Acts 2:1-11; Galatians 5:16-25; John 15:26-27; 16:12-15
How come some are more intelligent than others; better footballers than their friends; prettier than their siblings; stronger than their neighbors; better orators than their teachers? Everywhere we see difference, positive difference, there is the Holy Spirit, there is Pentecost. Every good quality we have comes from the Holy Spirit. When we see a distinctive difference, there goes the gift of the Holy Spirit to that person. Every gift comes from the Holy Spirit and for the service and building up of the human community. Every special gift that does not serve the good of the community is denatured and becomes selfishness —diversity is strength!
How did we come about the gifts we have? Our Pentecost readings today link up the Holy Spirit to the gifts that we have. The speeches of the apostles, in our first reading, and the testimony of the people correlate the gift of the Holy Spirit from above with the actions of the apostles. Two levels of amazement: “the crowds were confused because each one heard the apostles speaking in his own language . . . we hear them speaking in our own tongues of the mighty deeds of God.” When the apostles received the Holy Spirit, their words and speeches became the proclamation of the works of God—not boastfulness. Those who listened to them, felt that there was a change in the lives of the apostles. Do people notice Pentecost in your life? The Holy Spirit is God’s gift, but it must become a fire within the soul. Pentecost will not be Pentecost, until the gift of the Holy Spirit turns into a burning fire within us. This Pentecost day, the Power from above is already in us, because there is no human being without a special gift; but will our gift consume us like a strong fire? Will people see us and notice a change in us? It is the nature of fire to burn, otherwise it is not fire. When a house, a car, or a bush is on fire, it is consumed, it is transformed negatively! Bushes, houses and cars are materials, so inflammable — they burn in fire and are destroyed. The human soul isn’t material, it is spiritual, yet it burns in the Holy Spirit.
When God descended to talk with Moses, there was fire burning, the bush was on fire but NOT destroyed; rather, it carried the voice of God, and Moses could hear God speaking with him! When the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles like tongues of fire, the apostles were not roasted up or barbecued; they became preachers of God’s wondrous deeds. When the Holy Spirit descended upon Cornelius and his household, no one went up in flames—God recognized them as his children and they were baptized! When the soul is on fire, by the Holy Spirit, it means that our talent is visible for others to see!
Among the gifts of Pentecost is the power to live a holy life. The fire from above—Holy Spirit—necessarily needs a dwelling place, it needs a human body within which to operate. When it enters and dwells in a body, it becomes the fire within and the light within. For the Holy Spirit to function, it burns away evil and sin. In our everyday language, we begin to realize the fire of the Holy Spirit, when we can say that: “the bad things I used to do, I do them no more; the earthly values I used to hold onto, I hold to them no more; the bad companies I used to think to be unavoidable, I let go of them with ease”. The Holy Spirit becomes a light, because it guides the soul on the path of God, it produces fruits for everyone to see. Here is the evidence of the presence of the Holy Spirit, according to our second reading: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23). There is a burning Holy Spirit, when there is proof of its activities visibly seen in human actions — the special speeches of the apostles is an example.
Pentecost is not a one-day affair, it is a life-long journey. The apostles continued to pray, fast, celebrate the Eucharist, etc. An athlete needs to train to keep intact and improve on his/her talents; an intelligent person needs to keep studying and conducting researches to remain intelligent; a pretty lady needs to take care of her pimples. Pentecost continues in our lives, when we keep practicing virtuous living, avoiding sin and the occasions of sin. Then, the Holy Spirit becomes the voice of God in us, helping us to conquer the flesh/sin. Our virtuous life keeps our gift shining before our brothers and sisters, and we use it as a force for good in our community.
Our gospel presents the disciples as afraid of the Jews (John 20:19-23), so they locked the door to where they were. These are Jews afraid of other Jews, not of foreigners. Their crime was that they became Christians, they left Judaism; they stopped worshipping God on a Saturday/Sabbath and now do that on Sunday, the First Day of the Week. Even today, some of us are targets for elimination because we are Christians! You know what, that was the day Jesus chose to visit with his disciples—the First Day of the Week! In their fear of the Jews, barricading themselves behind closed doors, Jesus comes to see them without breaking the doors open. What a novelty, Jesus penetrates even locked doors, and those doors remain intact!
It is when our world appears to come down crashing, when we are enveloped in fear and the enemy feels we are hemmed in that Jesus comes in right through the barriers human beings have set up. Human barricades can only stop other human beings not God. Both the invisible fear we feel, and the visible obstacles mounted against God’s children, do not stop God from intervening to visit those thought condemned. In instances like that, God uses a silver bullet for all our worries—“Peace be with you”! The “peace” of God neither breaks down walls like a bulldozer, because he is not a machine, nor does it tear apart human enemies, because he is a lover of all his creatures: he is the Holy Spirit. God’s peace touches the fearful human to grant it courage to face persecution and death, and the same peace offers the grace of repentance to the human enemy ready to receive it.
No wonder the Holy Spirit is the advocate—the Paraclete (John 15:26). The Holy Spirit reminds us that we are all recipients of multiple gifts of God. The diversity of the gifts we have is the strength our communities need to become places of love, peace and happiness. Yes, at birth, many of us have already received our gifts, whatever they may be. Today is an opportunity to create unity through our gifts, to be the bridge for reconciliation and love. In the midst of our racist, xenophobic, homophobic and religious extremist world, Pentecost is a call for unity in diversity, strength in differences, and power in sacrificial and non-violent love!