The Feast of Pentecost
Today is the annual celebration of the birthday of the Church, which is the Feast of Pentecost. The day the Holy Spirit descended, after Jesus was taken into heaven. The fulfilled promise that Jesus would not leave his disciples orphaned and the assurance of God’s invisible and continuous dwelling with his people. Hidden but not undetectable.
St. Luke describes the event in the Acts of the Apostles as a strong driving wind from the sky and tongues of fire coming down from the sky. It sounds more like the destruction we may see in movies such as Armageddon or 2012, not an instance of life and inspiration. But Luke continues: “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.”
Present-day disciples, who have received the gift of the Holy Spirit at their baptism and confirmation, can hardly claim such a sensational experience. For too many of us, the Holy Spirit is factual, but doesn’t seem necessary in our daily lives, or so it seems. Part of the reason is that we have become immersed in what can be seen and touched physically. The Holy Spirit moves and influences life’s subtleties, those experiences which do not demand physical proof.
Shedding the physical proof of the Spirit’s presence is how the eyes of faith begin to embrace the Spirit’s movement and reality. Those who have will begin to notice the Spirit’s presence in their lives in many-faceted ways, starting with a person’s willingness to listen to their conscience by seeking the good and avoiding evil. The Spirit is alive in those trying moments in interpersonal relationships when spoken truth is the medicine a wayward person needs instead of a complicit and condoning response that perpetuates the sinful situation.
A Spirit-filled person finds joy in their heart even during upheaval and uncertainty. The Spirit helps us reflect and notice the beauty in God, people, the earth, and the arts. The Spirit is present in us when a task or obligation seems daunting, as in caring for those who need our care. Through the Spirit, somehow, our strength surfaces to meet the challenge. We work with the Spirit when there are times when the right words are spoken to someone grieving.
The Spirit is alive when reconciliation is a far better option for us than estrangement. The infused wisdom and recognition of evil masquerading as compassion, diversity, and understanding is a gift of the Spirit. When charity overrides our selfish desires and becomes an integral part of how we choose to live is also encouraged by the Spirit. The capacity to love God and neighbor more profoundly and purely is a manifestation of the Spirit. These are moments when God is with us in an intimate and close way. The driving winds and the tongues of fire may not be what we expected, but they are real.
More than just the personal interaction with the Spirit, the disciple is called to a joint mission with other believers. The mission of self-emptying love aided by the Holy Spirit gives us the impetus to fulfill the risen Lord’s mandate as members of his Body, the Church.
The mission we are called to participate in is eloquently described by St. Paul: “There are different gifts but the same Spirit; there are different ministries but the same Lord; there are different works but the same God who accomplishes all of them in everyone.” We are not all called to the same ministries, but our joint mission is proclaiming our Lord’s Gospel in whatever vocation we have been called. But we can do so only with the help of the Holy Spirit, who works to unite the members into one body. For some, it can be seen in living a life that may seem too many to be both foolish and a waste; for others, it may be the courage to profess beliefs in a God that cannot be proved to a skeptical world; still, others may be called to bring hope to those who have lost their ability to recognize anything good can be on the horizon.
With the help of the Spirit, courage, strength, and wisdom fill our lives and hearts. And it is in these moments that we sense a driving wind, a wind that changes the course of our lives. In these moments, we notice the tongues of fire coming down upon us, a fire igniting the flame of love for God and our neighbor. Last but not least, we speak in a new language, a language that is the Good News of our Lord Jesus Christ.