Readings: Acts 2:1-11; Ps 103; 1 Cor 12; Sequence;

John 20:19-23

We live in a world of instant communication, yet how little of this can result in true understanding between peoples. There has been instead what has been called an “Infodemic” of misinformation and disinformation. As Pope Francis tells us in his message for World Communication Day (which was last Sunday): “Information cannot be separated from living relationships. These involve the body and immersion in the real world; they involve correlating not only data but also human experiences; they require sensitivity to faces and facial expressions, compassion and sharing.”

The question of communication is uppermost in the Liturgy Readings for Pentecost, as they spell out the various ways in which the Spirit of God communicates with us. First of all, this communication comes through natural phenomena, such as the wind and fire of the first reading and the breath in the Gospel. We have been accustomed to think of the Spirit in ethereal, out of this world, terms, but the Bible uses very earthy images to speak of the Spirit’s presence: to wind and fire we could add water (see Jn 7:37-39) and birds (see Mark 1:10).

In the Responsorial Psalm it is the breath of the Spirit which gives life to all that is, as the Spirit empowers creation from within: “The Spirit is the personal presence of God and the faithful companion with every creature, accompanying each with love, delighting in each, suffering with each in its suffering and promising each its future in God” (Denis Edwards, Breath of Life, Orbis Books, 2004, 112). The Sequence of the Mass goes on to show how the Spirit speaks to us through the familiar things all around us, for example, as coolness in the heat, as dew, light, treasure, guest….

Having experienced the presence of the Spirit all those present in the Upper Room (the Greek word is pantes, meaning all the disciples, both women and men, rather than the “apostles” of the English translation), go out with the fire of the Spirit in their hearts and the wind of the Spirit at their back to communicate the great story of the Life, Death and Resurrection of Jesus to the world around them. Acts will go on to show them entering into conversations with peoples North, South, East and West in the world of the time, a fact reflected in the peoples mentioned in the Pentecost story.

The Gospel, which has been called the Johannine Pentecost, has Jesus sending the disciples to communicate his person and mission: “as the Father sent me so am I sending you.” His breathing on them recalls the breath of life (the ruach) given to the first human in Genesis 2:7. The same spirit who was at work at the beginning of creation now hovers over this small group of disciples to bring about a new creation through their preaching. That communication will force people to make decisions for or against Jesus. In John’s gospel the only sin is not believing in Jesus, so what is in question here, in the forgiveness or retaining of sins, is the response, or the lack of it, to the person of Jesus.

Paul will go on to say to the Corinthians in the second reading: “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord’ unless he is under the influence of the Holy Spirit.” He uses the image of a human body to symbolise the unity which the Spirit is calling the divided Corinthian community to achieve. The variety of the gifts which they have been given should be used for the building up of the whole community and not just for themselves. As Pope Francis prays (in a Homily for Pentecost Sunday, 2020):

“Come, Holy Spirit: you are harmony; make us builders of unity. You always give yourself; grant us courage to go out of ourselves, to love and help each other, in order to become one family. Amen”

Céline Mangan, O.P.