The Spirit of Mercy Unites, on Pentecost and Always

User’s Guide to Pentecost Sunday

A depiction of Pentecost, painted by Jean II Restout, 1732
A depiction of Pentecost, painted by Jean II Restout, 1732 (photo: Public domain)

Sunday, June 9, is Pentecost Sunday. Mass readings: Acts 2:1-11; Psalm 104:1, 24, 29-31, 24; 1 Corinthians 12:3-7, 12-13; John 20:19-23

Throughout sacred Scripture, wherever the Holy Spirit is present and at work, there are sure signs of God’s powerful, transforming presence. In the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is accompanied by wind and fire.

This symbolism might be especially striking for us this year, as the image of fire engulfing the roof of Notre Dame Cathedral drew the world’s attention in Holy Week. Fire has tremendous power. It can bring lifesaving good or devastating harm. That the flames which destroyed ancient timbers and threatened sacred relics became a unifying force shows fire’s sublime possibilities. That a world seemingly so divided along political and ideological lines could unite in lamenting a loss and pledging to rebuild shows unity at its best, a unity that the Spirit breathes forth continually to renew the face of the earth (see Psalm 104:30).

St. Paul eloquently described the diversity of gifts that flow from and toward the one Spirit of God. When we look upon a cathedral, we see in stone, glass, paint and wood — along with the human genius that fashioned these elements into a visual symphony in praise of God — a tangible embodiment of what Paul pondered. He reflected: “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit” (1 Corinthians 12:4-7). If this is true of buildings constructed for the sake of sacred worship, how much more so of the living Body of Christ, the Church in her members called to be one in Christ.

Spirit-given unity transcends superficial collaboration. It is a gift that leads us into the heart of the mystery of our creation in the image of a God who abides in a communion of love. God’s Spirit who dwells within us fills our souls with gifts that manifest themselves in our actions and attitudes. St. Paul calls these the fruits of the Spirit, and he includes among the Spirit’s many fruits love, joy and peace (see Galatians 5:22-23).

In the Gospel reading for today, the Risen Christ appeared to his fearful apostles and breathed over them. This breathing forth of the Holy Spirit imparted the gift of mercy: “And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained’” (John 20:22-23). How can the human community, fragile as we are, come to true unity and peace without mercy? When we receive the grace of forgiveness, we become open to new possibilities.

Just as we all look with eagerness to the rebuilding of the roof and steeple of Notre Dame, we can dare to pray and work for a renewal in the Spirit for each of us, temples of the Holy Spirit called to be transformed and to transform. Pentecost is a feast rooted in the power of possibilities. Do we believe that all things are possible with God? Do we believe that disunity can be healed, that forgiveness is possible, that we can receive a new way of speaking and hearing that can show us a way forward? Let us pray, “Come, Holy Spirit!” and allow God to renew the earth, beginning with our very own souls.

Dominican Sister Mary Madeline Todd is a member of the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia Congregation in Nashville, Tennessee. 

She is assistant professor of theology at Aquinas College in Nashville and also serves through retreats, public speaking and writing.

President Donald Trump during his speech at a "Thank You" Tour rally held at the Giant Center in Hershey, Pa.

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