There are times when we have questions about what we should do. Times when we feel sick because of the sin in the world or the sins we have committed. Times when we are depressed and anxious about our present situations. This was the situation of the Apostles after the death of Jesus. The figures, the people, in the Bible are us. We re-live these moments every day of our lives. Today we celebrate Pentecost. For Christians it is the celebration of the gift of the Holy Spirit, but for the Jews it was the celebration of the Harvest. These two are connected for we find our beloved apostles receiving the Holy Spirit as well as the vocation to proclaim the Word of God. By cooperating with the Holy Spirit, they reap a great Harvest for our Lord.
So what did the Apostles find that changed them forever? On the day of Christ’s resurrection, at the completion of Passover, Jesus came to them, breathed on them, said “Receive the Holy Spirit” and gave them a mission for the good of others, but not only for the good of others, for the good of themselves too. They were to be concerned about the forgiveness of sins, and when they sinned, they could go to one another and receive that forgiveness. This is fundamentally what a happy and fulfilling Christian life looks like. To be about the mission of God. To be living out the vocations we have received from Jesus. Whenever we are perplexed, we need to ask God what we are to be about. What are we to be doing. The answer is both the same and different for each one of us. The Holy Spirit organizes us into a whole, all with the same mission of holiness, but all with different aspects of ministry. Only by living according to the vocation God has given us are we fulfilled and happy.
God the Father is the source of all happiness, and he has his own vocation. From all eternity he has been on a mission within himself. He pours himself out, giving his whole being to his Son. The Son is a full expression of the Father, that is, he is the “Word of God.” But words are communicated with “breath.” [breathe into the microphone] We cannot speak a word without the breath welling up from our depths to communicate that Word. Let’s see… [try to communicate without breath… “I love you my son”] The Words can only be said with the Breath. Yes, the Father is always speaking, what issues forth from his mouth is the Son and the Spirit, the Word and his breath. This is what “Spirit” means in the ancient languages, “wind or breath”. The Son is the Word of the Father, and the Spirit is the Breath which is poured forth with the Son. The Word and Spirit are inseparable even though they are different persons in God, and manifest themselves differently for our salvation. Where the Word is, so too is the “breath”. And where the breath is, so too is the Father speaking to us.
We find this inseparable connection between Word, Spirit, and mission throughout all of scripture. In the creation accounts of the book of Genesis, we find the Spirit of God moving over the waters, and God speaking his words, “Let there be…” He then sent Adam and Eve on a mission… to be fruitful and multiply. Later, we find Moses being spoken to from the burning bush of fire. The fire needs air / breath to breath, the Holy Spirit. And Moses is sent on a mission to free God’s people from Egypt. When the Word was made flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary, the Holy Spirit overshadowed her, a symbol of a cloud which exists in the air. And she was given the mission to bear our Savior Jesus Christ into the World, freeing us from sin and death. Word, Spirit, and Vocation are always connected, and coming forth from the Father’s mouth.
In the Gospel we find the same thing, the risen Lord Jesus, giving those the disciples the breath of God. The Gospel says, “he breathed on them and said, Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them.” Here he gave them his own power, the mission to forgive sins. Fifty days later, on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit rested upon them … as tongues of fire. Is it any wonder that they were “tongues” of fire. They were tongues because they were being given the mission to proclaim the Word of God. They were fire, the breath of God, because it was through his Spirit that they would be able to do it. The disciples were forever changed, the Holy Spirit led them, and they were fulfilled in their vocations. God the Father is always sending forth the Word and the Spirit. Like the disciples, it is our vocation to allow the Father to pour forth the Word and the Spirit into the World.
When we are lost, depressed, and confused, let us look to the Word of God for answers and help. Let us pray to the Holy Spirit to guide us in our vocations. The Father has given us vocations to marriage and family life, but also to priesthood, and religious life. By living out our vocations, by allowing the Father’s Word and Spirit to flow through us into the World we are truly alive and fulfilled in the Father’s love.
*This homily is written for the Year A daytime readings which can be used for any year and also at the vigil.