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This Sunday, Pentecost Is So Powerful, It Transforms Our Past, Present … and Future

This Sunday is Pentecost Sunday, one of the most consequential feasts on the calendar each year, and more than ever I see why: This is the day the Father reaches down and remakes us, in much the way Genesis describes his creation of Adam and Eve in the beginning.

The Gospel on Pentecost Sunday shows a Father eager to remake his world.

The Gospel begins: “On the evening of that first day of the week …” This is John’s way emphasizing that what he is describing is a new “week” of creation.

In the old “week” of creation, humanity was the culminating event in God’s grand plan of creating the simplest life forms, with each leading to higher forms, ending with mankind. “Then the LORD God formed the man out of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being,” says Genesis, explaining in a sentence how man developed from what had come before him, but was transformed into something new by God the Father imparting the Spirit of life.

Today we live in God’s new “day” of creation. But this time, instead of starting with plant and animal life, he starts with the Apostles, with the Church. Says the Gospel: “He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’”

God gave us his plan for the human vocation in each. In Genesis, it was “God blessed them and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it.’” In this new beginning, he says: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you,” and tells them to subdue the earth in a new way: “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”

Since God is outside of time and space, you can look at the Genesis and Gospel accounts two ways.

You can either say that Jesus is thinking back to Genesis when he does what he does in this Sunday’s Gospel, or you can say that the conferring of the Holy Spirit is so powerful, it echoed through history, shaping even the Genesis story.

Genesis is the account of a Father who loves his people so much he made them in his image, molding them out of dust as if with the hands of Christ, and breathed into them the Spirit — the Lord, the Giver of Life.

The Gospel is the account of a Father who loved his people so much he sent his only Son to redeem them, to reach out with his wounded hands, and to breathe into them the Spirit — the Giver of Mercy and Grace.

The story of Adam and Eve is recapitulated in each of our lives. We each remember our innocence and the sins that spoiled it. We are haunted by the sins committed against us and the sins we committed on our own and how sins have shaped us. Our wounds wound us. Our shame shames us. The horror of our sin so overwhelms our senses that sometimes it’s hard to see past it.

Pentecost is the story of how the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit give us the one thing we want the most but know we can’t give ourselves: The grace to become innocent again.

The gentle breath of Jesus heals, then spreads, then grows into a driving wind.

In contrast to the Gospel, in the First Reading we hear about the Church’s first Pentecost celebration, which came when “they were all in one place together,” gathered around Mary. If the power of the gentle breath of Jesus was not clear to the Apostles in the Upper Room, the power of the Holy Spirit reveals itself forcefully now:

“And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues of fire which parted and came to rest on each one of them, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.”

Again, we can see this event reaching backwards and forwards through history. In the beginning, when the world was a formless void, he Spirit of God came like a wind, and this wind renewed the earth in the time of Noah. One wind opened a path to freedom for Moses through the sea. Another sustained the Chosen People in the desert with quail.

The fire of Pentecost was there in the flaming torch that sealed the covenant with Abraham. We saw it again in the burning bush in which God met Moses, and then again in the pillar of fire leading the Chosen People out of the darkness of Egypt. When God communed with his people on Mount Sinai, “the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire.”

Wind and fire: These natural signs are meant to impress on us the power and majesty of God.

St. Paul describes how this great power looks when it shows up in our lives.

First, there is the line from St. Paul that is among those Christian beliefs that upended all of history and set the world on a new moral trajectory:

“In one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.”

Just as Pentecost allowed people of many languages to hear one language in the Spirit, the Holy Spirit now makes every other human being on earth a potential member of the Body of Christ. That God accepts and empowers us, regardless of race, is the reason that morality changed worldwide to welcome those with differences instead of fearing them.

The Spirit brings unity. It also brings a whole new constellation of virtues. St. Paul says:

“[T]he fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”

These virtues changed the world, making forgiveness and loving service, instead of power and domination, the central organizing principle of public morality.

Right now is the time to help our loving Father’s moral vision remake the world.

In his homily for the Baccalaureate Mass at Benedictine College this year, Archbishop Naumann described how:

“Jesus gave … an impossible mission – to make disciples of all nations. How could this tiny band of disciples who had no earthly power or authority, no buildings, no books, no political influence, no money, no programs, no PowerPoint presentations, transform the world? Yet, in their lifetime, they spread the Gospel to the east as far as India and to the west as far as Spain.”

They did it through the power of the Holy Spirit, he said, and added:

“My dear graduates, you have been educated and formed here at Benedictine College to be part of a New Pentecost. You have been equipped to bring the truth, beauty and hope of the Christian Gospel to an era that desperately needs it.”

Like the first Christians, we should not be afraid of “the curse of living in interesting times.” God is remaking the world. Our suffering here is only temporary. God, who is love, is the ultimate power and will have the ultimate victory.

We just need to receive his Spirit of love and live in our new vocation as vigorously as we can.

Image: Wikimedia commons.


Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes, author of The Rosary of Saint John Paul II and The Fatima Family Handbook, is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Kansas and hosts The Extraordinary Story podcast about the life of Christ. His book What Pope Francis Really Said is now available on Audible. A former reporter in the Washington, D.C., area, Hoopes served as press secretary of the U.S. House Ways & Means Committee Chairman and spent 10 years as executive editor of the National Catholic Register newspaper and Faith & Family magazine. His work frequently appears in Catholic publications such as Aleteia.org and the Register. He and his wife, April, have nine children and live in Atchison, Kansas.