Pentecost Sunday, Year B
Acts 2:1-11; 1Cor 12:3b-7, 12-13; Jn 20:19-23
Introduction: This is a homily/Scripture reflection in a book, titled: ‘Every Week God Speaks We Respond’, Cycle B, intended to be published in the future by Reverend John Tran Binh Trong.
It was published in Vietnamese in the US 2008 and republished in Viet Nam 2011. To keep the author’s writing style, this homily has not been edited and may not be by a hired hand. However, if readers would like to point out mistake(s) in spelling and grammar and/or to suggest English phrases and expressions, it would be greatly appreciated by the author, whose English is not his mother tongue and who did not live in the US until his adulthood. Passive sentences are used intentionally in this context as to avoid using the first personal pronoun ‘I’ when applicable, that might be associated with any idea of egotism, in accord with the French saying, known as: ‘Le moi est haissable’ (The ego is detestable).
When Jesus appeared to the apostles on the eve of the first day of the week, he told them: Receive the Holy Spirit (Jn 20:22). According to the Catholic teaching, there are seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: the gift of wisdom, the gift of understanding, the gift of counsel, the gift of fortitude, the gift of knowledge, the gift of piety, the gift of fear of the Lord.
The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are the basic gifts, necessary for living the Christian way of life. There are also other gifts of the Holy Spirit called charismas given for the common good of the Church. They are wisdom in discourse; the power to express knowledge; faith to strengthen others; the gift of healing, the gift of miraculous powers; the gift of prophecy; the gift to distinguish one spirit from another; the gift of tongues and the gift of interpreting the tongues (1Cor 12:7-11). When people tried to make a name for them, they built a city and a tower called Babel. For their sin of pride, they were punished, unable to understand one another (Gen 11:4-8).
On Pentecost Sunday, the gift of understanding of languages was imparted to unite people of different nationalities and languages such as the Parthians, Medes and Elamites, Mesopotamians, Judeans, Cappadocians, Pontians, Asians, Phrysians, Pamphylians, Egyptians, Libyans, Cretans and Arabians (Acts 2:9-11). Saint Paul in his letter to the Corinthians explains the gifts of the Holy Spirit are not limited to the apostles only, but are given to many people, under many ways and in all ages. We can see how the gifts of the Holy Spirit were given in the life of the Church as Saint Paul pointed out: There are different gifts, but the same Spirit; there are different ministries, but the same Lord; there are different works, but the same God who accomplishes all of them in everyone (1Cor 12:4-6).
Thus, members in the Church play different roles and exercise different ministries. The gifts of the Holy Spirit were given to different members as to unite members as Saint Paul told us: It was in one Spirit that all of us, whether Jew or Greek, slave or free, were baptized into one body (lCor 12:13). The sign of the work of the Spirit is present when apostolic work is done for the glory of God and the unity of the Church. The division of Christians into many different denominations is a scandal to non-believers. Therefore, the task of the Christian is to pray for unity of all Christians.
When confirmed, the Christian learns about the gifts of the Holy Spirit and his activity in the Church and in the life of the Christian. The second Vatican Council under the guidance of the Holy Spirit teaches us that all members of the Church are called to live a life of holiness and to bear witness to the faith. Thus, all members have different roles to play in the life of the Church, depending on their abilities, circumstances and opportunities in life. As a body consists of many members: ear, eye, nose, mouth, tongue, legs, hands, each member plays a different role. This member needs the other member as to complement each other, to bring benefit to the whole body.
The instrument God uses to spread his kingdom does not depend on our ability, educational level or social position, but on God’s power and our cooperation with his grace and our unity to the Church. When comparing the activities of the Holy Spirit in the early Church to those of the present Church, a number of people wonder why the Holy Spirit does not work wonder in the present age. To answer this question, we need to realize that the Holy Spirit still works wonder in any age provided people open their hearts to God and corporate with his grace and allow God to be in control. Some people think that they do not have enough talent and grace from God to do apostolic work. Therefore, they do not want to be available for his work. Others thought they are sinful that they do not want to dedicate themselves to the practice of faith.
Still others think they have to be invited to do apostolic work before they get involved. When we allow the Holy Spirit to activate in our lives, we do not divide our mind and heart into different compartments such as this compartment is reserved for job, the other for entertainment and rest, still another for eating and drinking. These we do not want God to enter. The smallest one, we reserve for prayer and worship. In order for the Holy Spirit to permeate every aspect of our lives, we have to bring God into every compartment of our mind and heart. That was what Saint Paul said: The life I live now is not my own, Christ is living in me (Gal 2:20).
Prayer for unity in the Church:
Oh, Holy Spirit! Come and unite us.
Teach me to do apostolic work
in corporation with people of the same faith.
Grant me a humble heart
so that I may forget myself and my ego
and seek unity within the Church
for the glory of your name. Amen.
John Tran Binh Trong