The glorious Season of Easter concludes with the great Solemnity of Pentecost, the day of the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles. We can even think of today as the feast day of the Holy Spirit. We have been preparing for this day for the entire fifty days of Easter, especially during the last ten days since the Ascension of the Lord to the Father. We have been reflecting on all that Jesus taught us about the Paraclete, the Spirit of Truth, the One who will lead us into the fullness of the truth. On the day he ascended, Jesus promised: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Today we rejoice in the glorious fulfillment of this promise.
Our liturgical preparation for Pentecost has lasted for only a few weeks, but God was preparing his people for the coming of the Spirit for much, much longer. Long before the descent of the Holy Spirit, “Pentecost” was already a major feast day for the Jews. It was known as the “Feast of Weeks” (in Hebrew, Shavuot), celebrated fifty days – a “week of weeks” – after Passover (“Pentecost” comes from the Greek word for “fiftieth”). It was originally a celebration of the first fruits of the harvest, but over time it became the annual commemoration of the gift of the Law to Moses on Mt. Sinai.
Jewish feasts are marvelous preparations for our Christian feasts. Just as the Jewish Passover has come to its completion in the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, the true Passover Lamb, so the giving of the Law to Moses celebrated fifty days later is fulfilled in the giving of the Holy Spirit to the Church on Pentecost. Now the law of God is written, not on stone tablets, but on the hearts of all believers. The “first fruits” of a great harvest of souls began on Pentecost with people from “every nation under heaven.” On this very day, after Peter’s first sermon, some three thousand people believed and were baptized.
The signs that accompanied the coming of the Holy Spirit attracted a large crowd. They were amazed to hear the simple Galilean fishermen speaking boldly in the languages of people from all over the world. It is not clear whether the Apostles themselves were speaking in the various languages or the people in the crowd were given the gift of understanding what the Apostles said in their own language. Perhaps both. It is clear that a dramatic miracle took place. On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit “opened to all peoples the knowledge of God and brought together the many languages of the earth in profession of the one faith” (Preface of Pentecost). The fragmentation of the human race described in the story of the Tower of Babel has been reversed. At Babel, God confused the speech of the proud men who wanted to build the city of man (cf. Gen 11:1-9). At Pentecost, as the Church came to birth, God united people from every nation in the city of God by giving them the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The coming of the Holy Spirit is not merely an interesting historical event of the distant past. The miracle of Pentecost began in Jerusalem, but it did not end there. It continues to this day – and we pray that it will always continue! The Church’s unending prayer is: Come, Holy Spirit!
Some people wonder why Christians no longer speak in many languages as the Apostles did on Pentecost. Others go to the opposite extreme and claim that the charismatic “gift of tongues” is the one sign of a true Christian. Either way, they are missing the point because they are looking at individual Christians, not at the great work the Spirit does in uniting us in the Body of Christ. “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one Body.” No individual person speaks all languages. No individual has every gift the Spirit can give. Even on the day of Pentecost, the language miracle was a communal one. It was a sign that the Body of Christ can indeed speak all languages. The Church, under the inspiration of the Spirit, speaks in such a way that everyone can understand, no matter what language is used.
We are all members of the one Body, “all given to drink of one Spirit.” Through the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation we have been filled with the very same Spirit who filled the Apostles. Because we are now temples of the Holy Spirit, we can proclaim boldly, “Jesus is Lord!” This is a proclamation that must be made, not with words only, but with our whole way of life. Our witness to Christ is undermined if we say “Jesus is Lord” with our lips but we oppose his Lordship by our attachment to sin. The coming of the Holy Spirit is accompanied by the destruction of the reign of sin. This is why Jesus, when he breathed forth the Spirit, immediately connected the Gift with the forgiveness of sins: “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them….” The continued power of the Spirit in our lives is assured through the Sacrament of Confession.
“There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.” On Pentecost we recall that there are many different “gifts” and “forms of service” and “workings” – all flowing from the abundant creativity of Divine Love. We all participate in the work of the Spirit in unique ways. It is a waste of time and a disorder to be envious of the gifts of others. All gifts belong to all of us in the one Body of Christ. The obvious manifestations of the Spirit – healing, prophecy, miracles – are not necessarily the most advantageous for those who receive them. What is essential is that we submit ourselves entirely to the Spirit, letting him use us for the glory of God and for the benefit of his people. The “gift” of being a good listener helps those who need to be consoled. The “gift” of being a helpful neighbor can provide transportation for those who have no means to get to church. The “gift” of friendship can enrich the lives of those who have been abandoned by family. Each one of us has been given a “manifestation of the Spirit” that enables us to contribute to the good of all.
Wherever Christians are speaking the one language of faith and love, the Spirit is at work, for the Spirit himself is Love, the Love of the Father and the Son. When we stand up for Jesus Christ, when we defend the dignity of our neighbor, when we protect the unborn children, or provide for the needy, or love our enemies, the Spirit is at work in us. We are the Lord’s Spirit-filled apostles for our times. Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth!
When has sin undermined my proclamation that “Jesus is Lord!”? How am I allowing the Spirit to use me for the glory of God? When am I envious of the gifts given to others?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 18, no. 5. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.