First Reading: Acts 2:1-11; Psalm: 104. R. v. 30; Second Reading: 1Cor 12:3-7.12-13; Gospel: Jn 20:19-23
THE BREATH OF GOD
BY FR VALENTINE NNAMDI EGBUONU, MSP
It is already fifty days since we celebrated the Lord’s rising from the dead at Easter. This is where the feast we celebrate today takes its name. “Pentecost” is derived from the Greek word “pentecostes” meaning “fiftieth”. It is a day we commemorate the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Blessed Virgin Mary and the apostles. With this celebration comes the end of the Easter season.
As Jesus appeared to his apostles behind closed doors in the gospel of today, he said to them, ‘“Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven, if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”’ We need to be mindful that Jesus did not stop at mandating his apostles to go out and carry out what he commanded them to do. He also made a very overt gesture which must not be overlooked. Jesus breathed on them; and then said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” This simple gesture of breath of air is the reason the Church is alive today.
Let us go back to the creation of man to understand the significance of this breath of God. When God made man out of the dust of the earth, that composition of clay was lifeless, motionless, perishable and numb until God breathed on it. And when the breath of God came upon this composition of clay, it gave life to it and it became man (Gn 2:7). By his breath, God divinised man with the gift of a soul. Consequently, man was “constituted in an original state of holiness and justice.” This grace of original holiness was “to share in . . . divine life.”’ (CCC 375).
Man shared in the divine life of God because of the breath of God in him. As a result, prior to the fall, man became immortal, incorruptible and holy because man was imbued with the life of God. The Holy Spirit is this life of God. The Holy Spirit is that breath of God that gave eternal life to the soul of man at creation. But man lost every divine privilege he had with God at the fall. So when Jesus breathed on his apostle once again after his resurrection, he was empowering them with the Holy Spirit who will cleanse the soul of man from sin to restore that holiness of life that was lost at the fall. Jesus is the giver of eternal life; the Holy Spirit is that life.
Recall that prior to the appearing of Jesus the apostles were scared and secluded behind closed doors. There was something they needed to do but couldn’t do. The desire was there but there was no courage. Though they hoped to carry on the teachings of Jesus but they lacked the wisdom and understanding to explain them. They were stagnant and confused. This state of the inactivity of the apostles could be likened to the motionless man fashioned from clay at the beginning of creation. But upon the breath of Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the apostles were injected with new life. And truly, it was at this point that the Church came to life; for the apostles marched out into the world to nurture the seed of faith that Christ planted. The Holy Spirit is the life of the Church.
Just as the Spirit hovered over the waters at creation to give life to the Word spoken by God (Gn 1:2); the Holy Spirit continues to hover over the Church to give her life. When we gather at every liturgical celebration, it is the Holy Spirit that prepares our hearts to receive God’s word. That we are able to listen, understand, get inspired and moved to faith and repentance at the liturgy is solely the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit brings Christ’s message of salvation in a very special and striking way to us; and further strengthens us to live out this message by word and deed.
When we gather together to worship at Mass, our oneness or togetherness irrespective of the conflicts of culture, colour, and tongue is not something that happens due to our tolerance or acceptance. But it is the Holy Spirit that brings and holds us together as one body of Christ. And when the Mass is celebrated, it is the Holy Spirit that consecrates the sacred species into the body and blood of Christ, re-enacting this past event and making it ever present. The Holy Spirit is the life of the Church, for the Church is the body of Christ. So the breathing of Christ upon the apostles is the coming to life of the Church of Christ.
So as we celebrate the feast of the Pentecost today, let us not celebrate it as though the Holy Spirit comes down upon the Church once in a year. Because that the Church is ever alive is the work of the Holy Spirit. That we can repent from our sins and receive forgiveness for them is the work of the Holy Spirit. And that we can choose to be holy and do the will of God is also by the help of the Holy Spirit. So if Christ lives, then the Holy Spirit lives. And if the Church is the body of Christ, then the Church is eternally alive in the Holy Spirit.
PRAYER FOR THE DAY
O Holy Spirit, come down upon the Church and renew the face of the earth. Amen.