Pentecost: The Feast of the Holy Spirit
The reflection below consists of some straight-forward points.
1. The Feast of Pentecost as a celebration of unity in diversity
2. The Holy Spirit as the God of Surprises
3. A Reflection on the Holy Spirit within the Trinity
4. A personal experience of the Trinity
Who is the Holy Spirit?
Holy Spirit is one of the persons of the Trinity who mediates the experience of God in Jesus. Since the enactment of the paschal mystery in the passion, death and resurrection of the Jesus, the Holy Spirit is actively present when a believer has an experience of the Risen Lord. Often this experience may be in the context of the community.
This is what we see in John 20:19-23, when the Risen Christ appears for the first time to the disciples gathered as a community, he offers them the Holy Spirit.
In the evening of that same day, the first day of the week, the doors were closed in the room where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews. Jesus came and stood among them. He said to them, ‘Peace be with you … The disciples were filled with joy at seeing the Lord… After saying this he breathed on them and said: Receive the Holy Spirit.
Similarly, in the Lukan narrative, where the descent of the Holy Spirit is highlighted as a separate event coinciding with the Jewish feast of Pentecost (fifty days after the Passover), the dramatic event is accompanied by the courage that the disciples are endowed with in order to preach the death and resurrection of Jesus. After the descent of the Spirit, Peter stood up to preach (Acts 2:22-24): Men of Israel, listen to what I am going to say: Jesus the Nazarene was a man commended to you by God by the miracles and portents and signs that God worked through him when he was among you, as you know. This man, who was put into your power by the deliberate intention and foreknowledge of God, you took and had crucified and killed by men outside the Law. But God raised him to life, freeing him from the pangs of Hades….
Even today, every experience of God, particularly in the Risen Lord, is through the Holy Spirit. When we are open to the Holy Spirit, “he” enables us to recognise the experience of God in Jesus. That is why, St Paul declares: “Nobody is able to say, ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit” (1Cor 12:3).
How does the Holy Spirit act?
“The wind blows where it pleases; you can hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (Jn 3:8). Jesus is very explicit in his conversation with Nicodemus. If the wind blows as it wills, then it is not proper to reduce the working of the Holy Spirit to some specific ways that he might act. It is easy to recognize the Spirit when it is accompanied by extraordinary signs. However, it takes true faith to recognize the working of the Spirit even in the quiet and undramatic God-experiences.
The Spirit who may be recognized in a powerful prayer experience of a community gathered in a stadium, is also the same Spirit who makes holy, the bread and wine offered at the Eucharistic celebration presided over by a voiceless elder priest in the privacy of the sacristy. It would be interesting once in a while – particularly on a day like the Pentecost – to pay attention to the number of times the Holy Spirit is mentioned in the Eucharistic Celebration. It would be an astonishing revelation that can lead us to a better appreciation of the presence and action of the Holy Spirit, particularly in the Eucharist.
One story in the Acts of the Apostles that surprises me is to be found in Acts 10. This story really provides evidence for Jesus’ declaration: the wind blows where it wills. In Acts 10, we see the encounter between Peter and Cornelius. In a sense, the unity in diversity of the Pentecost (in Acts 2) being re-enacted here. The real surprise comes towards the end of the chapter. Even as Peter is speaking to Cornelius – who is still unbaptized – the Holy Spirit comes down on Cornelius and all those who were with him (verse 44). And Peter himself is shocked, and he declares: “Could anyone refuse the water of baptism to these people, now they have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” (Verse 47). In this context then, baptism becomes the confirmation of the experience of God that has been mediated by the Holy Spirit. Are we ready to be surprised by the Holy Spirit, or are we pretending to know who is the Holy Spirit – just proud within the confines of our own laws and traditions? Is this the sin against the Holy Spirit (Mt 12:32) – the pride of self-sufficiency, not willing to be surprised by the Spirit?
What is the outcome of the action of the Spirit?
St Paul and others list in different ways the gifts of the Holy Spirit (Rom 12:6-8; 1Cor 12:8-10; 1Cor 12:28; Eph 4:11; 1Pet 4:11). Some of these gifts are inner dispositions and others are visible gifts for the service of the community. It is interesting to note that already Prophet Isaiah prophesies that on the Messiah will rest the Spirit with various gifts: A shoot will spring from the stock of Jesse, a new shoot will grow from his roots. On him will rest the spirit of Yahweh, the spirit of wisdom and insight, the spirit of counsel and power, the spirit of knowledge and fear of Yahweh (Is 11:1-2).
One persistent sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit is what is referred to, in the Christian tradition of spirituality, as ‘Consolation’. It is the outcome of the experience of God in Jesus through the Spirit. It is often an inner state of serenity, joy, acceptance, gratitude, and energy. It is not an absence of suffering, or a magic disappearance of the troubles of daily life. But even amidst the concerns of daily life, a person full of the Spirit – constantly aware of communion with God in Jesus – enjoys a state of gratification. It is not just finding a parking space when I need it, it is the serene willingness to find alternatives even when the parking space is not easily in sight.
May we all continue to experience God in Jesus through the Spirit!
– God is gracious and generous to each of us even when we do not deserve the same
– He gives us gifts because He know we need it in our lives to know, love and serve Him
– God wants us to do something with our lives and to produce; thus he also gives us the means to do that
– We are called to use the gifts and not to hide and bury them like the man with the one talent
– The gifts of the spirit are of the Mind and Heart
– The gifts of the spirit are to Know God’s will and to Do God’s will in our lives
– The gifts make us a complete person and to live out our Christian life.
We are never to take God’s gift and love for granted. We must use them wisely and for the good of others too.
Sacrament of confirmation that we celebrated in our parishes was not just for our children, but it is a reminder that it is the gift for the family too and that we are called to renew our very own confirmation which we have received earlier in our lives.
In the Acts of the Apostle we hear that all those who heard the message from the apostles each of them could hear it in their own language. What is this language? It is the language of God, the language of LOVE that God had for each of them. The message was spoken to them to the heart.
Fr. Franco Pereira, S.D.B.