Archbishop of Chicago and the Midwest

on the Fest of Holy Pentecost – June 4, 2023

to the Very Reverend and Reverend Clergy, Esteemed Monastics, and God-loving Faithful of the Diocese of Chicago and the Midwest

Beloved Sons and Daughters,

On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended with power upon the Apostles.  On that day and in that moment the Church’s mission to the world was initiated.  The Lord Jesus Himself had prepared the Eleven for this mission, appearing to them on many occasions after His Resurrection (Acts 1: 3). Prior to the Ascension into Heaven, He ordered them “not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father” (Acts 1: 4-5); that is, He asked them to stay together to prepare themselves to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. And so, they gathered in prayer in the Upper Room with the Most Holy Theotokos and the other women, awaiting the promised event (Acts 1: 14).

In reading the Pentecost account provided by Saint Luke in the Book of Acts, we see that the Apostles stayed together.  This was the condition laid down by Jesus in order to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit; the foundation of their harmony and their oneness of mind and heart was continued communal prayer. In nothing this,  we are offered a formidable and inspiring lesson for every Christian community.

Some think at times that missionary effectiveness depends primarily on careful programming and its subsequent intelligent application through a concrete commitment and process. The Lord certainly does ask for our collaboration and the use of our minds and talents and skills, but before any other response takes place and before any of our efforts can bear fruit, His initiative is necessary:  His Spirit is the true protagonist of the Church. The roots of our being and of our action in the Church are always to be found in the wise and whispering voice of God, leading and guiding us, and speaking to us through the Church, Christ’s faithful people gathered together in faith and in love.

The images used by Saint Luke to indicate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit – wind and fire – recall Sinai, where God revealed himself to the people of Israel and offered his covenant  (Exodus 19: 3ff.) The feast of Sinai, which Israel celebrated 50 days after the Passover, the feast which was taking place in today’s account from Acts, was the Jewish feast of the Covenant,  the commemoration of God giving the Law through the hands of the Prophet Moses and the beginning of the covenanted relationship between God and His Chosen People.

By highlighting the tongues of fire (Acts 2: 3), Saint Luke wants to show Pentecost as a new Sinai, as the feast of the New Covenant, where the Covenant with Israel is extended to all the nations of the earth. And so, with our celebration of the new Pentecost we acknowledge that Christ’s Holy Church – our Church – has been catholic and missionary from the very first moment of her existence. The universality of salvation is meaningfully manifested by the list of the numerous ethnic and language groups to which those who heard the Apostles’ first proclamation belonged: “Parthians and Medes and Elamites, those dwelling in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya adjoining Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs…” (Acts 2: 9-11).

The People of God, which had found its first manifestation on Sinai, extends today to the point of surmounting every barrier and division of race, culture, space and time. As opposed to what occurred with the tower of Babel (Genesis 11: 1-9), when people wanted to build a way to heaven with their hands and ended up by destroying their very capacity of mutual understanding, on Pentecost the Spirit, with the gift of tongues, demonstrates that His presence unites and transforms confusion into communion, and division into unity.  We are reminded of this when we sing the Kontakion of the Feast:

When the Most High came down and confused the tongues, He divided the nations; but when He distributed the tongues of fire, He called all to unity. Therefore, with one voice we glorify the All-Holy Spirit (Tone 8).

As occurred at the building of the Tower of Babel, human pride and egoism always create divisions and build walls of indifference, hate and violence. The Holy Spirit, on the other hand, makes hearts capable of understanding the languages of all, as He re-establishes the bridge of authentic communion between earth and heaven. But how is it possible to enter into the mystery of the Holy Spirit? How can the secret of love be understood?

The Gospel passage takes us today to the Upper Room where, after the Last Supper, a sense of loss has saddened the Apostles. This is due to the fact that Jesus’ words arouse disturbing questions:  He spoke of the world’s hatred of Him and of His own, He spoke of His mysterious departure; and there were still many other things to be said, but for the time being the Apostles were not able to bear the weight  these wordsof(John 16: 12). To console them, Jesus explains the meaning of His departure:  He will go, but He will return; in the meanwhile, He will not abandon them, will not leave them orphans. He will send the Consoler, the Spirit of the Father, and the Spirit will enable them to understand that Christ’s work is a work of love:  love of the One who gave Himself, love of the Father who has given Him.

This is the mystery of Pentecost:  the Holy Spirit illuminates the human spirit and, by revealing Christ Crucified and Risen, indicates the way to become more like Him, that is, to be the image and instrument of the love which flows from Christ.

The Church, gathered today on this Feast, raises its imploring prayer:  “Come, O Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, everywhere present and filling all things.  Treasury of Blessings and Giver of Life – Come!  Abide in us. Cleanse us and save our souls, O Good One!  Amen.

Be assured of my continued prayers for you and those you love,


Archbishop of Chicago and the Diocese of the Midwest

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