Pentecost Sunday

Reflection: The origins of evil


Our Liturgy of the Word for the Vigil of Pentecost begins by restating the Genesis myth of the Fall in a different context.

This time, instead of an uppity couple ruining the tranquility of a garden, Genesis 11 portrays the paradise of a united humanity that knows no divisions of geography, language or anything else. Then they decide that they’ll “make a name” for themselves. (Before whom? They were one people — until some took the lead, expecting others to obey.)

Competition sprang up among them along with inequality and resistance to diversity. More than that, they cultivated the assumption that they could improve on God’s plans. 

Using vocabulary reminiscent of Israel’s slave labor in Egypt (Exodus 1:14), we hear that they built a tower, molding bricks and using bitumen for mortar, all in an attempt to control life and attain access to the heavens on their own power. The result was babbling Babel.

They created a situation in which they could not trust one another. Striving to outdo each other, they could no longer speak the one language of a united people. 

Like the story of the Garden of Eden and the murder of Abel, this account gives another explanation of the origins of evil and the seemingly invincible divisions among Earth’s people. Jesus’ mission was to heal these divisions, revealing the union with God and neighbor that humanity was created to enjoy.

Responding to this predicament, Jesus describes the salvation he offers as living water, the source of life. Conjuring memories of the encounter between Jesus and the woman at the well (John 4), this image describes God’s ongoing offer to give life, to let divine life flow through us. 

First, Jesus cries out, “Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink!”

In a land where water was scarcer than an oft-limited food, this represented a very concrete promise of life. The image of living water complements the image of the vine and branches, inviting us to contemplate how Christ can be our sustenance and refreshment, inviting us into the kind of union that happens as drops of water come together and begin to flow as one.

The image of living water invites us to contemplate how Christ can be our sustenance and refreshment, invites us into the kind of union that happens as drops of water come together and begin to flow as one.

Jesus promises that those who abide in him will become like him, rivers of living water for others. (A river doesn’t flow for itself, but to support life everywhere it goes.) Here we see a variation on a theme of Jesus’ promise that his followers will dwell in him and do his works and even more. (See John 14:12, 15:5-17.)

None of our readings for the liturgy of the Vigil of Pentecost repeat Luke’s account in Acts about the descent of the Holy Spirit. Instead, preparing for that, they amplify and deepen our reflection on our participation in the Spirit. We see this most clearly in this evening’s selection from Paul’s letter to the Romans.

In Romans 8, Paul reminds us that the gift of the Spirit is an evolving reality. We who experience its “first fruits” still experience birth pangs, longing and struggling to allow new life to flow from us. In Paul’s image, we are both giving birth and waiting for the unfathomable identity with Christ that Paul describes as “adoption” by God. 

Paul puts great emphasis on the idea that the Spirit in us is an experience of grace and hope, not an ambition or a project. Hope in the Spirit puts us in a stance of vulnerable trust, believing that more is on the horizon than we could ever imagine. Thus, even our prayer becomes a work of the Spirit within us, a wordless, imageless longing for what only God can provide, the living water that is life for all in Christ.

The liturgy for the Vigil of Pentecost invites us into hope. Unlike the miracle of the tongues we will hear the next day, this is an invitation to dream, as theologian John Haught would say, to “lean on the future,” to allow God’s future to beckon us forth. 

This is the evolutionary hope Paul offers, not for what we see, but that for which we are willing to wait with patience and endurance.

This feast invites us to walk in humility so that God can continue to create through and for us. It reminds us that the Christian journey is not a return to a perfect past, but an experience of wayfaring with Abraham into the risky, mysterious future that can come about only when we trust God more than our own hopes and plans.

Who can imagine what it will be like as living water continues to flow through us?

Pentecost Sunday Vigil Mass

Reading I

(Genesis 11: 1-9)

The whole world spoke the same language, using the same words.
While the people were migrating in the east,
they came upon a valley in the land of Shinar and settled there.
They said to one another,
“Come, let us mold bricks and harden them with fire.”
They used bricks for stone, and bitumen for mortar.
Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city
and a tower with its top in the sky,
and so make a name for ourselves;
otherwise we shall be scattered all over the earth.”

The LORD came down to see the city and the tower
that the people had built.
Then the LORD said: “If now, while they are one people,
all speaking the same language,
they have started to do this,
nothing will later stop them from doing whatever they presume to do.
Let us then go down there and confuse their language,
so that one will not understand what another says.”
Thus the LORD scattered them from there all over the earth,
and they stopped building the city.
That is why it was called Babel,
because there the LORD confused the speech of all the world.
It was from that place that he scattered them all over the earth.


(Exodus 19: 3-8a, 16-20b)

Moses went up the mountain to God.
Then the LORD called to him and said,
“Thus shall you say to the house of Jacob; tell the Israelites:
You have seen for yourselves how I treated the Egyptians
and how I bore you up on eagle wings
and brought you here to myself.
Therefore, if you hearken to my voice and keep my covenant,
you shall be my special possession,
dearer to me than all other people,
though all the earth is mine.
You shall be to me a kingdom of priests, a holy nation.
That is what you must tell the Israelites.”
So Moses went and summoned the elders of the people.
When he set before them
all that the LORD had ordered him to tell them,
the people all answered together,
“Everything the LORD has said, we will do.”

On the morning of the third day
there were peals of thunder and lightning,
and a heavy cloud over the mountain,
and a very loud trumpet blast,
so that all the people in the camp trembled.
But Moses led the people out of the camp to meet God,
and they stationed themselves at the foot of the mountain.
Mount Sinai was all wrapped in smoke,
for the LORD came down upon it in fire.
The smoke rose from it as though from a furnace,
and the whole mountain trembled violently.
The trumpet blast grew louder and louder, while Moses was speaking,
and God answering him with thunder.

When the LORD came down to the top of Mount Sinai,
he summoned Moses to the top of the mountain.


(Ezekiel 37: 1-14)

The hand of the LORD came upon me,
and he led me out in the spirit of the LORD
and set me in the center of the plain,
which was now filled with bones.
He made me walk among the bones in every direction
so that I saw how many they were on the surface of the plain.
How dry they were!
He asked me:

Son of man, can these bones come to life?
I answered, “Lord GOD, you alone know that.”
Then he said to me:
Prophesy over these bones, and say to them:
Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD!
Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones:
See! I will bring spirit into you, that you may come to life.
I will put sinews upon you, make flesh grow over you,
cover you with skin, and put spirit in you
so that you may come to life and know that I am the LORD.
I, Ezekiel, prophesied as I had been told,
and even as I was prophesying I heard a noise;
it was a rattling as the bones came together, bone joining bone.
I saw the sinews and the flesh come upon them,
and the skin cover them, but there was no spirit in them.
Then the LORD said to me:
Prophesy to the spirit, prophesy, son of man,
and say to the spirit: Thus says the Lord GOD:
From the four winds come, O spirit,
and breathe into these slain that they may come to life.
I prophesied as he told me, and the spirit came into them;
they came alive and stood upright, a vast army.
Then he said to me:
Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel.
They have been saying,
“Our bones are dried up,
our hope is lost, and we are cut off.”
Therefore, prophesy and say to them: Thus says the Lord GOD:
O my people, I will open your graves
and have you rise from them,
and bring you back to the land of Israel.
Then you shall know that I am the LORD,
when I open your graves and have you rise from them,
O my people!
I will put my spirit in you that you may live,
and I will settle you upon your land;
thus you shall know that I am the LORD.
I have promised, and I will do it, says the LORD.


(Joel 3: 1-5) 

Thus says the LORD:
I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh.
Your sons and daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams,
your young men shall see visions;
even upon the servants and the handmaids,
in those days, I will pour out my spirit.
And I will work wonders in the heavens and on the earth,
blood, fire, and columns of smoke;
the sun will be turned to darkness,
and the moon to blood,
at the coming of the day of the LORD,
the great and terrible day.
Then everyone shall be rescued
who calls on the name of the LORD;
for on Mount Zion there shall be a remnant,
as the LORD has said,
and in Jerusalem survivors
whom the LORD shall call.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 104 1-2, 24, 25, 27-28, 29-30)

Reading II

(Romans 8: 22-27)

Brothers and sisters:
We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now;
and not only that, but we ourselves,
who have the first fruits of the Spirit,
we also groan within ourselves
as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.
For in hope we were saved.
Now hope that sees is not hope.
For who hopes for what one sees?
But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait with endurance.

In the same way, the Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness;
for we do not know how to pray as we ought,
but the Spirit himself intercedes with inexpressible groanings.
And the one who searches hearts
knows what is the intention of the Spirit,
because he intercedes for the holy ones
according to God’s will.


(John 7: 37-39)

On the last and greatest day of the feast,
Jesus stood up and exclaimed,
“Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink.
As Scripture says:
Rivers of living water will flow from within him who believes in me.”

He said this in reference to the Spirit
that those who came to believe in him were to receive.
There was, of course, no Spirit yet,
because Jesus had not yet been glorified.

Pentecost Sunday Mass during the day

Reading I

(Acts 2: 1-11)

When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled,
they were all in one place together.
And suddenly there came from the sky
a noise like a strong driving wind,
and it filled the entire house in which they were.
Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire,
which parted and came to rest on each one of them.
And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit
and began to speak in different tongues,
as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem.
At this sound, they gathered in a large crowd,
but they were confused
because each one heard them speaking in his own language.
They were astounded, and in amazement they asked,
“Are not all these people who are speaking Galileans?
Then how does each of us hear them in his native language?
We are Parthians, Medes, and Elamites,
inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia,
Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia,
Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene,
as well as travelers from Rome,
both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs,
yet we hear them speaking in our own tongues
of the mighty acts of God.”

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 104 1-2, 24, 25, 27-28, 29-30)

Reading II

(I Corinthians 12: 3v-7, 12-13)

Brothers and sisters:
No one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.

There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; 
there are different forms of service but the same Lord;
there are different workings but the same God
who produces all of them in everyone.
To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit
is given for some benefit.

As a body is one though it has many parts,
and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body,
so also Christ.
For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body,
whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons,
and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.


(Galations 5: 16-25)

Brothers and sisters, live by the Spirit
and you will certainly not gratify the desire of the flesh.
For the flesh has desires against the Spirit,
and the Spirit against the flesh;
these are opposed to each other,
so that you may not do what you want.
But if you are guided by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
Now the works of the flesh are obvious:
immorality, impurity, lust, idolatry,
sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy,
outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness,
dissensions, factions, occasions of envy,
drinking bouts, orgies, and the like.
I warn you, as I warned you before,
that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
In contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace,
patience, kindness, generosity,
faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
Against such there is no law.
Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified their flesh
with its passions and desires.
If we live in the Spirit, let us also follow the Spirit.

Sequence Veni, Sancte Spiritus

Come, Holy Spirit, come!
And from your celestial home
Shed a ray of light divine!
Come, Father of the poor!
Come, source of all our store!
Come, within our bosoms shine.
You, of comforters the best;
You, the soul’s most welcome guest;
Sweet refreshment here below;
In our labor, rest most sweet;
Grateful coolness in the heat;
Solace in the midst of woe.
O most blessed Light divine,
Shine within these hearts of yours,
And our inmost being fill!
Where you are not, we have naught,
Nothing good in deed or thought,
Nothing free from taint of ill.
Heal our wounds, our strength renew;
On our dryness pour your dew;
Wash the stains of guilt away:
Bend the stubborn heart and will;
Melt the frozen, warm the chill;
Guide the steps that go astray.
On the faithful, who adore
And confess you, evermore
In your sevenfold gift descend;
Give them virtue’s sure reward;
Give them your salvation, Lord;
Give them joys that never end. Amen.


(John 20: 19-23)

On the evening of that first day of the week,
when the doors were locked, where the disciples were,
for fear of the Jews,
Jesus came and stood in their midst
and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side.
The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you.
As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them,
“Receive the Holy Spirit.
Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them,
and whose sins you retain are retained.”


(John 15: 26-27, 16: 12-15)

Jesus said to his disciples:
“When the Advocate comes whom I will send you from the Father,
the Spirit of truth that proceeds from the Father,
he will testify to me.
And you also testify,
because you have been with me from the beginning.

“I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now.
But when he comes, the Spirit of truth,
he will guide you to all truth.
He will not speak on his own,
but he will speak what he hears,
and will declare to you the things that are coming.
He will glorify me,
because he will take from what is mine and declare it to you.
Everything that the Father has is mine;
for this reason I told you that he will take from what is mine
and declare it to you.”