second day of the Passover), seven complete weeks, i.e., forty-nine days, were to be reckoned, and this feast was held on the fiftieth day. This name comes from an expression in Leviticus 23:16, which instructs people to count seven weeks or “fifty days” from the end of Passover to the beginning of the next holiday (pentekonta hemeras in the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Scripture). Shavuot was the second great feast in Israel’s yearly cycle of holy days. The festival so named is first spoken of in Exodus 23:16 as "the feast of the grain harvest," and again in Exodus 34:22. It is called "the day of the first fruits" in Numbers 28:26 . The manner in which it was to be kept is described in Leviticus 23:15-19 ; Numbers 28:27-29 . Besides the sacrifices prescribed for the occasion, everyone was to bring to the Lord his "tribute of a free-will offering" ( Deuteronomy 16:9-11 ). The purpose of this feast was to commemorate the completion of the grain harvest. Its distinguishing feature was the offering of "two leavened loaves" made from the new corn of the completed harvest, which, with two lambs, were waved before the Lord as a thank offering. In time, it turned into a day to commemorate the giving of the law on Mt. Sinai.
The Christian Pentecost
The day of Pentecost is noted in the Christian Church as the day on which the Spirit descended upon the apostles, and on which, under Peter's preaching, so many thousands were converted in Jerusalem ( Acts 2 ). The languages spoken by the early Christians were intelligible (not other worldly) and were heard by thousands of Jewish pilgrims who had come to Jerusalem to celebrate Shavuot. Thus, we speak of Pentecost as the birthday of the church. This day became especially significant for Christians because, seven weeks after the resurrection of Jesus, during the Jewish celebration of Shavuot/Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was poured out upon his first followers, thus empowering them for their mission and gathering them together as a church. Many who heard these messages in their own languages were amazed, though others thought the Christians were just drunk (2:12).
On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended on individual followers of Jesus as they were gathered together in Jerusalem. This gathering became the first Christian church. New believers in Jesus were baptized as they joined this church. They, along with the first followers of Jesus, shared life together, focusing on teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer. They shared their belongings so that no one was hungry or needy. As these first Christians lived out their new faith together, “the Lord added to their number those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47). As Paul writes in Galatians 3:28: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
Manifestation of Pentecost in our World today
According to Pope (Emeritus) Benedict XVI, Pentecost is the feast of human unity, understanding and sharing. Do we have really have a genuine Pentecost in our Church and society today: that is, human unity, human understanding and human sharing? What kind of fruits are we bearing in our Church and society today? It seems that we are more on side of bearing the fruits of the Evil Spirit which St. Paul in the second reading of today calls the works of the flesh: licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing and the like. The Holy Spirit comes to dwell in us once again as in a temple (cf 1 Cor 3:16). It has been said that Christmas is the feast of God with us, Good Friday is the Feast of God for us, but Pentecost is the Feast of God in us. The Holy Spirit refines us by burning away our sins and purifying us. The Apostles before Pentecost were frightened men who gathered only in secrecy, behind locked doors. They were huddled together in fear. But when the Holy Spirit descended on them, they went forth to the crowds and proclaimed Christ boldly. They had gone from fear to faith, from cowardice to courage, from terror to testimony!
I must say that too many Christians are still like the apostles before the Pentecost: they still silent, dominated by fear. Perhaps they fear being called names or not being popular. Perhaps they are anxious about being laughed at, or resisted, or of being asked questions they do not feel capable of answering. Some Christians are able to gather in the “upper room” of their parishes and be active, even be leaders. But once outside the “upper room” they slip into “undercover mode.” They become “secret agent” Christians. The Holy Spirit, if authentically received, wants us to bear His fruits: charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control and chastity. The Holy Spirit wants to be truthful and transparent in season and out of season. It is by so doing that Pentecost will really become for us, the feast of human unity, understanding and sharing.

 

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