Pentecost Sunday – Year B

Most Rev. Robert F. Prevost, O.S.A.
Bishop of Chiclayo, Peru

Acts 2:1-11
Ps 104:1, 24, 29-30, 31, 34
1 Cor 12:3b-7, 12-13 or Gal 5:16-25
Jn 20:19-23

The past month of April (2021) has seen the highest number of deaths in Peru since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Only recently are vaccinations being made available to people over the age of 70, and meanwhile the hospitals have no available beds, the health system has collapsed, there is a critical shortage of medical oxygen, and no end is in sight for the pain and suffering caused by the coronavirus. After such an extended and traumatic ordeal, we may find ourselves becoming numb, as the natural response to so much suffering can oftentimes be a kind of protecting oneself from the pain which can no longer be endured. And as time goes on, the consequence many times is indifference.

On the Solemnity of Pentecost, we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit, who breaks into the lives of the Apostles and who shakes them out of their fearful period of waiting and inspires in them a new and courageous way to live their faith and to be witnesses to the Risen Christ.

The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles describes how the disciples were gathered together in one place – waiting, hoping, (in Spanish, the same word is used for both English expressions: “esperando”); but still without the vision and the conviction that would shake them out of their fearful reluctancy to go out to others and proclaim the Gospel.

The signs of the Spirit that the readings suggest to us are wind, tongues of fire in the Acts of the Apostles, and in the Gospel, the breathing of the Risen Lord upon the Apostles, giving them the authority to forgive sins, to be the living expression of God’s pardon and mercy.

This year will be the second time that we celebrate Pentecost under the scourge and pain of the Covid-19 pandemic. In many parts of the world, churches are still closed, or open only to a very limited number of the faithful. In addition, there are so many expressions of sin around us: hatred, poverty, violence, racism, exclusion of immigrants, human trafficking. We too could find ourselves growing indifferent to all these situations. And that is why the feast of Pentecost is so vital to us as believers in the Risen Lord. We too, gathered together, really need to be awoken and surprised by the Spirit, who encourages us, just as with the Apostles on the first Pentecost, to give witness to the Good News that Jesus Christ has brought to us.

On his first trip outside of Rome after he was elected, Pope Francis went to a town in southern Italy, called Lampedusa. This is a town where many immigrants land, after making the dangerous crossing of the Mediterranean Sea from the northern part of Africa. Pope Francis’ words at that time still ring true today: “How many of us, myself included, have lost our bearings; we are no longer attentive to the world in which we live; we don’t care; we don’t protect what God created for everyone, and we end up unable even to care for one another! And when humanity as a whole loses its bearings, it results in tragedies like the one we have witnessed…. We beg forgiveness for our indifference to so many of our brothers and sisters. Father, we ask your pardon for those who are complacent and closed amid comforts which have deadened their hearts; we beg your forgiveness for those who by their decisions on the global level have created situations that lead to these tragedies. Forgive us, Lord!”

As today’s Gospel reminds us, on the day when the risen Jesus appeared to his disciples, he breathed upon them, and he said to them “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.” The Holy Spirit comes once again to awaken us from our indifference, to give us the power to forgive, to reconcile, and also to give witness through our welcoming of those who are outcast, through our efforts to help the poor and hungry, to speak the truth in places where so many lies continue to promote hatred and exclusion.

Again, Pope Francis, in his Encyclical “Fratelli Tutti” offers a key to understand how important it is to fight against the indifference that tolerates or even causes so much pain: “The decision to include or exclude those lying wounded along the roadside can serve as a criterion for judging every economic, political, social and religious project. Each day we have to decide whether to be Good Samaritans or indifferent bystanders” (n. 69).

We celebrate today the presence of the Holy Spirit among us, who is awakening in the Church, in all believers, the enthusiasm and conviction we need to break out of the silent complacency that holds us back, and to give witness to the Spirit of love that gives true life. “As the Father sends me, now I send you.”