Solemnity of Pentecost 2024

Acts 2:1-11; Galatians 5:16-25; John 15:26-27; 16:12-15


          Behind the story of Luke that we had as our first reading, we find the story of the Tower of Babel. In this Old Testament story, the building of a tower that claimed to reach to heaven represented the efforts of the Assyrians' political and military power to exercise its authority over all the peoples of the known world and to impose uniformity of customs and language on them. God then intervened to ensure the diversity of languages. There is a certain ambiguity in this account, however, as this diversity can be interpreted as both a gift and a punishment.

          In Luke's account, on the other hand, diversity is clearly seen as a richness. What happens on the day of Pentecost is not a miracle that transforms the Apostles (and all the disciples present, who number 120 - cf. Acts 1:15) into polyglots who speak every language. Rather, the miracle happened to the listeners. The Apostles spoke their Galilean dialect, but everyone heard them, each in his own language. The Jews present, who had come from the Diaspora to celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem, represented every culture and race known at the time. They all heard the message of the Apostles in their own language.

          Already in the creation story, in the Book of Genesis, the Spirit - or Breath - of God generates life through a process of diversification. It is when the Spirit of God hovers over the initial chaos, that light is separated from darkness, the waters from the earth, that animal life is distinguished from plant life and that human beings, male and female, appear.

          As for the passage we have just read from John's Gospel, it contains two clearly distinct accounts, both taken from Jesus' discourses to his disciples during the Last Supper. In the first quotation, Jesus speaks of a "Defender" (paraclètos, in Greek) whom he will send to us from the Father. But we must be careful to realise that the Spirit is presented here not as the defender of the Apostles - or of us - but as the defender of Jesus himself. He is the lawyer who will defend Jesus in the trial against the world.

          The second part of the Gospel text we have read describes a second role of the Spirit of God -- in us. This Spirit, the defender of Jesus, is also the Spirit of truth who leads us to the whole truth. Jesus is not talking here about the disciples' witness to the world, but the witness of the Holy Spirit at the heart of the ecclesial community. We can only bear witness to Christ if we have faith in Him. Faith is a personal relationship, a knowledge in the deepest and most intimate sense of the word. This relationship is not the result of words or teaching. No matter how much we receive this teaching, even from the mouth of Jesus himself, it will produce nothing in us if we are not yet ready to receive and assimilate it.

          "I still have many things to say to you, but for the moment you do not have the strength to bear them", Jesus said to his disciples. The role of the Holy Spirit will be to guide them towards the whole truth. He will guide them towards the One who is the truth. They will have to agree to meet Him, to experience the whole of Christ, that is to say the whole of his mystery, including his death as well as his resurrection. This is undoubtedly what Jesus meant when he said to his disciples: "You too will bear witness, you who have been with me from the beginning". The Christ to whom they must bear witness is not only the risen Christ, but the Christ made man, the Christ who lived and did good, the Christ who died and rose again.

          This must be the witness of Christians in the world -- a witness that does not consist simply in "teaching" the truths of the faith or "defending" them, but a witness of life that consists in "leading" all human beings towards the whole Truth, towards Christ, so that they themselves may experience Him; so that they too may encounter Him in an intense personal relationship.

          In his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium, Pope Francis quotes this text from the Gospel of John in a highly original way. It's in the passage where he talks about the social dimension of evangelisation and the need to give priority to processes of growth over the monopolisation of spaces of power. If there are so many conflicts in society today, so many wars between peoples and even tensions within the Church, it's because there has been too much desire to reconfigure the world and the Church by means of authority, by exercising power. We could not yet understand... The time has come to allow ourselves to be guided towards the Truth, to trust in the inner dynamism of life, from which we derive our very being, to know how to insert ourselves confidently into a dynamic of growth of which we are unaware - in ourselves, in society and in the Church.

          The exercise of power has amply demonstrated its destructive capacity. Confident openness to the future holds surprises in store for us. Let us be led by the Spirit of Jesus.

Armand Veilleux