Sunday Sermon for June 9, 2017, the Solemnity of Pentecost, Year C
Readings: Acts: 2:1-11; 1 Cor 12:3b-7, 12-13; Jn 20:19-23
Today we celebrate the glorious day of the fulfillment of our Lord’s promise to His Apostles that He would send the Holy Spirit upon them. The Spirit was given to lead them into all truth and to help them grow in holiness by conforming them to the will of God. This is true for us today just as much as it was for the Apostles 2000 years ago.
When the Holy Spirit first appeared He allowed His presence to be known in extraordinary ways. In the first reading we hear about the loud sound and the Apostles speaking in tongues to the people who gathered when they heard the sound. We also hear about the many wonderful things God accomplished through the Apostles because they were willing to let the Holy Spirit lead them.
Many extraordinary things still take place in our world, but we do not hear about them very often. The Holy Spirit is very much at work, but most of the time He works in a quiet, hidden way. For instance, St. Paul tells us in the second reading that no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit. So, each of us can ask our own self if we can truly say “Jesus is Lord.” By truly saying this I do not mean just saying some empty words, but really meaning the words we say. If you can honestly say “Jesus is Lord,” then the Holy Spirit is at work in you.
St. Paul goes on to talk about the different gifts, forms of service, and workings we see in the people within the Church. According to St. Paul, all of these are manifestations of the Spirit. So, perhaps the Holy Spirit is not making loud noises or enabling people to speak in different languages, but He is just as much at work in the people today as He was in the people 2000 years ago.
Another area where the Holy Spirit is working miracles is in the forgiveness of sins. In the Gospel today Jesus breathes on His Apostles so they would receive the Holy Spirit. In this passage our Lord makes no mention of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit nor of the charismatic gifts often associated with the Holy Spirit. Instead, Jesus speaks only of the forgiveness of sins.
We recall when the Pharisees asked who could forgive sins but God alone. The answer is no one. You and I can and must forgive the people who sin against us, but we cannot remove the sins from their soul; only God can do that. Imagine if our Lord would have left things vague and we could only hope our sins are forgiven. When we deal with our memories and temptations we might think our sins have not been forgiven, especially if we do not have a sensible feeling of being forgiven. Thankfully, our Lord told us; “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them;” this is something objective, so we can know our sins are forgiven.
This is the work of the Holy Spirit in the Church; in the person of the priest who speaks the words of absolution; and in the penitent who cooperates with the grace to confess their sins and receive absolution. It may be that many people fail to look beyond what is on the surface, in other words, they see only the fallen humanity of a priest, the sinners in the Church, or even their own self, and fail to recognize the Holy Spirit at work. He is disguised behind the brokenness of the individuals, but He is working miracles, nonetheless.
Perhaps it is the hidden character of the Holy Spirit that causes some Catholics to doubt and walk away from our Lord. But even if some Catholics are rejecting Jesus and the Holy Spirit, pagans and horrible sinners are being converted. This work of conversion is a truly magnificent work of the Holy Spirit that many people fail to recognize. As the pews empty more and more because people are attracted to the spirit of this world rather than to the Spirit of God, those who remain in the pews will need to rely even more profoundly on the Holy Spirit to strengthen them and help them remain faithful.
So, as we celebrate the fulfillment of our Lord’s promise to send the Holy Spirit, we need to pray for the eyes to see how Jesus continues to fulfill His promise in us and in His Church. As it becomes more and more politically incorrect to be Catholic, we will all be dependent on the Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth and to guide us to serve one another with the gifts He has given to each of us for the benefit of all.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.