Acts 2:1-11; Ps.104; Gal.5:16-25; John 15:26-27; 16:12-15
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Fr Galadima Bitrus, (OSA)
RECEIVING THE HOLY SPIRIT AND BEARING HIS FRUIT
Pentecost (from the Greek word for “Fiftieth”, Pentēcostḗ) was the term Greek-speaking Jews used to refer to the Jewish Festival of Weeks (Hebrew, “Shavuot”) which marked the wheat harvest in the land of Israel and commemorated the anniversary of the giving of the Torah by God to the Israelites at mount Sinai 49 days after their Exodus from ancient Egypt. Pentecost was one of the three national festivals in Israel (the other two being the Feast of the Passover –“Pesach”, and the Feast of Tabernacles – “Sukkot”).
Israelite males living throughout the kingdom of Judah were expected to make a pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem, as commanded by the Torah. As we read in Deut 16:16: “Three times a year – on the Feast of Unleavened Bread, on the Feast of Weeks, and on the Feast of Booths – all your males shall appear before the Lord your God in the place that He will choose” (cf. Exod 23:14-17; 34:18-23).
The Gospels report that Jesus was killed a day before the sabbath of the Passover Feast (“Pesach”) and rose the day after the sabbath of the Passover Feast. After the resurrection and before his ascension to heaven, Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit on his disciples, as he charged them with the mission to be witnesses to him throughout the world.
The Gospel reading (Jn 15:26-27; 16:12-15) takes us through some of the things that the Holy Spirit will bring: The Holy Spirit, together with the disciples will bear witness to Jesus (Jn 15:26-27); He will guide the disciples to the fullness of truth, revealing the things that are to come (Jn 15:12-13); He will also glorify Jesus by making the disciples partakers of the riches of God the Father and the Son (Jn 15:14-15). As we read in v.15: “All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that He will take what is mine and declare it to you” (v. 15).
Talking about the Holy Spirit, Jesus also said: “I will ask the Father and he will give you another advocate to be with you forever; this is the Spirit of truth” (Jn 14:16-17a); “I will not leave you orphaned” (Jn 14:18); “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
On the fiftieth day after the Passover Feast (seven weeks plus one day), the Jews from around the kingdom of Judah had gathered for the national Festival of Harvest and commemoration of the Gift of the Torah (Pentecost or Feast of Weeks). It was during this day that the apostles gathered in one place, as the 1st Reading (Acts 2:1-11) recounts.
We are told that suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind which filled the entire house, and that variegated tongues as of fire appeared among them, a tongue resting on each of them, filling them with the Holy Spirit and prompting and enabling them to speak in different languages (Acts 2:1-4). In the Old Testament, both the sound of wind and fire are signs of divine appearance or theophany (see Exod 3:3; 19:16; 1 Kgs 19:11-13; Isa 66:15). John the Baptist who baptized with water, prophesied that Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire (see Mt 3:11).
Therefore, the coming of the Holy Spirit in wind and fire is presented as a theophany, a divine manifestation, hence, the Holy Spirit is also presented as truly God. This theophanic phenomenon attracted the attention of devout Jews who had gathered in Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost, and each of them who had come to witness it could hear the disciples speaking in his/her own native language about God’s deeds of power, despite the fact that the disciples were all Galileans (Acts 2:5-11).
Here we see the fulfillment of Jesus’ promises concerning the Holy Spirit. We also see the realization of Jesus’ prayer “that they may all be one” (Jn 17:21). As Pope Benedict XVI has noted, unity “is the effect of God’s work; thus unity is the sign of recognition, the ‘business card’ of the Church throughout her universal history. From the very beginning, from the Day of Pentecost, she speaks every language” (Benedict XVI, I Believe in One God, 2012, p. 66).
But clearly, the unity that Pentecost brings to realization is far from uniformity. Uniformity is the Babel kind of unity where everyone spoke the same language; that kind of unity destroys the dignity and beauty of difference and breeds hubris and tension and is fated to implode. The unity of Pentecost is rather a symphony of voices, not a suppression of some voices; it is a unity of understanding deriving from the voicing out of different languages. Again, as Pope Benedict XVI puts it, “In Babel everyone spoke the same language [see Gen 11:1-9]. At Pentecost, however, the Apostles speak different languages in such a way that everyone understands the message in his own tongue. The unity of the Spirit is manifest in the plurality of understanding” (ibid., p. 67).
As we open up ourselves to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit promised (as we read in the Gospel) and poured out (as we read in the 1st Reading), the 2nd Reading (Gal 5:16-25) beckons us to also bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit and not be sterile recipients of his gifts.
Paul draws a contrast between the works of the flesh (“ta érga tēs sarkós”) and the fruit of the Spirit (“ho karpós toȗ pneúmatós”), calling on the Galatians to walk by the Spirit and refuse to gratify the cravings of the flesh. For when we gratify or give in to the cravings of the flesh, we produce the works of the flesh which include fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing.
A list of similar works is found in Mt 15:19, characterized as evil intentions that come from the heart and that defile a person. Matthew includes murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, and slander. Another list is found in Mk 7:21-22, characterized as evil intentions that come from the human heart. Mark includes fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these things, Mark says, come from within and they defile a person.
Some of these works of the flesh correspond to the sins that the ten commandments in the Old Testament forbid. In Exod 20:13-14 and Deut 5:17-18, it is written: you shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not bear false witness, you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife and property.
The works of the flesh, born of our yielding to the cravings of the flesh, put us out of sync with the kingdom of God. Hence, as people who have received the gift of the Holy Spirit and are enabled and commissioned to bear witness to Christ and the kingdom of God he inaugurated, we are exhorted not to gratify the cravings of the flesh (Gal 5:16) and so not become producers or architects or authors of works of the flesh. Rather, we are to crucify them.
On the other hand, Paul exhorts us to walk by the Spirit (“pneúmati peripateîte”; Gal 5:16), walking not as we desire but as we are inspired. By so doing, we will be bearing the fruit of the Holy Spirit which is manifested in one single chain of the experience of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Just as works of the flesh manifest when we give in to the cravings of the flesh, the fruit of the Spirit is born when we become docile and obedient to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.
In the solemn celebration of Pentecost, we are invited, as Pope Benedict XVI puts it, “to profess our faith in the presence and in the action of the Holy Spirit and to invoke his outpouring upon us, upon the Church and upon the whole world” (ibid., p. 65), and so bear the Spirit’s fruit of love not hate, joy not malice, peace not conflict, patience not intolerance, kindness not meanness, generosity not selfishness, faithfulness not deceit, gentleness not inconsideration, self-control not lawlessness.
NB: This Reflection is dedicated to the Memory of Fr Alphonsus Yashim Bello, a young priest of Kaduna Archdiocese working in Malumfashi, Sokoto Diocese, Nigeria, who was kidnapped and gruesomely murdered on 20th May 2021. Fr Joe Okeke was also kidnapped alongside and it is not known yet what has become of him. There are so many other priests and ordinary Nigerians who have been similarly killed, others still in captivity. Please offer a prayer for the Church in Nigeria and for Nigeria in distress!
Fr. Daniel Evbotokhai
The Basic Elements of Pentecost
Today is Pentecost Sunday. The term Pentecost comes from the Greek (Pentēkostē) meaning “fiftieth”. It refers to the festival celebrated on the fiftieth day after Passover. In the New Testament, it refers to the 50thth day after the Lord’s resurrection. So, today is the 50th day after Easter. It marks the end of the Easter Season and the day the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles. The first reading says; “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” The two basic words here are: “Witness” and “Power”. No one can witness without the Holy Spirit. In fact, any witness without the Holy Spirit expresses his weakness. In the gospel, Jesus tells the disciples that he will send them the Holy Spirit and then they will be his witnesses before the whole world. We need the Holy Spirit to be true witnesses. On the other hand, Power is the ability or capacity to do something or act in a particular way. Without power we cannot gather to worship. The kind of power the Holy Spirit gives is called the supernatural power. Supernatural power is the super on the natural. When the spirit comes upon you, the super comes upon your natural. When it comes upon the bread as in epiclesis it becomes supernatural bread, when it comes upon the wine, it becomes supernatural wine (Blessed Sacrament). This power is the reason for transformation and change.
Today’s celebration presents us with the basic element of WIND, FIRE, and the charism of TONGUES. The element of wind is from the Greek word (pneuma). It also means breath. Wind has peculiar significance in Scriptures. In 2 Sam.22:11 the Bible says the Lord was seen upon the wings of the wind; today’s psalm (Ps 104:3) says the Lord rode on the wings of the wind; verse 4, says he used the wind as his messenger. Ezek1:4 also described the presence of the Lord as in a wind. In Gen, 1:2 it was wind that gave shape to the earth. Gen 2:7 says God created man from dust and breathed into his nostril the breath of life; in John 20:22-23 through breath they received the Holy Spirit. Therefore, wind brings about supernatural power, and life. It divinizes man, downloading into man that which is godly. A man without breathe is dead. Therefore, the Holy Spirit is the life in every Christian. A Christian without the Holy Spirit is like a flat tyre. It takes you nowhere and if forced, it destroys further.
The second element in today’s celebration is fire. The fire in today’s scripture is not a fire that was ignited by any man. If man is not the source of your fire, no man can control your fire or quench your fire. God’s fire is a fire no man can stop. The first reading says in Acts 2:3 divided tongues as of fire appeared among them. In the Old Testament, there are so many accounts of the Lord’s presence in the form of fire, Exd.3:2 says the Angel of the Lord appeared to Moses in the flame of fire, in Exd.13:21-22 pillar of fire guided the people at night; Exd 19:18 Mount Sinai was covered with smoke for the Lord descended upon it in fire. Heb.12:29 says “our God is a consuming fire”. Fire therefore, symbolizes the presence of God. This fire is also the reason for, passion and enthusiasm, it rejects tepidity. No Christian should be tepid or cold; Christians should approach their duties with passion and enthusiasm. Without fire there is no zeal.
The third element in today’s celebration is the charism of other tongues. This has been a major concern in the Church especially in the face of present pentecostalism where more persons are made to think that ‘if you can’t speak in tongues you are not born again.’ A lot can be said in this regard but I shall just note briefly. We have speaking in tongues as different from praying in tongues. Speaking in tongues is both real and symbolic. It was real such that those present could hear them speak in their various languages. In this case an individual is able to speak a language he never learnt fluently. For this reason Thomas Aquinas says that speaking in tongues are for evangelisation – the sharing of the faith. It is symbolic such that in the Church, language is not a barrier.
On the other hand, praying in tongues is primarily a gift for prayer. When we pray in tongues, the Holy Spirit speaks directly to God through us, even if we ourselves don’t understand what we are saying. Nevertheless, whether speaking or praying in tongues, the Catechism of the Catholic Church No. 2003 teaches that the gift of tongues is one of the SPECIAL GRACES or “CHARISMS” of the Holy Spirit: “Whatever their character – sometimes it is extraordinary, such as the gift of miracles or of tongues. Generally, charisms are oriented toward sanctifying grace and are intended for the common good of the Church.” Regardless of their various gifting, in the second reading St. Paul calls us to abide in Christ and develop the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control – Galatians 5:22-23). Of what relevance is the charism of tongues if we cannot love, if we are not patient or kind? (1Cor.13:1)
Fr. Evaristus Okeke
THE HOLY SPIRIT IS THE BEST GIVER!
“ …Lord, send forth your Spirit ” (Ps.104:30)
The celebration of the solemnity of Pentecost is one feast in the Church’s calendar that is greatly anticipated and graciously celebrated by Catholics. Pentecost celebration is characterized by the reception of the Holy Spirit, a re-living of the Pentecost experience of the disciples as presented in the first reading. By this celebration, the gifts we received at the sacrament of confirmation is re-awaked and re-energized. Therefore, this celebration presupposes the reception of the sacrament of Confirmation. If you are not yet confirmed, let this celebration stir in you a deep hunger and concrete effort to receive the sacrament. The celebration is never a substitute for the sacrament of confirmation. The Pentecost celebration is also a time to meditate on how faithful we have been in using the gifts bestowed on us by the Holy Spirit.
There is no doubt that the Holy Spirit bestows gifts upon those who receive him. Generally, gifts elicit joy in the minds of the recipients. The anticipation of gifts is able to brighten the mood and the psychic of the individual. Little wonder some persons make it a point of duty to announce the coming of their birthdays so that their friends and family may prepare gifts for them. Maybe this is one reason why the Pentecost novena is one of the loudest of all the novenas in the Church – no one wants to be left out in the distribution of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
But then, are we to understand the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the way we understand ordinary gifts? Our understanding of the gifts of the Holy Spirit determines our preparation and our consequent use of them. When we receive gifts from family and friends, it is usually personal. The intention of both the giver and the receiver is that the gift be for personal use. In fact, the giver will be more fulfilled when he or she sees the receiver using the gift. Invariably, the giver may not be happy when he/she hears or sees that the receiver transferred the gift to another person. Such transfer may give the giver the impression that the gift was not needed or appreciated by the receiver. To forestall, such situation, people try to investigate the needs or the likes of those they intend to give gifts to so that the gift will personally be used by the receiver.
The above understanding does suit the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The mindset and expectation of the Divine who is the giver of every good gift, is not like that of the giver above. Consequently, the Holy Spirit does not expect us to receive His gifts as we would material gifts. From the first reading of today, we can perceive the intention of the Best Giver in giving His gifts. The Holy Spirit is the Best Giver.
When the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples, they were all gathered in one place, as earlier instructed by Jesus. But after receiving the Holy Spirit, they were no longer to remain in one place. They came out of their closure and made bold and loud proclamations. The first reading records that “and at this sound the multitude came together”. The manifestation of the Holy Spirit in the disciples first made it possible for people to gather from different walks of life.
Furthermore, although it were the disciples who received the Holy Spirit, all those who came together were able to benefit from the gifts that the Holy Spirit bestowed on them. This general benefit is illustrated by the fact that everyone could hear the disciples speaking his or her own language. The disciples spoke one language but the people heard them in their different languages, showing that the grace of God is never the product of human effort. By this very incident, what was disrupted at the tower of Babel, was now repaired. That (language) which separated men from one another, was overpowered by the language of the Spirit which united men of every race.
Therefore, we see that the intention of the Holy Spirit in giving gifts is not for personal use alone. Like the disciples, we may receive our gifts in our closures but we are never to use the gifts in the closure. God expects us to become a blessing to others through the gifts we have received. So when St. Paul asked that we outdo one another in showing honour (cf. Rom.12:10), he was actually encouraging us to fan into flames the gifts we have received. If those who do not know us, those we may not even like, are not benefiting from the gifts that the Holy Spirit has given us, then we may be treating the gifts of the Spirit as though they were worldly gifts. When we abuse, intimidate or mock others on account of the gifts we received, we are abusing the gifts.
The description of the gifts received by the disciples on the day of Pentecost is meant to teach us what we must do with the gifts we have received. There are different forms of gifts from the same Spirit but every gift must unite the people under God as our Father. The manifestation of our gifts must not divide the body of Christ neither should it unite people under sin and disobedience. Be mindful of what you say and do under the guise that you are influenced by the Holy Spirit.
Beloved, the gifts of God bestow responsibility on those who receive them. Therefore, the gifts cannot be utilized by those who cannot work and those who cannot love. If we are lazy, we will not want to reach out at all; and if we bear hatred and grudges for one another, we will not want to reach out to all. For every gift we have received from Holy Spirit, let us use them according to manual of the Best Giver. God Bless You!