It is often imagined that the early Christian prayed is ecstasis and spontaneously "in the Spirit" and that liturgical prayer came later, when life in the Spirit had cooled off. In reality, all the evidence points to the fact that the earliest Christians were Jews like the Apostles or gentiles like St Luke who had adopted Jewish faith and practises before Christian conversion. Hence, in the Apostolic Church, Jewish festivals became Christian festivals and Jewish liturgical prayers were re-written to bear a Christian meaning. In the process, Jewish Easter became Christian Easter and Jewish Pentecost became Christian Pentecost. St Luke's account in Acts gives us the Christian meaning of Pentecost and implies the difference between the Christian and Jewish feasts. His readers already knew the significance of Jewish Pentecost
It had been originally a feast to celebrate the harvest; but, in Our Lord's time, it had come to celebrate the giving of the covenant and of the Law on Mount Sinai. However, with the coming of Christ, there was a new covenant and a new Law. St Luke wishes to give us the basic structure of the new covenant and the new law, a covenant, based on the Incarnation, brought about by Christ in the power of the Spirit.. In fact, what St Luke shows us is the basic structure of every Christian reality, of the Church at all its levels and of our own spiritual lives. If you want to know how the Pope functions or any bishop or priest or you yourselves, then take a look at Pentecost.
St Luke has already illustrated this basic structure in the story of the Annunciation. The angel Gabriel comes to Mary and tells her that she is to become mother of the Messiah. It is stressed that this is quite beyond her capacity. How could she become the Bearer of God without it being a work of God? How could she become a mother without sexual intercourse? The answer is significant:
The Holy Spirit shall come upon her and the power of the Most High shall cover her with his shadow, on account of which, her child shall be called son of God.
The Holy Spirit will come upon her and all she will need to do is to respond in obedience:
Behold the handmaid of the Lord! May it be done to me according to your word.
She is enabled to become Mother of God because she is working in harmony with the Holy Spirit, and it is the Holy Spirit who enables her to become God's mother. Moreover, by the Incarnation, Jesus is united by the same Holy Spirit to the whole human race; and Mary becomes, like Eve, mother of all the living. No part of this would Mary have been capable of alone.
This is our key for understanding Pentecost and the descent of the Holy Spirit. Whether we speak of the whole Church in its mission in the world or its prayer life, or of the local church that becomes body of Christ in the Eucharist, or the individual Christian in fulfilling his or her vocation as member of that body, what is required is the descent of the Holy Spirit and humble human cooperation in obedience. This is the New Law that takes the place of the Law of Moses. The presence of the Holy Spirit enables the Church and all its members to do things that could not possibly be done by human beings acting on their own.
Without the Holy Spirit, Scripture would not be the Word of God, God actually speaking.
Without the Holy Spirit, Christ would not be present in the sacraments.
Without the Holy Spirit, the Church could not say in its teaching, "It seems good to the Holy Spirit and to us."
Without the Holy Spirit, Tradition would be simply the traditions of men and not the product of the cooperation between the Church and the Holy Spirit.
The miracle of the Mass comes about because the Church humbly obeys Christ's command, "Do this in memory of me," the Spirit doing in the Church what it could not do by itself.
Before the "Our Father" the priest says:
"At the Saviour's command and formed by divine teaching we dare to say.."
Why "dare"? Because we are claiming what even the Roman emperors did not claim. We are laying claim to be sons and daughters of God, not in a general metaphorical sense, but sharing in the very particular divine sonship of Christ. It is the Holy Spirit, uniting us to Christ , which permits us to really share in his filial relationship to his Father.
Without the Holy Spirit our faith would be mere opinion, our hope would be a vague wish, our charity would be feelings conjured up by ourselves, simply chemistry.
The Holy Spirit brings us into contact with what we believe, albeit in a glass darkly. He gives us foretastes of what we hope for. If our love is in harmony with that of the Holy Spirit, then we will love, not only with our own weak, passing human love, but with the very love of God.
God will love wives through the love of their husbands, husbands will be loved by God through the love of their wives, and children through the love of their parents. Our love of neighbour will convey to that neighbour the love of God. In the whole Christian life, we will be other Christ's, and all our activities will have two dimensions, distinct but not separate,: our own contribution and that of the Holy Spirit who enables us.
All this depends on our lives being in harmony with the Spirit. The technical word is "synergy", "working together in harmony"; and the Moral Law that replaces that of Moses is our striving to give up our own self-will in order to work in harmony with the Spirit. The most basic law is obedience to the Holy Spirit from moment to moment. As with Mary, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord.."; as with Jesus, "Not my will but yours be done", the more our will is subservient to the Spirit, the holier we are, and the more God can use us for his purposes.
At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came first on the Church, on the Christian community, and then on individuals. The more we are in harmony with the Church, the better we will be able to discern what God wants us to do from moment to moment. The fight to bring our wills into harmony with the Spirit and thus to take full advantage of being a Pentecost people, will last all our lives and beyond, as our obedience and humility grow ever deeper; and the more humbly obedient we are, the more we will love as Christ did who was obedient unto death.
Even though prayer, penance and good works are an integral part of any Christian life, even more basic is obedience because all activities are only authentically Christian when they are the fruit of this obedience to the Spirit.
Every circumstance in our lives, from moment to moment, gives us new opportunities to grow in harmony with the Spirit, new opportunities of humility and obedience, new chances to love with the love of Christ.
We haven't touched on miracles in this sermon, which is unusual when talking of Pentecost. Nevertheless, real as they often are, the real wonder of Pentecost is not miracles: it is the very fact that we can live in harmony with the Holy Spirit, so that our lives have a divine as well as a human aspect. That we are a Pentecost people and body of Christ: this is the wonder of Pentecost.
Christ's Easter Mystery of death and resurrection has worked!! Through Christ's Spirit, God and nature can work in fundamental harmony and does so in the Church and in each one of us in so far as we appropriate to ourselves the reality of Pentecost. When the feast of Pentecost is over, let us continue to make Pentecost a reality in our lives.
The ultimate video I offer to the "Comunidad Jesus vive", a charismatic seminary in Lima where I was 'Padre Formador' in 2006. It is Pentecost as celebrated by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. I think they will agree they have something in common. Happy Pentecost to you all!!
PENTECOST 2012 IN ROME