Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year B
An icon of the Christian Pentecost, in the Greek Orthodox tradition. This is the Icon of the Descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles. At the bottom is an allegorical figure, called Kosmos, which symbolizes the world.
COME, HOLY SPIRIT
“Come, O Holy Spirit, send from heaven a ray of your light. Come, O giver of graces; come, O light of hearts. You are rest in our labor, peace in difficulties and solace in our grief. O most holy Light! Fill the inmost being of the hearts of your faithful. Grant to your children trust in your seven holy gifts. Give them reward for virtue; give them salvation; give them everlasting joy!
To Mary, Spouse of the Holy Spirit:
THE HAIL MARY
Hail, Mary, full of grace, our Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.Amen.
BREATHE IN ME
Breathe in me, O Holy Spirit, that my thoughts may all be holy, Act in me, O Holy Spirit, that my work, too, may be holy. Draw my heart, O Holy Spirit, that I may love only what is holy.
Strengthen me, O Holy Spirit, that I may defend all that is holy.
Guard me, O Holy Spirit, that I may always be holy.
A Prayer of St. Augustine
PRAYER FOR THE SEVEN GIFTS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
O Lord Jesus Christ, Who, before ascending into heaven did promise to send the Holy Spirit to finish Your work in the souls of Your Apostles and Disciples, please grant the same Holy Spirit to me that He may perfect in my soul the work of Your grace and Your love.
Grant me the Spirit of Wisdom that I may despise the perishable things of this world and aspire only after the things that are eternal. The Spirit of Understanding to enlighten my mind with the light of Your divine truth. The Spirit on Counsel that I may ever choose the surest way of pleasing God and gaining heaven. The Spirit of Fortitude that I may bear my cross with You and that I may overcome with courage all the obstacles that oppose my salvation. The Spirit of Knowledge that I may know God, know myself, and grow perfect in the science of the Saints. The Spirit of Piety that I may find the service of God sweet and amiable. The Spirit of Fear that I may be filled with a loving reverence towards God and may dread in any way to displease Him. Mark me, dear Lord with the sign of Your true disciples and animate me in all things with Your Spirit. Amen.
PRAYER TO THE HOLY SPIRIT BY ST. ANTIOCHUS
O Holy Spirit, most merciful Comforter: You proceed from the Father in a manner beyond our understanding. Come, I beseech You, and take up you abode in my heart. Purify and cleanse me from all sin, and sanctify my soul. Cleanse it from every impurity, water its dryness, melt its coldness, and save it from sinful ways. Make me truly humble and resigned, that I may be pleasing to You, and that You abide with me forever. Most blessed Light, most amiable Light, enlighten me. O rapturous Joy of Paradise, Fount of purest delight, my God, give yourself to me, and kindle in my innermost soul the fire of your love. My Lord, please instruct, direct, and defend me in all things. Give me strength against all immoderate fears and against despondency. Bestow upon me a true faith, a firm hope, and a sincere and perfect love. Grant that I always do your most gracious will.
Ac 10,25-26. 34-35.44-48: www.clerus.org/bibliaclerusonline/en/9bfhjcj.htm
1Io 4,7-10: www.clerus.org/bibliaclerusonline/en/9ak0lmd.htm
Io 15,9-17: www.clerus.org/bibliaclerusonline/en/9asskgo.htm
“I no longer call you slaves, […] I have called you friends” (John 15:15). These words, spoken to us by the Risen Lord, should be a source of abundant joy and the certain hope for whatever the future holds for us. They are the roots of our life, ever new, always given in a passionate love for Christ, for the Truth and for all humanity.
These words are the bearers of a radical new relationship between God and humanity. They reveal something that humanity, in its human condition and sinfulness, could never have imagined: that the Son of God, the only Son of the Father, calls us His friends.
We should probably think again about what this word ‘friendship’ really means. Like ‘love’, it has been used and abused to such an extent that it seems today to be almost emptied of its real meaning. But Jesus explains to us in today’s Gospel what the authentic friendship of God really means.
The Lord tells us that the status of friends is, as we might put it, qualitatively superior to that of servants. This seems obvious to us today when think of the idea of servitude as against our rights. The condition of a servant seems to us to be clearly unworthy of a human being, who should be able to live freely and able to achieve our great ideals.
Yet we can see that this way of understanding the words of Jesus is incorrect. It’s incorrect in the historical context of the time, and in terms of the unique relationship which is being discussed. The relationship between God and humanity goes deeper than our simple understanding of the words ‘friend’ and ‘servant’. It is not just a relationship between one person and another, but a relationship between man and His Creator and Redeemer.
The situation of servitude before God was, in fact, what made Israel the chosen nation. Israel was called out of slavery in Egypt and put above all the nations of the world to serve the Lord. It was, and is, an honour and privilege for a people to be chosen and called to be servants of God.
Now, through grace, we can say that God has truly descended into our midst in order to raise us up to His Presence.
In Christ, we see the plan of the Father fulfilled. He is the real promised land, that was prepared for us in the womb of the Virgin Mary. We are not like Moses, the servant of the Lord (c.f. Deut 32: 52), destined only to see the promised land from a distance. We are able to enter and dwell there: “as the Father has loved me, so I have loved you […] I have made known to you everything I have learnt from my Father” (John 15: 9, 15).
This is what is so radically new in this friendship. Humanity, chosen and loved by God, created and called to serve Him, is now destined for a love which is beyond compare. “A man can have no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). The Son of God, made man, gives His whole Self and lifts us up towards the Father. He opens the door of his dwelling and welcomes the faithful to the wedding feast.
By choosing us, which really means that He called each of us personally, Christ gives us the joy of sharing in His Life and Sonship. We become participants, as St Peter says, in the divine nature (c.f. 2 Peter 1:4).
Animated by this new and profound communion with the Risen Lord, that accompanies us always and everywhere, we implore the Blessed Virgin Mary, Refuge of Sinners and Our Lady of Fatima, to help us to ‘remain’ in the love of Christ, to love one another and bear fruit as befits the children of God. Amen!
FIRST READING: Acts 2:1-11.
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. And they were amazed and wondered, saying, “are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians, we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.”
EXPLANATION: “Pentecost” which means “fiftieth” was the second of the three most important of the annual feasts in the Jewish calendar. It occurred seven weeks after Passover and was primarily a feast of thanksgiving for the harvest: the first-fruits of the wheat crop were offered to God on that day. Later on the giving of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai was also commemorated on this feast day. All Jewish men, not legitimately impeded, were expected to come to Jerusalem, to the temple, for the feast. Hundreds of Jews from outside of Palestine also came, and the city was usually full to overflowing. It was very fitting therefore that this feast day was chosen for the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles. The Christian religion was to be universal, and the gift of tongues showed its universality. The law given by God to Moses was for the Jews only; the new law, given by Christ, and confirmed by the power of the Holy Spirit, was for all men. The vast gathering of Jews from Palestine and from all nations was a very suitable occasion on which to proclaim publicly the message of Christ given through the mouth of Peter.
Suddenly…a sound came: The Apostles had been told by Our LOrd to wait in Jerusalem (Lk. 24:49), until the Holy Spirit came on them. They were all in one place, probably the room of the Last Supper where Jesus had appeared to them twice after his resurrection.
like the rush of a mighty…: Spirit means breath or wind, so it was fitting the Holy Spirit made his presence felt by the noise of a strong driving wind.
Tongues as of fire appeared: Something that looked like a flame rested on each of them. When God gave the Law to Moses, peals of thunder and lightning flashes signified God’s presence and made the people tremble (see Ex. 19:18ff). The loud noise and the flames signified the presence of the Holy Spirit.
to speak in other tongues…: The first signs of the power of the Spirit. They were given foreign languages and a new superhuman courage to proclaim their faith. Hitherto they had sheltered from the Jews.
and at this sound: This sound “like a driving wind” was heard all over the city, and by devout Jews from “every nation under heaven,” a pious exaggeration and a way of saying that they came from most of the known nations of the Roman Empire, which was the whole world then known to the Jews.
each one heard: Each foreigner who spoke the language of the country he came from heard one or other of the Apostles speaking his language.
amazed…wondered: Little wonder they were amazed. They had enquired of the local Jews, and knew that the Apostles were simple men, with little education, from Galilee. Where did they learn all these foreign languages?
Parthians…: These foreigners say they are from Mesopotamia, Greece, Asia Minor, Egypt and North Africa, Crete and Arabia. There are even Romans present, most of them Jews, but Gentile proselytes also among them.
we hear…tongues: This was the cause of their amazement, these simple folk from Galilee speaking all kinds of languages.
the mighty works of God: The Apostles were speaking of Christ, his teaching, and his resurrection. St. Peter develops this theme later (2:14ff).
APPLICATION: Pentecost day is called the “birthday” of the Church. The Apostles had already received the Holy Spirit on Christ’s first appearance to them after his resurrection (Jn. 20:22). But on Pentecost day the descent of the Holy Spirit was a public manifestation intended to impress and amaze the crowds of local and foreign Jews who thronged Jerusalem on that great festive occasion. The signs and wonders that manifested his coming brought these Jews in huge crowds to the place where the Apostles were staying, and immediately the gift of tongues was used by the Apostles to explain the occurrence. It was a marvel wrought by God, a necessary consequence of the sojourn of Christ among them. He was the Christ whom the Jews had crucified but whom God had raised from the dead, thus proving he was the promised Messiah and his own beloved Son. Christ had chosen the Apostles to bring his good news to all nations—the good news that all men were once more reconciled to God their Creator, and were now adopted sons of God and heirs to heaven.
Today was the day chosen for the opening of this mission of the Apostles. That they were backed by the divine power of the Holy Spirit was proved not only by the gift of tongues but more especially by the change his coming wrought on the Apostles. From this day forward they were men dedicated to one purpose and to one purpose only, to bring the good news, the Gospel of Christ, to the world.
When Peter, representing the eleven, preached Christ, crucified, raised from the tomb by the power of the Father, and now seated at his right hand in heaven, he raised the Christian standard aloft. He and his fellow Apostles (including Matthias and Paul later) gave their lives gladly to plant it throughout the Roman Empire. The remaining twenty six chapters of the book of Acts and the inspired letters of the Apostles tell the story of the growth of the infant Church. It was brought about by frail and mortal men, turned into spiritual heroes by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Twenty centuries separate us from those heroic men of God, but the truth of their labors is with us still thanks to the same Holy Spirit who has remained with the Church down through the years. From generation to generation the message and the means of salvation have been handed down, sometimes through periods of peace and evident progress, but more often through years of persecution and apparent near-extermination. The Church survived because men of God valued eternal life, and the Church as the means of reaching it, more than their own comfort or personal safety.
Our own generation too needs men of principle, men of generosity, men who will put the eternal values before personal conveniences or earthly gain. The Church today has her enemies. They shout loud and long—the same centuries-old themes are put to some of the present-day pop music. But we need not fear. The voice of the Holy Spirit is still as strong as it was on that first Pentecost day in Jerusalem. His powers are divine and will never diminish. He is still at the helm of the barque of Peter and will continue to bring millions to the shores of the eternal kingdom as he has done during the past two thousand years.
“Come, Holy Spirit, enkindle in the hearts of the faithful the fire of divine love.”
Second ReadingSECOND READING: 1 Cor. 12:2-7, 12-13.
No one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus be cursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit.
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
But just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
EXPLANATION: The gifts of the Holy Spirit were very evident in the infant Church. This was necessary to prove to the pagans that the Christian religion was from the real God who controlled all things. As pagans they had their local god or gods to whom supernatural powers were often falsely attributed. But the God of the Christians had real powers and they were distributed freely by the Holy Spirit when occasion demanded. St. Paul in this part of his first letter to the Corinthians is emphasizing that these gifts are not given to an individual for his honor or glory but to help to build up the Church.
No one…the Spirit: One of the first tests of the genuineness of a gift from the Holy Spirit was conformity with the Christian faith. If any man claimed he was moved by the Holy Spirit to blaspheme Jesus, he was evidently a liar and a fraud. On the other hand he who sincerely professed that Christ was God was moved by the Holy Spirit. Faith is a gift from God.
varieties…same Spirit: All the gifts given to the early Christian converts were from the same Holy Spirit and each had its special purpose. It is possible that Paul wished to prevent any temptation for one to boast that he had a better gift than his neighbor. All were from the same source.
varieties…service: The ability to help in administering the affairs of the early Christian communities was a gift of God—each one receiving the gift necessary for his particular task. Helping the sick, feeding the poor, calling the assemblies together, explaining the faith, powers of healing, are all examples of these different ministries, but they all came from the same God.
given for the common good: These gifts were given for the good of the whole community—to help build up the Church, and so that no one should refuse to use the gift he got or claim it as his own.
The body is one: St. Paul now introduces the simile of the human body made up of many members, to describe the Church of Christ. From this we get the title of “Mystical Body of Christ” to describe the Church.
for by one Spirit: It was the Holy Spirit, sent by Christ on his ascension to heaven to direct and inspire his newly-founded Church, who gave us the grace to become members of Christ’s Body.
Jews or Greeks: Meaning all men. Greek stood for Gentile, that was the rest of the world apart from the Jews.
were baptized: The sacrament instituted by Christ to make men members of his Church, his body.
APPLICATION: These verses of St. Paul are very suitable on this the feast day of the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles. Not only did he make his presence felt by the external exercise of his powers on that first Pentecost day, but he continued to do so for some years until the Church had laid solid foundations in the Gentile world.
These gifts of the Spirit were foretold in the Old Testament as signs of the Messiah’s arrival (see Joel 3:1ff; Acts 2:16ff), and were manifested in the early Church in Jerusalem (Acts 2:4), Samaria (8:17), Ephesus (19:6), Rome (Rom. 12:6), Galatia (Gal. 3:5), and in Corinth. St. Paul has much to say of the gifts given in Corinth because there was evidently some abuse of them or some dissensions because of them in that city.
But for us the important point to bear in mind today on this the anniversary of the public manifestation of the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles is the infinite love of God for us, his Chosen People of the new covenant. Through the Incarnation men are empowered to become adopted sons of God; through baptism we become members of Christ’s body, his Church. Through the direct reception of the Holy Spirit in the Sacrament of Confirmation, we are made active members of the Christian Church, with all the strength and powers necessary to be effective members, on active service daily, true soldiers of Christ.
Let each one of us take an honest look at himself today and ask himself: Am I really an active member of the body of Christ? Am I spiritually healthy, living in God’s grace and thus helping the whole body to be healthy? Or am I a diseased member, and not only sickly and weak through my personal sins, but spreading that sickness and weakness to my neighboring members by my bad example? But perhaps I can claim I have no very big sins and give no grave scandal, but I am lukewarm in the practice of my religion. I haven’t much time for things of that sort. If I am one of these two types—a diseased member or a lukewarm one—I could hardly call myself a soldier of Christ on active service. Deserters and dishonest draft-dodgers are not at the front.
Thank God, a large percentage of Christians do strive to remain healthy members of his mystical body—they may weaken now and then but they call on their divine physician and put things right again. This is as it should be, but is it all that is expected of us?
The Holy Spirit came to us in Confirmation with his gifts and graces to enable us to work for the whole Church, for the whole body of Christ. We are made soldiers to form an army that will work together for the protection of our nation and our freedom. No man is put into military uniform in order to look after his own interests. We too are not made soldiers of Christ in order to save our own souls only—we are soldiers in order to help our fellow Christians and all men in their common fight against sin and Godlessness. We must then take an active part in the battles of the Church, against everything that impedes the practice of the Christian virtues.
There is a place for everyone in the Church’s line of battle. We need not search far to find it. We need not be physical or intellectual giants in order to fulfill the role destined for us. What we need is sincerity and a bit of moral courage; sincerity in our belief that it is the future life that counts—the present is only a few years of training; moral courage to face opposition and criticism from enemies and often from false friends. When God and the Holy Spirit are on our side, we need not worry about the opinions or sneers of worldly-minded men. If we are true soldiers of Christ we shall win our battles, not by crushing our enemies but by making them too children of God and our brothers for all eternity.
GospelGOSPEL: John 20:19-23.
On the evening of the first day of the week, the doors being shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
EXPLANATION: For the explanation of these five verses of St. John, see the Second Sunday of Easter. They are repeated here today, the Feast of the Holy Spirit, because on that first appearance of the Risen Lord he conferred the Holy Spirit on the Apostles. Today’s feast commemorates the solemn public and publicized conferral of the same Holy Spirit.
evening of…first day: The evening of the Sunday.
the doors being shut…: He came through the closed door, which shows the spiritual qualities of the resurrected body (see 1 Cor. 15:44-48).
came and stood among them: To prove that he was the Christ who had been crucified and who was now alive once more.
Peace be with you: Jews saluted one another by wishing peace, that is, health and prosperity both in the material and spiritual sense. Here Christ is not only wishing “well-being,” especially the spiritual well-being, but he is giving it (see 14:27).
so I send you: He is now conferring on them the mission he had promised them before his death (see Mt. 4:19; Jn. 17:18; etc.), which was the continuation of the work of divine salvation inaugurated by himself.
Receive the Holy Spirit: He breathed on them and said these words—the sacramental action. He had promised them the Holy Spirit when he had returned to his Father in glory (7:39, 16:7). This condition had been fulfilled that Easter morning.
If you forgive…sins: Catholic tradition has rightly seen in this act the institution of the Sacrament of Penance.
APPLICATION: The liturgical cycle, which each year represents to us God’s mercy and kindness in our regard, closes today with this great Feast of Pentecost, the public solemn descent of the Holy Spirit, the Sanctifier, on the Christian Church. During Advent we try to prepare ourselves for the coming of the Son of God to dwell as Man among us. Christmas recalls to our minds and hearts the great act of divine love. Lent prepares us for the sufferings endured by Christ during Holy Week on our behalf. Easter is the feast of triumph, Christ’s triumph over death, the guarantee of our final triumph and union with him in his eternal glory. Pentecost crowns Christ’s work among us. The Holy Spirit comes to abide with the Church, directing and effectively aiding its leaders to preserve, explain and spread the gospel of hope and love which Christ had brought on earth. This same spirit helps and aids each member of the Church to live a life of holiness by following the teaching of Christ and by helping his fellow man to do likewise.
Briefly, this annual series of Church feast days recalls to our minds the infinite love of the Blessed Trinity for us finite, mortal men. At the same time it shows us the part played by each of the divine Persons in the eternal plan to share with us the perfect peace and the unending happiness which they enjoy in their heavenly kingdom.
God the Father created us with the intention and plan to raise us up to adopted sonship with him. God the Son took human nature so that we might share in the divinity. Representing all men he gave perfect obedience and reverence to the Creator “even unto death on a cross,” and thus merited sonship for us. The Holy Spirit, the “fruit of divine love,” came from the Father and the Son to bring to perfection the work of our sanctification. Thus the three divine Persons of the Blessed Trinity have cooperated in the great work of infinite love and condescension which opens for us a future of unending happiness, if only we have the common sense to appreciate what has been done for us, and the simple common decency to do in return the few relatively easy little tasks asked of us.
May the Holy Spirit today fill us with gratitude for all that God has done for us.