“Pentecost” comes from the Greek word for “fiftieth.” Fifty days from the day of Passover, the Jews celebrated the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot), commemorating the giving of the Law (Torah) at Mount Sinai. While Passover signified the people’s freedom from bondage, Shavuot signified their becoming God’s covenant people by accepting the Law. Being a pilgrim festival, Pentecost was a most appropriate time for the Holy Spirit to come and kindle his fire of love in the hearts of the disciples assembled in the Upper Room, that they reach out to the multitudes who had come to the feast from so many parts of the world. Consequently, Pentecost transcends a mere festival of grains to become the watershed moment when the Holy Spirit initiates the universal harvest of souls. And beyond the liberation of a single nation, Pentecost now defines the salvation of all nations, and threshold of a new life of grace which begins here on earth but will only attain perfection in heaven.
As Scripture makes clear, Moses emerged from Mount Sinai with the law engraved in stone tablets (Ex. 31:18),but the disciples emerged from the Upper Room with the Law written in their hearts. When Moses descended from the mountain and saw the people worshipping the Golden Calf, he smashed the tablets (Ex. 32:19-20); but when Peter faced the crowds, on coming down from the Upper Room, he preached repentance and reconciliation in the name of Jesus. And that is our sacred mandate – to condemn the sin while still loving the sinner. Pentecost reverses the sin and disunity of the Tower of Babel(Gen 11:1-9), where confusion reigned as no one could understand the other anymore. But at Pentecost, everyone understood the Apostles in their own language, and this is in accord with the Church’s mission to reunite the human family torn apart by sin. The Holy Spirit is the bond of unity between the Father and the Son, and the Law of the New Covenant – the Law of the Church, is unity. As St Paul says, the Church is a body with many parts, but it remains one, united body.
The Holy Spirit comes to unite us all in the oneness of the children of God through baptism. The same Holy Spirit comes to break down the barriers of our sinful rebellion; to replace the cacophony of sinful division with the harmony of unity, peace and joy. This is the Church’s work – reconciling the divided human family with God and with each other. But the quest for unity must start from within the Church itself. We must never forget that the Church is one, although made up of so many different peoples. We are actually one, which means there is no right-wing or left-wing church; no liberal or conservative church; no pre-Vatican or post-Vatican church; no traditional or modern church; but there is – and there can only be – the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. It is the Church of Jesus Christ, the Church of Our Lady, Peter and the Apostles; it is the Church of Justin Martyr and John Chrysostom; the Church of Ambrose and Augustine; it is the Church of Francis and Dominic, the Church of Catherine of Sienna and Joan of the Arc; it is the Church of Josephine Bakhita and Charles Lwanga, the Church of Padre Pio, Mary McKillop, Teresa of Calcutta, and Michael Iwene Tansi. It is our Church and we all belong to her as our Mother and Teacher! That is why we have the Litany of the Saints, which reminds us of the many martyrs and champions of the faith who now enjoy the vision of God in heaven. As history continues to unfold, civilizations come and go, empires rise and fall, and persecutions come and go, but the Church of Jesus Christ remains perennially relevant – always managing to reinvent itself in every age and circumstance.
Hence, brothers and sisters, we must not let our limited vision, fractured by concupiscence and pride, to stand in the way of unity in the Church and in the world. We may have different philosophical or theological or pastoral viewpoints but that does not in any way alter the essential objective constitution of the Church. We are all members of the Church and have all benefited from her mission of unity; the Church has reached out to each of us and brought us into God’s family. Therefore, we are also responsible for carrying this work forward. And one way to do so is by striving to shatter the barriers of fear, misunderstanding, prejudice, jealousy, envy, resentment, grudges, etc. These are at the root of all the conflicts that threaten the church’s unity and even global peace. All the conflicts in our world are traceable to the conflicts in our individual hearts. If we learn to break down the walls in our own hearts, we will become more effective builders of unity in the world around us.
And one major barrier that constantly threatens our peaceful co-existence is that of misunderstanding or lack of communication. This is the cause of so many ruined relationships. We need to imitate the model of Jesus on this! Before passing judgment on anyone let us try to see things from their perspective. Until we can express the other person’s point of view, we should not be in a hurry to pass a judgment. That’s exactly what Jesus did! Instead of passing judgment on sinful humanity, he came down from heaven and lived among us. He showed that he knew our perspective and, therefore, he was able to break down humanity’s misunderstanding of God and then open the way for a renewed divine communion.
May the Holy Spirit renew his presence in us and in our world and help us with the grace to follow in Jesus’ footsteps, doing our little part in the great Pentecost mission of uniting a divided world. Amen!