Fr. Rodrigue Azamasso, CJM
In some cultures, in the sub-Saharan Africa, the birth of a baby is truly acknowledged and celebrated the very day of its birth, (it can either be its presentation to the new moon or the ritual of the naming ceremony). This birth ceremony is in effect, the day of revelation, the day of the plain manifestation of the new born to the whole community.
A similar event happened the day of Pentecost. That very day, the nascent church is revealed to all the nations and truly became ‘’Universal’’, that is Catholic. On Pentecost day, the Holy Spirit transformed fearful apostles into courageous witnesses to Christ. In a short time, thousands had themselves baptized. The miracle of languages on Pentecost shows that the church is there for all people from the very beginning; she is universal and missionary. She speaks to all men and women, overcomes ethnic and linguistic barriers, and can be understood by all.
But why do the apostles begin to speak in other languages? Why this particular prodigy? This phenomenon is almost unique in the New Testament. Only the Gospel of Mark mentions, very briefly in his second conclusion, that the believers will speak in strange tongues (Mk 16:17). From the Old Testament, the mythical narrative of the Tower of Babel (Gn 11: 1-9) gives a very enlightening look at the events of Pentecost.
At the beginning of this short account of Genesis, humankind speaks the same language and undertakes to build a city with a tower whose top would reach the heavens for, they said, we can "make a name of ourselves" and avoid to be scattered all over the earth (Gn 11: 4). God "comes down" to see their work and mix their language in order to put an end to their undertaking (Gen 11: 8). God thus wishes to counter the proud ambitions of humanity who wish to be united in the same place and rise to the rank of gods.
The scenario of the narrative of the Tower of Babel is exactly the opposite of that of Pentecost. In the myth of Genesis, humanity constructs a vain and selfish project that aims to raise it to the rank of gods. In the narrative of the book of Acts, God completes a merciful and altruistic plan that leads humankind to eternal life and true communion with God. Then, in the first text, God disturbs communication between men, while he facilitates it in the second. Consequently, in Genesis, men who originally found themselves in one place and used only one language end up being scattered over the surface of the earth and speaking different dialects, whereas in Acts, humankind which originates from the four corners of the earth and speaks various dialects is found united in one place around a group that ministers to all. The author of the narrative makes sure to mention in detail the varied origins of the population gathered in Jerusalem (Acts 2: 9-11).
Nevertheless, when we consider the gospel passage, the gift of the Spirit is a paschal event.
It is at the heart of this encounter, on Easter Day, that the disciples receive the Holy
Spirit. The way this event is told helps us to understand the Greek words translated by "Holy Spirit". Indeed, Jesus breathed on his disciples and said to them ‘’receive the Holy Spirit’’. This action recalls that of God in Genesis, which gives life to humanity by his breath (Gen 2: 7). It is a kind of new creation. The Risen One gives life by his breath.
The gospel according to John had well prepared this scene. On a few occasions, Jesus had announced that after his departure, the disciples would receive this breath which is sometimes nicknamed Paraclete. When the Paraclete comes, whom I will send you from the Father, the breath / spirit of truth that proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness to me; And in your turn, you will bear witness to me ... (Jn 15: 25-27). It can be seen that in John the Holy Spirit is connected with truth and testimony
So when did the disciples receive the Holy Spirit?
The Christian tradition has retained two very different accounts of the coming of the Spirit. The discrepancies between these narratives allow us to understand the type of text we have in our hands. Since it is impossible to merge these two traditions, we must realize that these are theological proofs.
The Gospel according to John and the Acts of the Apostles invite us to reflect on the new mode of presence of the risen Christ: despite his physical absence, he is present by his breath and by his spirit. This assertion is not self-evident. That is why the two texts present catechesis to help us understand this new form of Christ's presence in his community.
To respond directly to the question, the gift of the Spirit took place on the day of the resurrection, 50 days later and even today. The date of this donation is irrelevant since this mode of presence continues. The gospel narrative of John links this gift of the Spirit to peace (verses 19-21), the forgiveness of sins (v. 23), and the mission of the disciples (v.21). The Acts of the Apostles insist on the proclamation of the wonders of God everywhere and in all languages (v. 11).
Basically, the two texts deal with what is at the heart of the Christian experience: to make such a strong experience of the Risen One, that will impel us to bear witness to him. The moment of the gift of the Spirit is thus today and every day.