When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled,
they were all in one place together.
And suddenly there came from the sky
a noise like a strong driving wind,
and it filled the entire house in which they were.
Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire,
which parted and came to rest on each one of them.
And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit
and began to speak in different tongues,
as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.
Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven
staying in Jerusalem.
At this sound, they gathered in a large crowd,
but they were confused
because each one heard them speaking in his own language.
They were astounded, and in amazement they asked,
"Are not all these people who are speaking Galileans?
Then how does each of us hear them in his native language?
We are Parthians, Medes, and Elamites,
inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia,
Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia,
Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene,
as well as travelers from Rome,
both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs,
yet we hear them speaking in our own tongues
of the mighty acts of God."
Brothers and sisters:
No one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit.
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.
As a body is one though it has many parts,
and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body,
so also Christ.
For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body,
whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons,
and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.
On the evening of that first day of the week,
when the doors were locked, where the disciples were,
for fear of the Jews,
Jesus came and stood in their midst
and said to them, "Peace be with you."
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side.
The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you.
As the Father has sent me, so I send you."
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."
Though I intend each of these commentaries to be read independent of my other commentaries, I’m afraid this particular Pentecost piece logically follows on last week’s.
For many Catholics, today’s feast is somewhat parallel to the fourth commandment. We eventually outgrew it. Just as God’s command to “obey” our parents only applied when we were children, so anything to do with the Holy Spirit came into our lives only when we were young enough to take our school exams. Though the Cardinals entering a papal conclave logically join in singing “Come Holy Spirit” before they choose the next pope, I’ve never heard of any parish singing that hymn before they pick their next pastor, nor any diocese doing so before it elects its next bishop. The hierarchical system we’ve created – then later blamed on the historical Jesus – has taken away the necessity to depend on the Spirit for any help in our lives of faith.
When, in the summer of 1965, I returned to the United States from Rome as a newly ordained priest, I was expecting to get a fair amount of static from the older parishioners of any parish to which I was assigned. They’d be the group most resisting the Vatican II changes I was bringing with me. They had, for a lifetime, bought into the theology that the Roman Catholic Church was founded by Jesus as an unchangeable institution, an institution that this young priest was informing them was changing.
To my surprise, I discovered my presuppositions weren’t always verified. The elderly were frequently my staunchest supporters! They accepted my explanations and went along with the reform. I had more problems with middle-age parishioners.
Years later, my friend and teacher, Carroll Stuhlmueller, explained the reason for their reluctance to change. “They’re young enough to hold out the hope that one day they’re going to discover things in life that never change. The Catholic Church filled that expectation. Older people know that’s an impossible dream. In their senior years, they simply take change for granted. It’s become a way of life.”
I frequently remember Teilhard de Chardin’s remark that as a youth he longed to uncover an element in his environment that never changed. He thought he found it one day when he came across a small piece of iron from a broken plough. He couldn’t bend, break or destroy it, until . . . he noticed it began to rust after it rained. He was eventually forced to admit the only thing that didn’t change was change.
I presume the main reason Luke brings up the wind, fire and noise accompanying the Holy Spirit’s arrival springs from that basic insight. Each is a disturbing element. (I distinctly remember letting my grandmother into one of my treasured childhood plans. When I grew up I intended to cut down all the trees! That would stop the wind from frightening me.)
The evangelist presumes there’s no need for the Spirit if the risen Jesus doesn’t demand constant change in her/his community. For Luke, the Spirit is the force behind the Christ’s wind, noise and fire, and causes the directions in which they blow, sound and burn. He’s not alone.
For Paul, the Spirit instigates the gifts which are creating chaos in Corinth. And for John, the Spirit leads us into the great “unknown” that forgiveness creates. In each case, followers of the risen Jesus would be more unchanging, more peaceful if they just didn’t have to deal with such an uncontrollable element.
I belong to a church that has consistently employed various (successful) hierarchical deforestation programs. Thankfully I’ve also lived long enough to have encountered a pope who’s actually started planting trees instead of cutting them down. Francis must have had a very understanding and wise grandmother.