Unity in the Spirit: Pentecost and the Church
User’s Guide to Pentecost Sunday
Sunday, May 20, 2018, is Pentecost Sunday. Mass Readings: Acts 2:1-11; Psalm 104:1, 24, 29-30, 31, 34; 1 Corinthians 12:3B-7, 12-13; John 20:19-23.
The Solemnity of Pentecost is the birth of the Church and the opportunity for us to celebrate our deepest identity as members of the Body of Christ.
The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles recounts Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came upon those present, who then began to speak in languages they could not know, so that foreigners heard of the “mighty acts of God.”
The second reading is from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. Here, the “Apostle to the Gentiles” explains that there are many gifts that the Holy Spirit gives. But despite the variety of gifts, there is one Spirit and one God. Therefore, though many, we are all part of one body. Indeed, our identities as “Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons” matter no more, for all of the baptized are now part of the one body where all are “given to drink of the one Spirit.”
The Gospel today relates one of the main facets of the work of the Spirit for unity. St. John recounts Jesus’ visit to the apostles on the very evening of his resurrection. Our Lord gives them a mission, breathes on them so as to confer on them the Holy Spirit, and then announces to them that they have the power to forgive and retain sins. The power to absolve sins is an essential part of the work towards unity.
This theme of unity through the Spirit is a regular theme in St. Paul’s epistles. To the Galatians, he wrote that “there is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free person; there is not male and female — for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (3:27-28). To the Romans, he repeated that, though we are many, we are “one body in Christ,” with many different gifts (Romans 12:4-5). To the Ephesians, he taught the same thing: “There is one body and one Spirit” (4:4-6).
Unity was important for St. Paul, not merely in the sense of team building or corporate cohesion. In his theology, our unity in being is a central feature of who we are as Christians. In baptism, we die and rise with Christ so that we can live in him (Romans 6:3-5). We are no longer only ourselves, since Christ lives in us (Galatians 2:20). Our very souls are changed as we are incorporated into one Body enlivened by the one Spirit. And today we celebrate the descent of that Spirit, who works to foster and maintain our oneness.
Though our society encourages us to consider our identities solely in terms of individualism, this Solemnity of Pentecost is an invitation to celebrate our truest identity in the one baptism that brought us into union with Christ. The gifts we receive from the Spirit all serve this unity. We also remember today how our unity is repaired through the sacrament of penance and reconciliation. We live and express our unity in the reception of the Eucharist. And we recall today our duty to spread the Good News, in order to bring the world into this unity under the one Spirit.
is a permanent deacon in the Archdiocese of
He is an instructor
with Holy Family School
of Faith in Omaha.