By Martin Jumbam
Church celebrates Sunday, May 19, 2013 as Pentecost Sunday in liturgical year C.
In the entrance antiphon, we pray: “The Spirit of the Lord fills the whole
world. It holds all things together and knows every word spoken by man. Alleluia.”
Pentecost comes from the Greek word for fiftieth day. It is fifty days since our Lord rose from the dead. Ten days ago, we celebrated His ascension into heaven. Before going up to his Father, Christ asked his disciples not to leave Jerusalem but to wait there until he sent them his Advocate, the Holy Spirit, to strengthen their faith and send them preaching his word to the four corners of the world (Acts 1:4).
The Spirit in the Church is the vivid theme of today’s Mass as we commemorate the giving of the Spirit to the Apostles that led to the birth of the Church on the same day. Christ has fulfilled his promise, that of sending the Holy Spirit on his disciples. The Holy Spirit enables them to proclaim the Good News in all languages. The Old Testament had looked forward to the day when the Spirit would be poured out on the flesh. Now this has happened and the Spirit has come to recreate the world with the Word of Christ. That is what we hear in the First Reading.
As we reflect on
the readings of this day, let us pray for the grace to also receive the Holy
Spirit worthily into our hearts, minds and souls so as to become true bearers
of Christ’s love into our families, work places and society as a whole.
First Reading: Acts of
the Apostles 2:1-11.
When Pentecost day came round, the apostles had all met in one room, when suddenly they heard what sounded like a powerful wind from heaven, the noise of which filled the entire house in which they were sitting; and something appeared to them that seemed like tongues of fire; these separated and came to rest on the head of each of them. They were filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak foreign languages as the Spirit gave them the gift of speech. Now there were devout men living in Jerusalem from every nation under heaven, and at this sound they all assembled, each one bewildered to hear these me speaking his own language. They were amazed and astonished. ‘Surely’ they said ‘all these men speaking are Galileans? How does it happen that each of us hears them in his own native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; people from Mesopotamia, Judaea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya round Cyrene; as well as visitors from Rome – Jew and Proselytes alike – Cretans and Arabs; we hear them preaching in our language about the marvels of God.’
V/ The world of the Lord.
R/ Thanks be to God.
witness the birth of the Church with the coming of the Holy Spirit on the
apostles who, in keeping with Christ’s instructions, had remained in Jerusalem. This is the
Pentecost which was one of the three great feasts for which many Jews went on
pilgrimage to the Holy City of Jerusalem to worship God in the temple. It
originated as a harvest thanksgiving, with an offering of first fruits. Later
it was given the additional dimension of commemorating the promulgation of the
Law given by God to Moses on Sinai. The Pentecost celebration was held fifty
days after the Passover.
The coming of
the Holy Spirit on the apostles is characterized by wind and fire, elements
that typically accompany manifestations of God in the Old Testament. In Exodus
3:2, for example, an angel of the Lord appears to Moses in fire flaming out of
a bush. On this Pentecost day, the wind and noise were so strong that people
flocked to the place to see for themselves what was happening. The fire on the
heads of the apostles symbolizes the action of the Holy Spirit who, by
enlightening the minds of the disciples, enables them to understand Christ’s
teaching as he promised during the Last Supper. It inflames their hearts with
love and dispels whatever fear they may still have and moves them to preach
boldly. Fire also has a purifying effect. It is God’s action cleansing the soul
of all trace of sin.1
not an isolated event in the life of the Church, something over and done with.
In a homily he preached on May 25, 1980, Blessed John Paul II, said, “We have
the right, the duty and the joy to tell you that Pentecost is still happening.
We can legitimately speak of the ‘lasting value’ of Pentecost. We know that
fifty days after Easter, the Apostles, gathered together in the same Cenacle as
had been used for the first Eucharist and from which they had gone out to meet
the Risen One for the first time, discover in themselves the power of the Holy
Spirit who descended upon them. …. Thus was born the Apostolic Church. But even
today – and herein continuity lies – the Basilica of Saint Peter in Rome, and
every Temple, every Oratory, every place where the disciples of Christ gather,
is an extension of that original Cenacle.”2
The Holy Spirit,
Saint Augustine tells us, is the soul, the source of life of the Church, which
was born on the Cross on Good Friday and whose birth was announced publicly on
the day of Pentecost3. On this day, people of different races and
tongues understand Peter and the apostles, each in his or her own language.
They do so thanks to a special grace from the Holy Spirit. On this day, the Pentecost,
thanks to the Holy Spirit, reverses the confusion of languages that came into
the world when man tried to defy God through the Tower of Babel (Gen 11:
1-9). On Pentecost day, the Church was
born and openly displayed to the crowd. As the Fathers of the Church tell us: “On
that day was foreshadowed the union of all peoples in the catholicity of the
faith by means of the Church of the New Alliance, a Church which speaks every
language, understands and embraces all tongues in charity, and thus overcomes
the dispersion of Babel”4 The Tower of Babel is now over and
disunited humanity is once more together in the Spirit of God.
What does this
passage teach us as Christians living in the city of Douala today? It
challenges us to strive to redeem and to sanctify our own time. We too are
called upon to announce, in our own time, to the world to which we belong that
we are bearers of Christ’s Good News. This, we cannot do on our own, just as
the disciples of Christ only found the courage to take his word to the outside
world after the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is this same Spirit who guides all
our missionary efforts. Let us turn to
him in all that we do. Amen.
Second Reading: Romans 8:817
People who are interested only in unspiritual things can never be pleasing to God. Your interests, however, are not in the unspiritual, but in the spiritual, since the Spirit of God has made his home in you. In fact, unless you possessed the Spirit of Christ you would not belong to him. Though your body may be dead it is because of sin, but if Christ is in you then your spirit is life itself because you have been justified; and if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, then he who raised Jesus from the dead will give life to your own mortal bodies through his Spirit living in you. So then, my brothers, there is no necessity for us to obey our unspiritual selves or to live unspiritual lives. If you do live in that way, you are doomed to die; but if by the Spirit you put an end to the misdeeds of the body you will live. Everyone moved by the Spirit is a son of God. The spirit you received is not the spirit of slaves bringing fear into your lives again; it is the spirit of sons, and it makes us cry out, ‘Aba, Father!’ The Spirit himself and our spirit bear united witness that we are children of God. And if we are children we are heirs as well: heirs of God and coheirs with Christ, sharing his sufferings so as to share his glory.
V/ The word of the Lord.
R/ Glory be to
winter of the year AD 57, in
the comparative quiet of the city of Corinth,
Paul wrote what was to be his greatest masterpiece: The Letter to the Romans.
This letter, Paul’s longest letter to any community, deals with the key aspects
of the teaching and redemptive work of Christ. The authors of The African Bible5 tell me
that it is the longest, most influential and rewarding of Paul’s undisputed
letters. It may well be the last he wrote. He seems to have written it from
Corinth during his stay recorded in Acts 20:3.
Paul did not
found the Church in Rome. It was probably founded by Jewish Christians from
Judaea or by Jews who had been converted to Christianity while on pilgrimage to
Jerusalem. Paul had never visited nor evangelized the Church of Rome and he
longed to visit them, Rome being the most important city in his world. He is
therefore writing to people who have already been evangelized by others,
notably Saint Peter and other earlier converts to Christianity. Saint Paul is
planning to travel to the Iberian Peninsula and hopes he can get some help from
the Christians of Rome.
the passage of our meditation, Paul has been discussing the life lived in the
Spirit. After original sin, man has been pulled in two different directions:
either towards God and all that is heavenly, or towards Satan and all that
leads to the disorderly life of the flesh. Life in the Spirit means living
according to God’s will, which calls on Christians to practice the commandment
of love of God and of one’s neighbour. In everything we do, we should therefore
strive to follow the inspirations of the Holy Spirit.
lives in God’s grace and looks with confidence to the future resurrection.
Saint John Chrysostom says that if Christ is living in the Christian, then the
divine Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity, is also present in him. If the
divine Spirit is absent, then indeed death reigns supreme, and with it the
wrath of God, rejection of his laws, separation from Christ, and expulsion of
our Guest. With the Spirit, he continues, one belongs to Christ, one possesses
him, one vies for honour with the angels. With the Spirit, the flesh is
crucified, one tastes the delight of an immortal life, one has a pledge of future
resurrection and advances rapidly on the path of virtue.6
The life of a
Christian therefore is sharing in the life of Christ. This is a divine life
that begins at Baptism through the rebirth in the Holy Spirit, who guides us as
we mature in our faith and makes us evermore like Christ. Through the Holy
Spirit, the life force given to us by the Father and his Son, God recreates our
lives as Christians, making us stronger in faith as we face the ever increasing
temptations of life in the city of Douala today. As we read in the Sequence of
the Mass of Pentecost, ‘Come, O Holy Spirit, send from heaven a ray of your
light. … You are rest in our labour, peace in our difficulties and solace in
our grief. … Grant to your children who trust in you your seven sacred gifts.
Give them the merit of your virtue, the port of salvation; give them
everlasting joy. Amen. Alleluia.”
Gospel: John 14: 15-16.
Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If you love me you will keep my commandments. I shall ask the Father and he will give you another Advocate to be with you for ever. ‘If anyone loves me he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we shall come to him and make our home with him. Those who do not love me do not keep my words. And my word is not my own; it is the word of the one who sent me. I have said these things to you while still with you; but the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all I have said to you.’
V/ The Gospel of the Lord.
R/ Praise to
you, Lord Jesus Christ.
the passage of this day’s Gospel, Jesus is heard cheering up his disciples who
have been saddened by his prediction that Peter, who had openly declared that
he would lay down his life for his Master, would, in fact, deny ever knowing
him a few days later. They are again considerably alarmed when he tells them
that he is going away from them to prepare a place for them in heaven. The
Apostles are still unsure of what to make of Jesus’ words that he is going to
the Father. No doubt one of them, Philip, says to him ‘Lord, show us the
Father, and we shall be satisfied’ (Jn 14:8). Jesus then tells his Apostles ‘He
who has seen me has seen the Father’ (Jn 14:9).
He then tells
them in the passage of our meditation that he will send the Holy Spirit to
strengthen their faith and send them out to preach his word. As we hear in the
first reading of this day, the Holy Spirit does, indeed, come down on the
Apostles. The Holy Spirit is sent by the Father and the Son and all three form
the Blessed Trinity. Jesus speaks of the Holy Spirit as another Consoler
because he is coming to take the place of Christ around his Apostles and
disciples. He will be their Defender and their Advocate and it will now be his role
to guide, protect and vivify the Church.
The Holy was not
only sent to fortify the early Church, he is still very present among us today.
He is still our Consoler who is helping us to withstand the difficulties and
temptations of our daily lives. As Saint Jose Maria Escriva de Ballaguer says,
‘The presence and actions of the Holy Spirit in the Church are a foretaste of
eternal happiness, of the joy and peace which we are destined by God.'7
This day, the
promised Advocate descends in a dramatic manner on the disciples, who have been
hiding in a room for fear of being attacked. They have gathered around the
Blessed Virgin Mary, sheltering her from any harm and keeping out of harm’s way
themselves. But then the Advocates descends and the disciples immediately break
out from their hiding place and immediately start preaching, speaking in
tongues to the amazement of all present (Acts 2:4).
reaction of those listening is to dismiss them as mere drunkards. However, when
everyone begins to hear them speaking to them in the language they understand,
their reaction becomes one of joy. The disciples got through the people because
the people can understand them because they share a common language, that of
love spoken from the heart.
The Spirit that
fired the Apostles and disciples into action is the same Spirit that motivates
us too to undertake missionary activities of our own. “The Spirit does that in
our own mundane attempts to work at forgiveness and love and understanding.
That is the language of the Spirit. Forgiveness, love and understanding form a
language which everyone understands and needs to hear. That is the language we
are invited to speak and the promise is that when we speak it people will
recognize it as their own language. They can truly say that we are speaking
their language because it is a language which has no boundaries’.8
1. The Navarre Bible: Acts of the Apostles: Texts and Commentaries, 1992, p. 42.
2 Pope John Paul II, Homily, May 25, 1980.
3. Vatican II Council, Ad gentes, 4, quoted in the Navarre Bible: Texts and commentaries, p.44..
4. ibid, 4
5. The African Bible, Paulines Publications Africa, 1999, p.1883.
6. Saint John Chrysostom, Homily on Romans, 13, quoted in The Navarre Bible: Romans and Galatians: Texts and Commentaries, p. 114.
7. Saint Jose Maria Escriva de Ballaguer: Christ is Passing By, 128).
8. Denis McBride, C.SS.R, Seasons of the Word: Reflections on the Sunday Readings, St Pauls 1991, p. 165. .