Today the Church celebrates Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit in tongues of fire over the disciples gathered in the upper room, 50 days after the Resurrection celebrated on Easter. This is also the birthday of the Church, when the disciples, filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, took up the missionary mandate of Jesus and began to preach to the nations, continuing the work that Christ began. That work will continue until the end of the world. As written in the document Ad Gentes from the Second Vatican Council: “Doubtless, the Holy Spirit was already at work in the world before Christ was glorified. Yet on the day of Pentecost, he came down upon the disciples to remain with them forever.”

In the first reading, the description of the first Pentecost is given, from the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 2:1-11). This event occurred after the Ascension of Jesus. The Holy Spirit came with the sound of a mighty wind, and tongues of fire appeared and rested on the heads of the disciples. After this moment, the fear that characterized the disciples was obliterated.  The power of the Holy Spirit enabled them to go out and proclaim “the mighty works of God” boldly and ceaselessly. 

Saint Paul, in today’s second reading from the First Letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 12:3b-7, 12-13), teaches us that “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” The coming of the Holy Spirit did not stop at the first Pentecost. Saint Paul is teaching us about how Pentecost affects each one of us, personally. All of us have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit through Baptism and Confirmation. All of us have also been given our own personal gifts, our own ways of cooperating with God for the salvation and sanctification of others. The Holy Spirit, by dwelling within us, teaches us how to use those gifts and bear fruit that will last. 

The Gospel for today is taken from the Gospel according to John (John 20:19-23). The scene actually takes place on the evening of the Resurrection, which is before the event of Pentecost we heard in the first reading. In Jesus’ encounter with the disciples, he offers them his peace and then breathes on them, saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, in a Pentecost homily, said: “The Gospel passage … offers us a marvelous image to clarify the connection between Jesus, the Holy Spirit and the Father: the Holy Spirit is portrayed as the breath of the Risen Jesus Christ.” It is the same Holy Spirit who will appear as tongues of fire 50 days later and cast out all their fear.   

It is God who sends the Holy Spirit to disciples and to us. It is Jesus who breathes the life of the Holy Spirit into our hearts. Again, Pope Emeritus wrote: “(In) the creation narrative … it says that God breathed into the nostrils of man the breath of life (cf. Gen 2:7). The breath of God is life. Now, the Lord breathes into our soul the new breath of life, the Holy Spirit, his most intimate essence, and in this way welcomes us into God’s family. With Baptism and Confirmation this gift was given to us specifically, and with the sacraments of the Eucharist and Penance it is continuously repeated: the Lord breathes a breath of life into our soul.” 

This new life empowers us to become more like Christ through our choices of faith, hope, and love, and to share the joy of knowing and loving God with the people around us.