Although the Church’s official calendar follows St. Luke’s lead and celebrates the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the infant Church on Pentecost Sunday, this coming Sunday’s Gospel reveals that an intimate outpouring of the Holy Spirit took place on Easter Sunday night in the Upper Room. The Risen Christ warmly greets the ten gathered disciples with the reassuring words, “Peace be with you!” Then the Master officially makes the assembled ten disciples his apostles: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Then, anticipating the broader arrival of the Spirit on the Church at Pentecost, St. John records: “And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Here the swift driving wind noted in St. Luke’s Acts is found in the whispered breath of Jesus Christ: “..he breathed on them…” The power of the Spirit that would shake the Upper Room fifty days hence now penetrates the hearts and minds of Jesus’ closest disciples, empowering them to begin the worldwide mission of reconciliation: “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”
By his own breath the Risen Jesus blew life into his new Church, just as God the Father had breathed life into the body of Adam at the world’s creation: “…then the LORD God formed the man out of the dust of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being (Gn 2:7).” Adam, of course and along with him all humanity, fell on hard times, and it would be the mission of Jesus Christ to rectify mankind’s fallen state. The Passion and Death of Jesus Christ, marked solemnly each Holy Week, atoned for the world’s waywardness and began the happier task of the filling creation once again with God’s life-giving Spirit. The dying Christ hinted at this universal renewal with his final words and gestures: “And bowing his head, he handed over the spirit (Jn19:30).” Now, on Easter night and again on Pentecost, the “Spirit of Jesus,” to use St. Paul’s happy phrase, is entrusted to the universal Church initiating a believing community that would that would make faith the “root and foundation,” to use Trent’s solemn words, of their every activity. As Jesus would admonish St. Thomas a week later: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed (Jn20:30).”
St. Thomas’ act of faith in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior was the culmination of several acts of faith that constitute the bulk of St. John’s Gospel account. St. John the Baptist faithfully announced, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (1:29).” St. Andrew, with a budding faith, declared to his brother St. Peter, “We have found the Messiah (1:41)!” After Cana’s miraculous abundance of wine, “…his disciples believed in him (2:11).” The hesitant Nicodemus displayed an incipient faith, “…we know that you are a teacher (3:10).” The Samaritan woman also voiced a fledgling faith: “Could this be the Christ (4:29)?” After the miracle of the loaves, St. Peter pledged faith in Jesus, “We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God (6:69).” The man born blind was led to a nascent faith in the Messiah: “He said, ‘I do believe, Lord,’ and he fell down in worship before him (9:37).” Martha protested her faith in Christ: “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world (11:27).” And of course St. Thomas’ humbled words “My Lord and my God (20:28)!” were the crowning act of faith in St. John’s account. St. John himself concludes this Gospel account citing faith as the central purpose of his writings: “But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name (RSV 20:31).”
It is interesting that the Greek noun “belief” never appears in St. John’s Gospel account but the Greek verb “believe” is found almost a hundred times. (The official American Catholic English translation of the fourth Gospel alas does employ the noun as the last line of this Sunday’s passage reads.) St. John understands that faith is not memorizing a list of articles found in a catechism. Belief goes beyond helpful doctrines and instructive dogmas. Faith is the living out of the Gospel’s values and the Church’s teachings in one’s daily life. Belief certainly is enriched by the lessons of Scripture and the traditions of the Church, but, to be genuine, faith has to enliven the believer’s heart as well as shape the disciple’s intellect.
A living and lively faith is the prime evidence of the presence and power of the Spirit that Jesus conveyed to his disciples on Easter eve. In challenging times like our own day, it is a strong, supernatural faith that will animate the Church community to continue Jesus’ reconciling task among all peoples, including our own families and our own communities.