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Pentecost Sunday: We are given the gift of the Holy Spirit who gives us strength to leave fear behind

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Sunday Scripture readings for May 19, 2024, Pentecost Sunday

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 or Jn 15:26-27; 16:12-15

We are given the gift of the Holy Spirit who gives us strength to leave fear behind

When St. John Paul II was elected to the papacy in 1978 among his first words to the world, spoken during his inaugural homily, were, “Be not afraid! Open wide the doors for Christ…” As a youth, a seminarian, a young priest and bishop, the pope had experienced firsthand the intense fear that gripped his native land of Poland as the Nazis ruthlessly occupied his country during World War II.

St. John Paul II appears on the balcony at St. Peter’s Basilica following his election to head the Catholic Church the evening of Oct. 16, 1978. (OSV News photo/Giancarlo Giuliani, Catholic Press Photo)

Having lived through both the Nazi invasion of Poland and the Communist regime after the war, the pope understood that fear was a powerful weapon used by totalitarian regimes to control and intimidate people. He knew also, in faith, that Jesus conquered fear and sin in the saving mystery of the cross. This was the deep Christian conviction that shaped his saintly life and his papacy.

In today’s Gospel, the disciples are in the grip of fear after Jesus’ death on the cross. They stayed behind locked doors for fear of being found by the religious authorities. They were expecting the same fate as their lord and master. It is at this moment of deep fear and isolation that Jesus comes to the disciples. And his first words to them are, “Peace be with you.” Then the risen Jesus showed them the nail marks in his hands and the wounds in his side, the signs of his self-giving love revealed on the cross.

When Jesus showed his wounded hands and side, the disciples’ fear turns to hopeful rejoicing in the presence of the risen Lord. And when Jesus breathes on them, he bestows the gift of the Holy Spirit. Now they are empowered by the divine life flowing in them to abandon the chains of fear and become bold witnesses to faith in Jesus’ resurrection. For as St. Paul notes, “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.”

The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Blessed Trinity, the love of the Father and the Son whose presence sanctifies and enlivens the church in every age. At Pentecost, the church receives the Holy Spirit that Jesus first promised to his disciples. Today, the same gift of the Holy Spirit is offered to every disciple of Jesus to empower all to face and overcome the fears, anxieties and worries of life. In the power of the Holy Spirit, we are strengthened to replace fear with faith and exchange the anxieties and worries of daily life with trust in God.

On this Pentecost Sunday, we are given the gift of the Holy Spirit who gives strength to leave fear behind and live in the freedom of friendship with Jesus, as we say in faith, “speak to me, Lord.”

Question: What do Jesus’ words, “Peace be with you,” mean to you?

Jem Sullivan holds a doctorate in religious education and is an associate professor of catechetics in the School of Theology and Religious Studies at The Catholic University of America in Washington.