Peace be with you on this, our celebration of one of the greatest Feast Days of the Church, Pentecost Sunday. In fact, there are some theologians who believe Pentecost is THE greatest feast day because it actually can be considered the Birthday of the Church.
OK, so let me ask you a question. Have you ever tried to prove the existence of God to an atheist or an agnostic? Certainly one thing you don’t want to try to do is use the Bible. Remember, the Bible is a book of faith, given to us by God for our salvation but without faith unfortunately, it is just another big book on the shelf and of little or no use in discussions with an atheist. And personally I’m not qualified to go toe-to-toe with a well-educated atheist or agnostic in the area of science to argue the existence of God either. I believe in my own heart the universe is far too perfect to be a 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 more 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 in existence during 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, you think perhaps they may have encountered God out there in the desert?
And today as Catholic Christians, we celebrate Pentecost where the Holy Spirit infused the followers of Jesus Christ with something both mysterious and remarkable. We know, that not only were Jesus’ Apostles generally simple, unsophisticated, working class guys, with little 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’ 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’ 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’s death and none of them ever obtained worldly wealth or power. Does anyone seriously think crucifixion, being eaten by wild animals, or burning at the steak are great motivations for inventing and than perpetuating a lie? Really?
The big question revolves around Jesus himself, however. If you take away his Resurrection and measure his success 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 these earthly facts, exactly how did that happen? Now certainly, as people of faith we’re perfectly comfortable talking about miracles and we know the miracle of Christian fire 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 Jesus, the Father, and they Holy Spirit 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 two; our God is one God existing in a Trinity of 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. Pentecost is the marrying of heaven and earth allowing the ascended and Divine Jesus, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to touch anyone, anywhere in the whole world who believes and turns to him in faith.
As Catholic Christians, this touch of Jesus Christ initiated at Pentecost is certainly no more personal and intimate than in reception of Him in Eucharist but here sadly, lack of faith sometimes slips in. 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.”
Pentecost was, is, and always will be a marriage between heaven and earth but with any strong Christian marriage comes faith and love. God gave us free wills. That is what makes us all uniquely human. Without our free wills we cannot choose to love. In a few minutes heaven will touch earth here on this altar. As you receive Communion today choose to accept and return His love.