On the great Solemnity of Pentecost we celebrate the fulfillment of the promise Jesus made before his departure – that he would send the Holy Spirit (cf. Jn 16:7). The New Testament’s word for the Spirit is Paracletos, the Paraclete, which is translated as Comforter, Counsellor, and Advocate, reflecting the different ways in which he intervenes in our lives. Since there is no single word that can comprehensively describe the Holy Spirit, it is most fitting to turn to him today as “the Lord, the Giver of Life,” as we profess in the Nicene Creed: “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of life.”
What sort of life does the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, give? It is the life for which Jesus came – that we may “have life and have it more abundantly” (Jn 10:10). It is eternal life which Christ obtained for us by his Death on the Cross. Eternal life consists in knowing the only true God and Jesus Christ whom he has sent (cf. Jn 17:3). This knowledge is not merely conceptual but is rather a deep appreciation of God’s love shown on the Cross and a commitment to living according to this pattern of love.
As Lord and Giver of Life, the Holy Spirit has the role of helping us appreciate deeply what Jesus has done for us on the Cross. The Spirit inspires us to embrace the reconciliation Christ has won for us, and he leads us to true union with God and with one another, thus making us worthy of Heaven. For this purpose, the Holy Spirit who has been given to us pours into our hearts the love of God (cf. Rm 5:5). This love is what we call the virtue of charity, which is “the theological virtue by which we love God above all things for his own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God” (CCC 1822). We are called first to welcome and appreciate the gift of God’s love for us through Christ by worshipping God. Then we are called to show the same Christ-like love to other people and help them come to the fullness of truth. It is the Holy Spirit who makes all this possible in us. Hence, St. Paul tells us in today’s second reading: “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.” To say that Jesus is Lord really means to imitate the charity of Christ, to live the virtue of charity!
Where there is no charity there can only be confusion and disunity. This is the reality of sin, typified in the Old Testament by the event of the tower of Babel (cf. Gn 11:1-9). In that episode, the people wanted to live their lives and pursue their projects as if God did not exist. They lacked the virtue of charity and so failed to acknowledge God. Theirs was the sin of pride, a lack of charity towards God, which led inevitably to their being divided among themselves.
But God in his infinite mercy did not leave the human family divided and scattered. He wants to reconcile us with himself and with one another and draw us all into Heaven. This is why Jesus came to this world. He brought about reconciliation and peace, unity with God and neighbor, by the Blood of his Cross (cf. Col 1:20). This is the mystery of Easter, which culminates in the sending of the Holy Spirit who continues the work of reconciliation and unity. “For, when your children were scattered afar by sin, through the Blood of your Son and the power of the Spirit, you gathered them again to yourself” (Preface VIII of Sundays in Ordinary Time).
The Pentecost event is the antidote and the remedy to the event of the tower of Babel. At Babel, sin destroyed the harmony with God and then created such confusion among the people that they could no longer understand each other. At Pentecost, with the coming of Holy Spirit, though the many people present in Jerusalem were of different origins and languages, they were able to understand each other. How was it suddenly possible for each of the people to hear the Apostles speaking “in his native language”? By the power of the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life. The Spirit leads us to understand and appreciate the life that Christ has obtained for us; he leads us to the true faith. When we have this gift of faith, no matter what our various origins and languages may be, we are, nonetheless, able to understand each other because we share and live the same faith, as parts of the one Body of Christ. St. Paul makes this point very clear in today`s second reading.
The purifying and invigorating fire of the Holy Spirit is given to the Apostles to continue the work of God’s reconciliation through the forgiveness of sins. Jesus reveals this in today’s Gospel. He institutes the Sacrament of Reconciliation (or Confession) when he says to the Apostles: “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” Through the Sacrament of Holy Orders, this mission is passed on to the priests of the Church to continue the ministry of reconciling people to God. It all happens through the working of the Holy Spirit and the merits of the fire of Christ’s Passion. If we wish to grow in the life of the Spirit and experience the fruits of the Holy Spirit, we need to examine our consciences regularly and confess even our “everyday faults (venial sins)” (CCC 1458). As a matter of fact, doing this is a sign that the Holy Spirit is at work in us.
The Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life, comes to us today and at every Eucharistic sacrifice. He gives us life by leading us to the deepest appreciation of God’s love for us. We pray for the renewal of his sevenfold gifts: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of God; and may his fruits abound in us and in the whole Church! Alleluia, alleluia!
What does the phrase “Jesus is Lord” mean to me and what does it entail in my life as a Christian? When I lacked charity in a situation, what confusion and disunity did it bring? How have the sevenfold gifts of the Spirit enabled me to appreciate more God’s love for me?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 19, no. 5. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.