Maryknoll Father John McAuley reflects on the special and unique gifts that God gives to each of us and that the Church and society need to be complete.
This weekend we celebrate Pentecost. Jesus sends the Holy Spirit from the Father upon us, and the Church is born. All three scripture readings bear witness to this..…and to more. Pentecost is not just a birthday celebration for the Church, nor just a shakeup of the world order. Pentecost also critically engages elements of our being which either empower us for the life willed us by God, or lead us instead to personal indictment. We now look at that part of Pentecost which receives too little attention in our celebration of its more dramatic events.
The First Reading speaks of a great outpouring of Spirit upon the Apostles, and then upon a great crowd of people who have gathered around the Apostles. And both the Apostles and the crowd come to a new and deepened belief in Jesus.
But recall how the crowd heard what the Apostles were saying. They each heard in their own language. This is very important. The outpouring of the Spirit is often given to many at one time, but it is given to each of us in a particular way; a way that each person understands within themselves.
Paul reinforces this message in the second Reading when he says that there are many gifts that come to us and to our community of faith through the Holy Spirit, but that, within this, each person is given a particular set of gifts that are to be at the service of the community and for those placed in the lives of the receiver. We have no problem saying that Jesus had a special and unique mission among us, but we sometimes hesitate making this same claim for ourselves; despite the testimony of scripture and Church tradition that this is true.
If we all received the same exact spiritual gifts in the same portions, then there would be a great many people who could administer the Church and act in society. At the same time it would also allow too many of us to be just as happy to let others be active, allowing ourselves to be more passive in the community and in life. But the Spirit distributes her gifts among us in such a way that the Church and society are not composed of just some; it takes the involvement of us all to complete the Church and to enrich society. And so, the Spirit of God leads all individuals within the Church and within society to play a role in this world now and in the emerging Kingdom of God.
Christ speaks to this truth of personal gifting and the necessity for universal individual participation in this morning’s Gospel in a very specific manner. In today’s passage the newly Resurrected Jesus gives his Spirit to his first disciples and says: for those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained. If we are speaking of sacramental confession and reconciliation, we understand and believe that statement immediately. But if you think of everyday life, it is also true that if I refuse to forgive someone in relationship with me, then the spirit within the unforgiven person remains bound. They are restrained from regaining the full freedom and options in life that they lost by transgression. But if I forgive, they then are able to recover the freedom and the responses to life that they once shared and to which they may still be entitled. In fact, we are both freed for continued living of life. Our share in divinely given power over others is quite remarkable, and without individual discernment from the Spirit in circumstances particular to each of us we could become quite the tyrant, and quite abusive.
In this context, withholding forgiveness and gifting forgiveness are just as critical as the absolution found in sacramental confession; and in some ways it is the more common experience of the forgiveness we need to keep relationships functioning healthily and generatively. Our spirit, acting in concert with the Holy Spirit, is a very powerful, very particular force in the world; especially in our portion of the world in which the majority of our life is experienced.
So on this Pentecost, we pray again for a renewed outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon each of us, so that, both this world and our lives continue to be renewed and recreated more closely in the image of the healing, forgiving, life-giving, Resurrected and Ascended Jesus Christ. And most importantly, we pray that like Jesus we act on it for those who are immediately dependent on us, and those who with us make up the Church, and for those most in need of our gifts in a world which no longer seems interested in sharing even life’s basic necessities.
Photo: Sunrise at Tai Shan (Mt. Tai) in Shandong province, China, March 5, 2017 by Dcpeets and available via wikimedia commons.