Pentecost Sunday, May 28, 2023 (Season A)
Peace be with you on this, our celebration of one of the greatest Feast Days of the Christian Church, Pentecost Sunday. In fact, most scholars refer to this day literally as the Birthday of the Church. So, Happy Birthday Christians!
OK, let me start with a question that relates to Pentecost, although you may initially wonder how? Here’s the question, have you ever tried to talk to an atheist or agnostic about God? First, a warning. Don’t to try to use the Bible. Always remember, the Bible is a book of faith, given to us by God for our salvation but without faith, unfortunately, that atheist will simply say, “it’s all just fiction, legend, and myth.” In fact, if that atheist has read the Bible, he might throw Biblical inconsistencies back in your face that you might have difficultly explaining. And then there’s the scientific discussion. Personally, I’m not qualified to go toe-to-toe with a well-educated atheist on scientific ground proving the existence of God. I believe in my own heart the universe is far too perfect and complex to be some big cosmic accident, but I don’t have the education to argue the point with an atheistic scientist. There are a couple of events in human history however, that are pretty hard to explain without believing in the divine and they are both tied directly to Pentecost.
For the Jews, Pentecost was both the festival of First Fruits and perhaps more spiritually importantly, it also represented Moses receiving the Law from God on Mt. Sinai 50 days after Passover and their escape from Egypt. So here is question number one for that nonbeliever. Given the belief systems and cultures existing in the 13th Century BC, explain to me how this dusty worn-out tribe of runaway-slaves stumbled out of the Sinai Desert with a set of moral and ethical principles most civilized cultures still use today? Gosh, perhaps they may have encountered God out there in the desert?
And today as Catholic Christians, we celebrate Pentecost as the Holy Spirit infused the followers of Jesus Christ with something both mysterious and remarkable. We know, not only were Jesus’s Apostles generally simple, unsophisticated, working class guys, with little formal education, but they were also a bunch of cowards who abandoned and denied Jesus during his Passion. Now suddenly, they’re standing on a balcony in Jerusalem bravely proclaiming Jesus’s Resurrection in every major foreign language used in that part of the world. Of course, the atheist’s argument is, it was all a big lie or hoax perpetrated by Jesus’s followers.
So now we have question number two. Why would those Apostles stand up there and bravely lie? There was absolutely nothing to gain. History tells us, all but one Apostle died a martyr and none of them ever obtained worldly wealth or power. Does anyone seriously think crucifixion, being torn apart by wild animals, or burning at the steak are great motivations for inventing and then perpetuating a lie? Really? Well, that’s exactly what would happen to any devoted Christian who bravely proclaimed his or her faith for about the next 250 years.
The biggest question revolves around Jesus himself, however. If you believe his Resurrection is simply myth and measure his earthly success strictly by the world’s secular standards, Jesus Christ died an absolute failure. He was executed a criminal, in a backwater Roman province, and abandoned by his own followers. He had no social, political, military, or even religious status,,, beyond that of an itinerate preacher. He never even wrote anything down other than a lost message in the dust. So here is the biggest question; there are about 2.2 billion Christians in the world today, given all these secular worldly facts, exactly how did that happen? Now certainly, as people of faith we’re perfectly comfortable talking about miracles and we know about the miracle the Resurrection and of the Christian fire that really started burning at that first Pentecost but – is it still burning as brightly today? The answer my friends is an undeniable, yes!
Let’s look back at last week’s Feast of Jesus’ Ascension for just a minute because those readings sometimes create a trap many of us Christians occasionally fall into. Too often we view heaven and earth the same way Plato, the Greeks, and the Gnostics did. We sometimes think of God the Son in some spiritual place or existence completely separated from our own physical world. Not only is this viewpoint non-Biblical but also, it is exactly what Pentecost proved completely wrong 2000 years ago and still proves wrong today, tomorrow, and forever. Biblically, from Genesis through Revelation, the spiritual and the material are completely intertwined.
We should always remind ourselves of two very distinct and basic Christian facts. First, the historical Jesus had two distinct natures, one human and one divine and second; our God is one God existing as Trinity; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The historical human Jesus had a three-year public ministry while he directly influenced maybe a few thousand people, within 60 miles or so of Jerusalem, and ascended into heaven somewhere around 30 AD. Then 10 days later, Pentecost literally married heaven and earth allowing our ascended and Divine Savior, in union with the Holy Spirit, to touch anyone, anywhere in the whole world who believes and turns to Him in faith.
As Catholic Christians, the touch of God inflamed by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is certainly no more personal and intimate than in reception of Jesus Christ in Eucharist but here sadly, lack of faith sometimes slips in again. Polls tell us many people right here today do not believe in the real presence. Friends, please listen to what Jesus told Saint Faustina in one of her many mystical encounters with him; “It delights me to come to hearts in Holy Communion. But if there is anyone else in such a heart, I cannot bear it and quickly leave that heart, taking with Me all the gifts and graces I have prepared for the soul. And the soul does not even notice My going.” Ouch! “The soul does not even notice My going.”
My sisters and brothers, Pentecost was, is, and always will be a marriage between the physical and the spiritual but with any strong Christian marriage, strong faith and strong love must be present. God gave us all free wills. That’s what makes us all uniquely human. Without our free wills we cannot choose to love. In a few minutes’ heaven will touch earth right here on this altar. As you receive Communion today choose to accept, embrace, and return His love because of your faith.
Paul T. Keil, 5-28-2023