With today’s Solemnity of Pentecost, the glorious Easter season comes to a fiery culmination. The divine Fire that ignites Christian faith and proclamation is what sent the Apostles forth to set the world ablaze. The connection with Easter is clear from the Gospel passage where the Risen Lord first appeared on the evening of Easter Sunday. To the frightened Apostles, Jesus bestowed peace and then breathed the Holy Spirit upon them. This Spirit is what will appear fifty days later as tongues of fire, burning away all fear and giving the fullness of life – because the Spirit is the Fire of God’s Love. On this most glorious Solemnity, it is proper to ponder on the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Most Holy Trinity. The liturgical readings guide us to focus on his Person, mission, and gifts.
We learn most about the Person of the Holy Spirit from Jesus Christ, the fullness of God’s revelation, who shows us that God is a community of relationships of perfect Love. Both of today’s Gospel options are clear about this. Both focus on Jesus Christ as the main subject. He speaks of himself as sent by his Father, and he is faithful to him. Jesus also speaks of sending the Spirit to the disciples just as he himself was sent by the Father. And the Spirit too, as the Spirit of Truth, will be a faithful witness to the mission of the Son. So, there are three Persons, perfectly one in will, essence, and faithfulness. The Church, therefore, honors the Person of the Holy Spirit as God, with the Father and the Son, “who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified,” as we profess in the Creed.
We are unable to fathom who God is unless he reveals himself. The Catechism explains that “God’s works reveal who he is in himself.” Then, as we come to know better who he is, we can better grasp the meaning of his works as well: “the mystery of his inmost being enlightens our understanding of all his works” (CCC 236).
One of the clear works of the Holy Spirit, as we see in the first reading, is that he enables the members of the Church to boldly proclaim the Gospel. What the Apostles were unable to do before – either because of fear or weakness – they are now able to do with marvelous power and effect. Before the coming of the Spirit, they knew that Jesus Christ had suffered, died, was buried and rose again. They had even seen him ascend to Heaven. All these unfathomable phenomena were simply too much to take in. Jesus accurately anticipated this at the Last Supper when he told the disciples, “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” (Jn 16:12-13). The Apostles remained united in prayer, waiting for the promise to be fulfilled. And as soon as the Holy Spirit came, they began to proclaim with power the whole revealed truth of Christ’s Passion, Death and Resurrection.
We may think of the change this way: before Pentecost, the Apostles had experienced a torrential downpour of Truth and Love, more than they could handle. The Holy Spirit came and fortified them with divine strength, so that they would no longer be overwhelmed but instead could serve as channels of the life-giving Gospel to all nations.
Another work of the Holy Spirit is revealed today: the forgiveness of sins. On Easter Sunday, immediately after the Risen Lord breathed the Spirit onto his disciples, he added: “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them…” This role of the Spirit is clearly attested to in the prayer-formula for Absolution in the Sacrament of Reconciliation: “God, the Father of mercies, through the Death and Resurrection of his Son, has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins….” Because sin wounds us, weakens us, dries us up, stains us, we plead to the Holy Spirit, in the words of the ancient Sequence: “Heal our wounds, our strength renew; on our dryness pour your dew; wash the stains of guilt away.”
We can identify the work of the Holy Spirit more broadly as a work of renewal. In today’s Psalm we implore: “Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.” This renewal is not based on a conflict between what is spiritual and what is natural; rather, the Spirit raises up our whole nature to be more like Christ. This is the purpose of all his spiritual gifts. Thus, St. Paul, in his First Letter to the Corinthians, can compare the Church to a human body. Just as the body has many parts, so does the Body of Christ; the different parts are the many individuals who belong to it, all with different gifts. What makes them one is the one Spirit.
In his Letter to the Galatians, Paul explains that our life in the Spirit is entirely different from the gratification of the desires of the flesh. The opposition here is not between the spirit and the body itself, but between life according to the Spirit and life according to the flesh. We are created as integrated spirit-body persons; however, sin threatens to dis-integrate us. Paul exhorts us to choose the path of generosity over selfishness, self-control over outbursts of fury, peace over dissensions, kindness over rivalry, etc. He invites us to partake of the fruit of the Spirit. “If we live in the Spirit, let us also follow the Spirit” – the Source of all true renewal.
What is the goal of the Spirit? That we be fully conformed to Christ, that we share the fullness of life with him for all eternity, that we be divinized! This is both God’s will for us and our own deepest desire, “joys that never end.” So today, from the depths of our souls, we pray: “Come, Holy Spirit, come! And from your celestial home shed a ray of light divine!”
Am I always open to allow the Holy Spirit to enable me to boldly proclaim the Gospel? Do I implore the Spirit to heal my wounds and wash away the guilt of my sins? As an integrated person, am I aware of how sin threatens to dis-integrate me?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 17, no. 5. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.