Year B

Different gifts, the same Giver

Max Herr, aged 75, retired in March, 1981 after 52 years as the official Vatican clock-winder. Pope John Paul II received this German-born clockmaker and his family in a special audience at the time of his retirement.

There are some 50 pendulum clocks in the Vatican. Since 1929, Herr had made the rounds every Friday winding and resetting them. When they or the many non-pendulum clocks needed repair, he would clean and overhaul them. Six popes had been his friends, and he had many "professional" memories of them. Pope Pius XII used to have him set all the clocks fifteen minutes ahead. Pope Paul VI found ticking clocks a distraction, so he kept only one timepiece in his rooms: a small alarm clock he had used since seminary days. American friends gave John Paul II a grandfather chime clock when he was installed as pope.

Max Herr was certainly not the most important figure in the central offices of the Catholic church. But the role he played in the Vatican, however humble, was expert and indispensable. The popes are called by God to save eternal souls, but they must do their work in a world where time rules. In a sense for 52 years this German clockmaker had kept the whole Church going!

That is what St. Paul meant when he said, "There are different gifts but the same Spirit; there are different ministries but the same Lord." Whether great or small, we should all be happy to use our God-given talents for the benefit of others.

"To each person the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good." (1 Cor. 12:7. Today's second reading).

-Father Robert F. McNamara

Q530: What really happened to the disciples at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-11)?

All bible students (that means all of us) recognize that the Holy Scriptures are full of literary devices to help express realities. Metaphors and similes are very commonplace, and Jesus used them constantly in his parables and allegories (e.g., “the kingdom of heaven is like…). We do the same thing with our young children, reading them stories that begin “once upon a time…”. The imagery is vivid, at a child’s level; but the literary form of “story” conveys the underlying principle in a manner in which they can understand. Today we hear the same thing. St. Luke is describing the indescribable Pentecost experience, using similes (“a noise like a strong driving wind…tongues like fire…”).

Too often we lose sight of the truth and purpose of this God-event, because we tend to focus on the exciting symbolism rather than the underlying reality. The point of the awesome happening is not to direct attention to a burning-bush kind of God; rather, it is to demonstrate the spiritual transformation that has taken place among the disciples of Jesus, gathered around Mary in prayer. They have become empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Empowered for what? First, some background about the Feast of Pentecost. In Judaism, “fire” had become a symbol for Torah (“teaching”) because in the Jewish tradition Torah – i.e., the Holy Scriptures – had been given to Moses on this day of Pentecost on Mt. Sinai. Furthermore, the gift of the Holy Spirit had been promised by God to all, which the prophets characterized as a coming sign of the Messianic age (e.g., Ezekiel 36:27ff). Peter will make that connection explicit in his description of this “pouring out” of the Spirit (Acts 2:33).

So this “empowerment” is precisely to enable the believing disciples to carry this Good News to the world: Jesus the Christ is the fulfillment of that Messianic promise, and the hope of all humankind (beginning with all the “nations” who saw and heard the disciples at this Pentecost event). His Holy Spirit now dwells within them; they are “empowered” for mission.

KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! Through Baptism and Confirmation, and in the presence of the believing community gathered in prayer, we are “indelibly sealed” and “empowered” by the Holy Spirit, who now dwells within us (CCC #698).

Come Holy Spirit

The Book of Acts uses the Old Testament images of God's presence – fire and wind – to depict the coming of God, the Holy Spirit, who comes to enable the church to begin its mission of proclaiming the gospel to all nations. The gift of tongues tells us that the coming of the Spirit reverses the confusion and division that came upon the earth at the time of the Tower of Babel. However, As St. Paul tells us, it is easy to become so taken up with the dramatic and spectacular gifts of the Spirit, like the gift of tongues, that we may forget the reason for these gifts. The gifts of the Spirit are not given for our personal enjoyment or prestige, but for the common good of the church, to build up the Body of Christ. In today's gospel Jesus gives the spirit and the power to forgive sins so that the church may fulfill its mission of reconciliation – "to reconcile all things in Christ." What ever gifts we may have been given, no matter how spectacular or commonplace they may be, they are given to be used for others.

Come Holy Spirit, give us the wisdom to recognize the gifts you have given us. Inspire us to so use these gifts in harmony with others that we may all become more truly the Body of Christ.