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May 20: Pentecost Sunday

First Reading Acts 2:1-11
Second Reading 1 Corinthians 12:3-7,12-13
Gospel John 20:19-23

To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.

The historical event that the Church celebrates this Sunday is described not in today’s Gospel passage, but in the First Reading. In one sense, our focus here at the end of the Easter Season moves beyond the four Gospel accounts to the remainder of the New Testament.

The first four books of the New Testament present the life, death and Resurrection of Christ in His earthly body. The rest of the New Testament’s books present the life of the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ. Christ continued to walk this earth after His Ascension to the Father’s Right Hand, but in a radically different way. These 23 books—Acts of the Apostles, the 21 apostolic letters, and The Book of Revelation—offer a template or roadmap for us in the 21st century as we struggle to live, not as individual Christians, but as the conjoined members of the Mystical Body of Christ.

Today’s feast of Pentecost, then, celebrates this transition from the earthly life of Christ to the Mystical Body of Christ. The Power of the Holy Spirit alone makes the transition to this life possible.

The Second Reading this Sunday (or at least, the first of two options) focuses on the unique role of the Holy Spirit within the Church. Sometimes the Holy Spirit is metaphorically called “the soul of the Church”, in contrast to us human persons who are the body’s members.

Saint Paul uses three sets of contrasts to drive home the Holy Spirit’s unique role. Consider here just the second of these. While “there are different forms of service”, there is “the same Lord.” St. Paul here links the “service” of the Church’s members with the one “Lord”. The Church’s members “serve” their “Lord”. Perhaps this seems obvious. But it bears an important consequence for those who choose to practice stewardship as a way of life.

St. Paul is challenging those who trivialize the Power of the Holy Spirit and His Lordship. In our day when egalitarianism and individualism are so highly prized, we minimize the notion of God as our Lord. We might more easily consider God the Father as a “lordly” figure. But we’re less inclined to consider Jesus our Lord, since we want in our day and time to consider Him more as a friend than Lord.

Even less do Christians today consider the Holy Spirit as Lord. The Holy Spirit is often reduced to a gentle spirit—a breeze, really—who encourages us to follow our spiritual hunches. Without letting go of the Holy Spirit’s authentic roles of Comforter and Advocate, we need to recognize the Holy Spirit as our Lord. Christian service serves the Holy Spirit, and aims towards the establishment of His rule.

In the Nicene Creed we profess the Holy Spirit to be “the Lord, the giver of life”. As Christians, we serve the Holy Spirit who is our Lord. We serve Him so that His Kingdom of life—that proceeds from the Father and the Son—will rule in our world, so as to bring many through sin and death into the everlasting life of the Trinity.

The Church is God’s means to establish the rule of the Holy Spirit. The earthly purpose of the Holy Spirit’s varied gifts, service and workings is proclaimed in the refrain of Pentecost’s Responsorial Psalm: “Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.”