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THE BIRTH OF THE CHURCH
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, ThD
Homily of Sunday, Pentecost, May 27, 2012
Acts 2:1-11, Ps. 103, 1 Cor. 12:3-7, 12-13, John 20:19-23


"And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance" (Acts 2:3-4).


Today is Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came down upon the disciples in the form of tongues of fire, and they began to preach the gospel with great power in all the languages of the world. This is the day when the Church was born. Jesus Christ died for our salvation and triumphed over our death in his resurrection. He paid the price for our sins by his death, and rising, vanquished our death in its penal and eternal aspects. He has now ascended, returning to his Father, and, as St. Peter explained on Pentecost, "Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this which you see and hear" (Acts 2:33).


The gift of the Holy Spirit also gave the apostles the power to forgive sins, as we see in today's gospel. Thus does Christ equip his apostles to continue his own mission of salvation in the world. He said to them, "‘As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.' And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained'" (John 20:21-23). With the power to preach and forgive sins the Church could begin her mission to the world, a mission of salvation to unite all to God.


The Holy Spirit also enables us to experience God's presence. Jesus said, "‘He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, "Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water."' Now this he said about the Spirit which those who believed in him were to receive" (John 7:38-39). Having been saved by the death of Christ and raised with him in the splendor of his resurrection, and believing in him and obeying him in everything, rivers of living water flow from our heart, rejoicing our spirit in God. Thus the Holy Spirit enables us to experience God within us-his love, his light, his peace, his joy. St. Paul says, "God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us" (Rom. 5:5). The joy (John 16:22) and peace (John 14:27) of God, which are his gifts to those who believe in him, are like a spring of living water within our heart, ever bubbling up, refreshing and rejoicing us in the Lord (John 4:14).


To the one who follows him and drinks this living water Jesus says, "The water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life" (John 4:14). Christ gives us this living water to drink, which is the Holy Spirit. Christ wants to share with us his love and his life, his peace and his light, so that we might experience him in the joy of our heart. He wants us to walk in his light (John 8:12) and have his peace in our heart (John 14:27). The gift of the Holy Spirit gives us all this.


The Holy Spirit also guides our life and guides the Church in the world. The Holy Spirit called Saul (Paul) and Barnabas and sent them out as missionaries. "While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them' ... So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia" (Acts 13:2, 4). The Holy Spirit continues to guide the Church. For example, Paul, Silas, and Timothy "went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come opposite Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them" (Acts 16:6-7).


The Holy Spirit continues working in the Church today and in our hearts, enabling us to preach with power the salvation of God in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We preach this for the life of the world and celebrate it in the Eucharist in order to unite all to God, reconciling them with him, forgiving their sins, and giving them new life, divine life.


We also see the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of Jesus. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary. "And the angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God'" (Luke 1:35). John the Baptist prophesied the coming of the Holy Spirit in tongues of fire on the day of Pentecost when he said, "I baptize you with water; but he who is mightier than I is coming ... he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire" (Luke 3:16). At his baptism in the Jordan "the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form, as a dove" (Luke 3:21-22). At the beginning of his ministry "Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee" (Luke 4:14) and preached in the synagogue in Nazareth, saying, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor" (Luke 4:18). After his resurrection Jesus also promised his disciples that they would be baptized in the Holy Spirit: "John baptized with water, but before many days you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit" (Acts 1:5). Finally, Jesus told his disciples that the Holy Spirit would enable them to be his witnesses unto the ends of the earth: "You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:8).

 

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