Acts 2:1-11 / 1 Cor 12:3-7, 12-13 / John 20:19-23
Usually the meanings of words don’t change much, or at least not so much of a drastic change. Anyway if the meanings of words change too much and too often, then language is no more a means of communication. Nobody will understand each other anymore.
Yet there are some words that have a totally different meaning or a new meaning from what was originally meant.
Today’s feast of Pentecost is one good example. “Penta” is the Greek word which means “five”. “Pentecost” means “fiftieth day”. But it points to the Jewish “feast of the harvest”, which is 50 days after the Passover feast.
But for the Church, the feast of Pentecost does not have any of those meanings. Rather for the Church, Pentecost means the day that the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles as we heard in the 1st reading.
So on that day, while the Jewish feast of the harvest was going on, a new Christian feast was about to take place. And we can say that it really began in a dramatic way.
Well, at first the apostles met in one room and they didn’t expect anything much to happen, or so they thought.
Then suddenly, there was a powerful wind from heaven. And then something appeared to them like tongues of fire that come to rest on the head of each of them.
Somehow they knew they were filled with the Holy Spirit and they began to speak foreign languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them the gift of speech. And they went out preaching about the marvels of God, and the people heard them in their own language.
So it was a dramatic happening day as the Church burst into birth and that’s why Pentecost is sometimes called the birthday of the Church.
But today as we gather in Church for the feast of Pentecost, there are no apparent dramatic happenings. In fact it is solemn and sober. Yet the feast of Pentecost celebrates the outpouring of the Holy Spirit no less.
So where is the presence of the Holy Spirit? In the Bible, the Holy Spirit is commonly manifested in five forms.
First is the powerful wind as we heard in the 1st reading, or the breath of God which gave man life as recorded in Genesis 2:7. It was the same breath that Jesus breathed on His apostles as He said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit”.
The second form of the Holy Spirit is fire. It was the pillar of fire in Exodus 13:21 that guided the Israelites in the desert. In the 1st reading it was the tongues of flame that rested on the heads of the apostles.
The third form of the Holy Spirit is oil. In the Old Testament, oil was used to anoint priests, prophets and kings. In the New Testament, oil was used to anoint the sick and to bring about healing.
The fourth form of the Holy Spirit is water. Water is a profound sign of the Holy Spirit as it quenches thirst, cleanses and washes wounds and impurities.
The fifth form of the Holy Spirit is in the form of a dove. After the flood, it was a dove that brought an olive branch to Noah (Genesis 8:11) and he knew that the waters have subsided and the earth was dry. The Holy Spirit also descended on Jesus after His baptism in the form of a dove. The dove is also a sign of docility and humility.
So the feast of Pentecost reminds us that the signs of the presence of the Holy Spirit are always present to us. As we come into the church, we mark ourselves with the sign of the cross with Holy Water. That’s already an acknowledgment of the presence of the Holy Spirit in the Holy Water.
As we look around at the sanctuary, we see the lighted lamps fueled by blessed olive oil. Fire and oil are signs of the presence of the Holy Spirit.
The breath of God proclaiming the Word of God gives us the Word of life, which in the Eucharist becomes the Bread of life for us.
And docile to God’s will, we worship God with humility, and filled with the Holy Spirit, we go forth to proclaim the wonders and marvels of God.
And with that we become the most profound sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit. But the indicator of whether we are a sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit is to look into our hearts and see if we are at peace.
In the gospel, when Jesus appeared to His disciples, His first words are “Peace be with you.” They were filled with joy and then Jesus breathed on them the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus wants our hearts to be at peace. He wants to forgive our sins and heal our wounded hearts. He wants to fill us with joy so that as He breathes the Holy Spirit upon us, we will be raised to a new life with meaning and with direction.
All the means are available to us for our hearts to be healed and to be at peace – the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the Holy Eucharist, and all those other signs of the presence of the Holy Spirit, who comes to help us in our weakness.
So let us breathe in the breath of God, and to receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit, so that we will proclaim the wonders and marvels of God, with peace and joy in our hearts.