This morning’s Gospel reading is John 14:15–16, 23b–26:
Jesus said to his disciples:
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always.
“Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him. Those who do not love me do not keep my words; yet the word you hear is not mine but that of the Father who sent me.
“I have told you this while I am with you. The Advocate, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.”
Today we celebrate Pentecost Sunday, marking the day when the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles and allowed them to preach to the whole world. Today’s Gospel reminds us of that promise from Jesus before His Passion. In His final hours amongst the disciples, Jesus promised that they would not be alone in their new mission to make converts of the world.
In our first reading from Acts, Luke describes how the Advocate descended on each of the remaining disciples at Pentecost, which was the Festival of Weeks in the Hebrew tradition, called Shavuot. The immediate impact of the arrival of the Holy Spirit was witnessed by everyone:
Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem. At this sound, they gathered in a large crowd, but they were confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language. They were astounded, and in amazement they asked, “Are not all these people who are speaking Galileans? Then how does each of us hear them in his native language? We are Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene, as well as travelers from Rome, both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs, yet we hear them speaking in our own tongues of the mighty acts of God.”
In its own way, the gift of Pentecost makes that Great Commission clear. There would have been no point in that gift had Christ not intended for His church to spread to all corners of the globe. Bear in mind, too, that this gift was not for the personal benefit of the Apostles. Its benefit applied to those who heard the Word of God through the testimony of the Apostles.
In the context of the first days of the church, this profound gift of languages would have been crucial to the Great Commission, as noted at the end of Matthew: “Go out and make disciples of all nations.” The apostles did not start out as scholars for whom this mission might still have been difficult. None of them were rabbinical students, to our knowledge; among them were fishermen, a tax collector, and other laborers. Most of them would have spoken only Aramaic and Hebrew, the latter perhaps only as a temple language, and that’s it.
Yet all of these seemingly inconsequential men had a different calling, one known only to the Lord until Christ’s arrival. Jesus picked them out specifically for a higher mission in service to God, and for three years taught them and prepared them for that mission. During that time, and again after the Passion, the Apostles had already committed themselves to Christ long before Pentecost. The Holy Spirit came not to bring that commitment, but to help the Apostles find their authentic voices — literally, in this case.
That is what the Holy Spirit does for us to this day. It’s very easy for us to get caught up in our worldly identities and material cares and lose sense of who we really are. We may be butchers and bakers and candlestick makers in our daily lives, but that’s what we do to provide, not who we are in the Lord’s eyes. That is not our essence — and if it is not our essence, it cannot be our authentic identity. And if it’s not our identity, it cannot be our priority.
So what is our identity? Jesus made that plain in the Gospels: we are God’s children, lost but not abandoned in sin. We are not just material creatures in a material world, but also spiritual beings with the image of God. That is our essence, our authentic identity, and it should be the priority we serve first and foremost.
This is the truth to which the Holy Spirit awakens us. When we welcome the Advocate into our hearts, we take a step to find our own authentic voices, and to use our unique gifts to serve the Lord in our own ways. Having discovered our authentic voices and those gifts, we go out into the world to proclaim the Gospel in our own ways and in those authentic voices, whether aloud or not, but always with joy in who we truly are.
Addendum: Unfortunately this year, our parish has discontinued our tradition of celebrating of Acts 2:1-11 by proclaiming our second reading in a foreign language. At least I finally got to read 1 Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13 in Irish last year!
Also, a happy and blessed Shavuot to all our Jewish friends today!
The front page image is “Pentecost”, c. 1732, by Jean Il Restout. Currently on display at the Louvre Museum. Via Wikimedia Commons.
“Sunday Reflection” is a regular feature, looking at the specific readings used in today’s Mass in Catholic parishes around the world. The reflection represents only my own point of view, intended to help prepare myself for the Lord’s day and perhaps spark a meaningful discussion. Previous Sunday Reflections from the main page can be found here. For previous Green Room entries, click here.