Homily for the Sunday of Pentecost - Year B - Jn. 20:19-23
Canon Dr. Daniel Meynen
" On the evening of Easter, 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.' "
" On the evening of Easter, 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. "
Today we celebrate the feast of Pentecost! We commemorate this important event, which took place fifty days after the Resurrection of Christ, namely: the pouring forth of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and disciples gathered around Mary, the Mother of Jesus, in the Cenacle. The feast of Pentecost is joined to Easter: these two solemnities constitute the summit of the entire liturgical year and they, by themselves, allow us to call to mind all of the history of Salvation in Jesus the Son of God.
What began on Easter today finds its fullness and its completion: on the evening of Easter, the risen Jesus gave the Holy Spirit to his disciples for the first time, so that they might receive him in fullness on Pentecost. There is no difference between the Spirit which was given on the evening of Easter and the Spirit which spread forth throughout the earth on Pentecost: because there is a single Spirit.
However, on the evening of Easter, Jesus is on earth, and not yet in Heaven with the Father. That is, Jesus does not yet see his Father who is in Heaven. If Jesus, as a man, already possesses the beatific vision of God, since he is risen, it is nonetheless but the beginning of this vision: it is a real and lasting happiness, but one which remains in its initial state. It cannot be otherwise as long as Jesus remains on earth. Also, when Christ gives the Holy Spirit to the Apostles on the evening of Easter, it is the beginning of Pentecost, awaiting its full realization fifty days later.
But, once Jesus ascended into Heaven, on the day of the Ascension, that is, forty days after Easter, Jesus sees, from then on, his Father in an eternal and unbounded bliss. In turn, the Father sees the soul and the body of his glorious Son: just as Jesus presented his hands and his side to his disciples on the evening of Easter, the Son shows his Father in Heaven his glorious wounds, distinguished trophies and marks of his love for his Father and for all men. In He who is his perfect Image, the Father sees his Son just as the Son sees his Father. And it is in this common vision that the Holy Spirit is sent into the world on Pentecost.
" 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.' "
When the Holy Spirit was sent to the Apostles on Pentecost, each one of those who received him remained a man as he had been before, with all his defects, his natural weaknesses, and all of his personality. The Holy Spirit and the gifts which he brings join themselves to our human nature, which remains the same. However, the Holy Spirit gives the soul a special power, that "power from on high" (Lk. 24:49), that "fire" (cf. Acts 2:3) which allows a man or woman to overcome his or her weaknesses and to become righteous and holy before the Lord. The first action of the Holy Spirit in us is to purify us of our sins and vices.
On the evening of Easter, Jesus, in that initial vision of the Father, gave the Holy Spirit to the Apostles so that, through him, they would be able to forgive or retain the sins of men. The first thing to do, indeed, was to give the Holy Spirit as Gift of God who restores the image that God had put in man at his creation: it was necessary, before anything else, in very first place, that the Apostles be Ministers of the Lord in order to propagate throughout the world the restoration of the initial creation carried out by the Father. Everything that is first, everything that is initial in the action of the Holy Spirit, it was necessary that Jesus provide for it as long as he was on earth, in his first vision of the Father. "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.' "
On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was given to the Apostles: on that day, the Church was born, the Church came into the world, the Body of Christ began to grow and develop into the fullness that must belong to it at the end of time. Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and other disciples, also received the Gift of the Holy Spirit, but they did so differently than the Apostles. Indeed, the latter, the Apostles, accepted this Gift not only for themselves, but also in order to give it to others - to all who would believe in Jesus the Son of God - not without discernment, but rather in proportion to their faith and to the mission they would receive from these same Apostles and their successors throughout the ages. Thus it is that what took place almost two thousand years ago continues in the Church, through the successors of the Apostles, until the glorious return of the Son of God!
During this Sunday Eucharist, let us ask Mary, who was there, present at the coming of the Spirit, to open our heart so much that it will be able to receive all the gifts of the Spirit that the Father would like to grant us through his Son Jesus on this great day of Pentecost 2006!