An End and a Beginning
Pentecost. Fr Simon Gaine exhorts us to embrace the Spirit of Forgiveness offered to us today.
Today’s feast marks a beginning, the birthday of the Church, when the Holy Spirit descended in the form of fiery tongues on our Lady and the apostles. The same Spirit who hovered over the waters of creation in the beginning now brings to birth a renewed humanity, a new creation, a new beginning.
But Pentecost is not only a fresh start for the human race – it is also an end, an end in the sense of completion, of bringing to completion the paschal mystery, the very goal of Christ’s saving death and resurrection. Pentecost is a unique event in a unique history, when the Spirit came down on the Church in a way he had never done before, and in a way that he has never done in quite the same way since. And the Spirit came down, once and for all, to bring Christ’s paschal mystery to completion and to begin the calling of a new humanity, out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, into a single body, a single Church, in praise of a single God, the Creator and Redeemer and Sanctifier of us all.
This Pentecost provides a solution to many puzzles. One of these is forgiveness, which we heard mentioned in today’s Gospel. Forgiveness can be a puzzle to us. Sometimes it seems so difficult, so impossible to remit sins, in the face of horrendous crimes. It can be difficult to see how we can have the right to forgive, in the face of evil. And yet we cannot put limits on the forgiveness of God, and it is our Christian experience that when forgiveness seems so difficult on our part, so impossible, we can nevertheless forgive through God’s power, through a share in his unlimited capacity for reconciliation. The solution lies in the mystery of Pentecost where the Spirit brings this power to us, makes this capacity real within us.
Another puzzle about forgiveness is why we need to receive it in the here and now, again and again, if God has already given it to us. If God has forgiven all our sins through the cross of Christ, and declared us just through raising him from the dead, why should we need to get baptised for the forgiveness of our sins? Why should we need to go to confession, to do penance, to seek God’s forgiveness in all the other ways that make up our Christian life? If God has already forgiven us through the Cross, why should anything else be necessary, especially anything done on our part?
Again, it is the mystery of Pentecost that provides the solution. Because it is through the gift of the Spirit that what Christ has done for us is made a reality within us. What Christ has done for us is now done in us, through the giving of the Spirit to us by Christ himself. His Spirit meets us deep within us to connect us to the reality of his saving death for the forgiveness of sins, to connect us to the reality of his resurrection that promises us new life.
This is why Pentecost is both an end and a beginning. It is an end because it is the completion of Christ’s saving work, because it brings the risen Christ into our hearts breathing his forgiveness throughout our whole being, making what Christ has done for us on the cross something now done within us. And that is why Pentecost is also a beginning. It brings to completion the work of Christ for us precisely by making it a new beginning in us. The end of the paschal mystery is the very fact that a new life is begun in the world, the life of the Church, the Christian life of forgiveness, of the sacraments, of our turning to God, of mutual reconciliation in Christ, unity for every tribe and tongue and people and nation.
For all of us, a new beginning is sometimes necessary, to be honest about the past and at the same time to draw a line behind it and move on. Because failure and struggle also mark our Christian lives. For none of us is the Christian life a smooth progression from baptism to heaven. All of us live in a world marked by sin, but also a world marked by grace –where sin abounds, the grace of the Holy Spirit abounds all the more. To some extent each of us needs to begin each day anew, as though it were the first day of our Christian lives.
But today’s feast celebrates a unique event. We, the Church, for all our failings, need no new Pentecost, and we do not need Christ to die all over again. The value of his saving death is unlimited, he lives forever, and the same Spirit of Pentecost can come into our hearts over again and over again as we make our way through this life. His forgiveness can be limited only from our side, if we refuse his generosity. But the gift he has given us at Pentecost is always sufficient for our renewal, if only we are ready to receive his gift again, and spread his forgiveness and message of reconciliation throughout the world. So let us pray that the Spirit of Christ will renew our hearts today, and continue to fill the whole world with the love and power of God.