If you attend the Pentecost Vigil, you'll notice something peculiar about the readings. This is…
Opening the Word: The challenge of Pentecost
St. Oscar Romero said, “It will always be Pentecost in the Church.” Plainly a biblical truth, it’s not hyperbole at all. That’s the reality of the Church: It’s Pentecostal.
And that’s because the Holy Spirit knows no ascension. If you want to get your head around the feast of Pentecost, read prayerfully again those chapters from the latter half of John’s Gospel — say, Chapters 13-17. There, you’ll discover clearly what Pentecost is all about. The promised gift of the Father and the Son, the Holy Spirit, Jesus said, remains with us, not leaving us orphans, convicting us and leading us into all truth because the Spirit is the Spirit of Truth, the Truth who is Jesus Christ (cf Jn 14:16-18). This very simply is the essence of feast, the theological why of Pentecost.
|June 5 – Pentecost Sunday|
And continuing the epic story of the liturgical year — following Christ’s birth at Christmas, his manifestation at Epiphany, his preaching, his suffering, death and resurrection in Lent and Easter — Pentecost tells us that the Risen Christ we’ve been following all along is not absent, not far away at all. Rather, because the Spirit’s been given, God in Christ is with us always, even to the end of the age. Christians do not worship a distant God, never have. God abides among us and within us; we become partakers in the divine nature (cf. 2 Pt 1:4). And that’s because of what we celebrate at Pentecost: the Holy Spirit given to us in rush of wind and fire (cf. Acts 2:1-11).
Now, what this means is that, to be a Christian, one must realize that we think and act in the presence of God — at all times. Believers are not wistful about any bygone era of a time when Jesus was around. He is present now! By the Spirit, by faith, by word and sacrament: Jesus is truly present to us. Our sacraments are no mere memorials; rather, they’re touchpoints, moments of contact and communion. Because of the Spirit, Christ is always contemporary. Again, in the Church, it will always be Pentecost. That’s the wondrous reality of our Catholic faith. That’s also the challenge.
It’s a challenge because Pentecost implies we have much less excuse for wriggling out Jesus’ teachings, his commands. Loving our enemies, forgiving inexhaustibly, taking up our cross, loving the poor and the outcast, striving for holiness and even purity: These demands of the Faith are harder to interpret away when we realize the Spirit makes the Christ who taught these things contemporary with us, that Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever (cf. Heb 13:8).
Which is, I think, how we should let Pentecost challenge us. How do we act as if Christ is truly present? How do we not act as if he’s present? How are we faithful to Christ’s teachings? Where are we not faithful to his teachings? And do we ever rationalize our lack of faithfulness by interpreting Christ at a distance, ever so subtly telling ourselves that what Christ said was then but this is now? That’s the challenge of Pentecost: Do we allow Christ to be our contemporary? Is he truly Our Lord now and in all our present moments? That’s the deeper point Paul was making, what it really means to call Jesus Lord by the gift of the Holy Spirit (cf. 1 Cor 12:3). When it’s not just words but lived truth. Because we know Christ’s Holy Spirit is here.
Father Joshua J. Whitfield is pastor of St. Rita Catholic Community in Dallas and author of “The Crisis of Bad Preaching” (Ave Maria Press, $17.95) and other books.