Sunday Sermon for June 4, 2017, Pentecost Sunday, Year A
Readings: Acts 2:1-11; 1 Cor 12:3b-7, 12-13; Jn 20:19-23
In the first reading today we hear about the Holy Spirit descending upon the Apostles as they were gathered in prayer. The event was marked by some extraordinary phenomena: the noise like a driving wind filling the house and the tongues of fire. After they received this great gift from our Lord we hear about the Apostles speaking in tongues so that people of different languages could all understand as if the Apostles were speaking in the native tongues of these people.
People often question why we do not experience these kinds of extraordinary phenomena any more. The reason is because it is no longer necessary. Just as at Mount Sinai God had to demonstrate Himself in extraordinary ways so the people would trust Him and put their faith in Him, so on Pentecost the extraordinary phenomena demonstrate the truth and the power of the gift that was bestowed upon the Apostles. Having had this happen, the Apostles could have faith and trust in the Holy Spirit.
Even if God does not provide these out of the ordinary signs, why do we not see the gifts being given like we do on Pentecost? Well, these gifts are still given and they continue to be operative. In the first reading we hear of only one gift: that of speaking in tongues. This was necessary for the Apostles because they were going to all parts of the world and preach. Given the time and their age, there was no opportunity for them to learn these various languages, so God provided for them in this amazing manner.
However, St. Paul reminds us in the second reading that there are different spiritual gifts, different forms of service, and different workings that God produces in everyone. That means that you and I have been given some spiritual gifts and we are called to exercise these gifts through the kind of service God asks of us. It may be that you cannot speak in tongues. No where does Scripture say that everyone has to speak in tongues. In fact, St. Paul makes clear that speaking in tongues is the lowest level of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
When we go back to the Apostles, we read about some of them healing people, or them exorcising demons, some prophesy, still others function as administrators over local churches, they all preach, teach, administer the Sacraments, and demonstrate fortitude and perseverance in the face of threats and martyrdom. These kinds of gifts are far greater than speaking in tongues. There are two problems we face today when we think about charismatic gifts. The first is pride and selfishness. Some people want the gifts so they can be known or be the center of attention. The other problem is that we sometimes fight against the Holy Spirit Who has given us gifts to serve in a particular manner, but we are either afraid, embarrassed, ignorant, or obstinate, so we do not use the gifts we have been given.
Sometimes we just do not believe that God would want to use someone like us to do His work. Remember, God chooses the ones who would seem least likely to be chosen. In this way it demonstrates to everyone that this is God at work in us. And then we wonder why there are no longer any extraordinary phenomena. What could be more extraordinary than seeing God work in us and through us to accomplish His holy will?!
It is easier, of course, when there is something sensible and objective to which we can cling. For instance, in the Gospel, our Lord breathes on His Apostles and grants them the grace to forgive sins. This has been passed on in the Sacrament of Holy Orders and is clearly taught by the Church, so we all know that the grace of forgiveness of sins is available for us in the Sacrament of Penance. Most of us do not struggle with this gift of the Holy Spirit, perhaps because it is in someone else and not in our own self. But Scripture makes it eminently clear that each of us has been given some gifts. So we do have to work at discerning these gifts as well as accepting them and using them.
This means we have to go to prayer and ask the Lord to show us the gifts He has given us and how He wants us to use these gifts. More than likely, you will not hear an deep, overpowering voice answering you questions. Instead, as you pray, God will arrange the situations of your life so that you notice certain patterns that allow you to discover God’s gift and His will. Do not tell Him what the gifts should be; pray, be receptive, and allow God to work in you and through you!
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.