When I was growing up before the Second Vatican Council, the Sundays after Pentecost were known as the Third or Fourth or Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost. That gave the feast of Pentecost an importance that I fear has been lost as we return now to Ordinary Time, which really means Ordered or Numbered Time. The time after Pentecost, both the first one centuries ago and our celebration last Sunday, is the time in which the Church carries on the mission of preaching the Gospel and reconciling. This two-fold mission was made clear in the readings for Pentecost.
On the first Sunday after Pentecost we celebrate a feast in honor of the Most Holy Trinity. God the Father, the Creator, reveals the divine nature of love by creating. In doing so we see that God is "for us." The Second Person of the Trinity is "Emmanuel, which means 'God is with us'" (Matthew 1: 23). The Third Person of the Blessed Trinity, the Holy Spirit, is the breath that shows us God is "within us." We are temples of the Holy Spirit. God is as close to us, and as essential, as our breath.
Fire gives light and warmth. It also purifies and unites. Precious metals like gold are placed in a furnace to melt and be purified of dross or impurities. The Holy Spirit comes to give the light of truth, to warm and heal hearts, and to purify us so that we may be one.
Sin divides and separates. Early in history (see Genesis 11: 1-9), human beings rejected God's call to fill the earth. In fear, they clung together and tried to attain the glory and power of God on their own. To fulfill the plan for human beings to fill the earth, God confused their language and scattered them. But this scattering and confusion of language led to sinful divisions. Diversity became the source of conflict rather than richness in unity. The coming of the Spirit at Pentecost began the process of reconciliation and unity. The tongues or languages remained diverse but there was an amazing and miraculous understanding.
Before the Spirit came at Pentecost, the Son of God had to suffer, die, rise, and ascend. Jesus prepared the Church to carry on his work when he met the apostles in the upper room, gave them his peace, sent them as the Father had sent him, and empowered them to carry on his work of reconciliation by breathing on them (John 20: 19-23). He said: "Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained." Forgiveness requires two parties--one who extends forgiveness and the other who receives it. God is always ready to forgive, but people may reject that forgiveness. People may not recognize that they have done anything wrong that requires forgiveness and so they do not ask for it nor receive it. These are the sins that are "retained."
In the Sacrament of Reconciliation Jesus, through the priest, sends the Holy Spirit upon those who ask for mercy. The Spirit comes to purify and heal. There is no individual sin. As St. Paul wrote in the second reading (1 Corinthians 12: 3b-7, 12-13), there is one body that consists of many parts. Each of us is a cell within the Body of Christ. The health of one cell affects the entire Body, just as one cancer cell affects a person's physical health. Human beings are made in the image and likeness of God who is a Trinity of Persons. God is not an amalgam of individuals but a communion of Persons. Made in God's image and likeness we are made for communion. Theologians have said that the Holy Spirit is the love between the Father and the Son. The Spirit is the love that brings the Body of Christ together into one.
One of the invocations in the Litany of the Sacred Heart is "Heart of Jesus, burning furnace of charity." The fire that burns in the Heart of Jesus is the Holy Spirit who purifies, heals, and unites all who come to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In that Heart and through the power of the Holy Spirit, all human beings can truly be one, one with God and one as God's family.
May the coming month of June, dedicated as it traditionally is to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and the following Post-Pentecost months until Advent, make us one in the Heart of Jesus.
[The icon in this post is from the hand of Brother Christopher, a Carmelite Hermit. His God-inspired work can be found at the website for the Carmelite Hermitage of the Blessed Virgin Mary.]