How We Are Empowered By The Holy Spirit
Pentecost - Eastertide
Acts. 2:1-11, Rom. 8:8-17 & Jn. 14:15-16, 23-26
Our Lord Jesus Christ completed His saving work when, after His death and resurrection, He ascended to the Father and sent the Holy Spirit into the world. This is how God recreated a fallen world, harvesting a new creation which is the Church.
In the Old Testament Liturgical calendar there were two Feasts associated with the harvest season. One was at the beginning, when the first sheaf of wheat from the new crop was presented to the Lord. Then seven weeks later, there was the solemn Feast of Weeks (or Pentecost) to mark the completion (the gathering in) of the harvest.
These Feasts were symbolic of the reality of the Paschal Mystery we now celebrate. Easter Sunday marks the beginning of the harvest of God’s new creation when Jesus, the First born of the new creation, the First Sheaf of Wheat, rose from the dead. Then seven weeks later, on Pentecost Sunday, we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit which gathered in the harvest, the Church.
On the first Pentecost day, 3000 people became disciples of Christ, and today the Church numbers millions of people from all parts of the world. The work of the Spirit in recreating the world takes different forms and in today’s readings we have two special symbols to describe this action.
In the Gospel Jesus breathes on His disciples saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Breath is an important symbol of life, of course, because when we stop breathing we die. By giving the Holy Spirit in the form of His breath, the risen Jesus taught us that a key function of the Spirit is to bring new life from the death of sin. This life-giving action necessarily involves the forgiveness of sins, which we experience first in Baptism, and then subsequently, and regularly, in the Sacrament of Penance. In today’s Gospel, we have the basis for this Sacrament. Jesus gives His disciples the authority to forgive sins or to retain sins. Every priest at his ordination receives the gift of the Holy Spirit and the authority to forgive sins in God’s name. Since the forgiveness of sins brings new life and great peace to the penitent, it is not surprising that the giving of the Holy Spirit is immediately preceded by Jesus’ gift of peace.
Having given us new life, the next most important function of the Spirit is to give us power. On that first Pentecost tongues of fire rested on Mary and the Apostles. Fire is a symbol of power, a source of energy which is needed to move things. The tongue is a symbol of speech. The tongues of fire from the Holy Spirit gave the Apostles the power to speak about Christ.
These men from Galilee were not only uneducated but were also paralysed by fear. Peter had denied Jesus three times on the night of His betrayal, and all except John ran away from the crucifixion. The room in which they were huddled together seven weeks after is an apt symbol of the fear by which they were imprisoned. And yet, these same cowardly men were so transformed by the coming of the Holy Spirit that they began to proclaim Christ with amazing courage. Now nothing could shut them up, neither scourging, nor imprisonment, and not even the prospect of death. So great was the power given to them by the Spirit! When people thought him drunk Peter said it was not because of alcohol but with the Holy Spirit, and proceeded to give them the Good News about Jesus, “God has made this man Jesus whom you crucified both Lord and Christ.”
The same Holy Spirit is given to us in the Sacraments. In Baptism we received the new life of the Spirit and in Confirmation we received the power to witness publicly to Christ whenever the need arises. This new life and the power of witness are continually renewed in us through the Sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist. Our faith is not a private affair to keep to ourselves. As Saint Paul says, we are called not only to believe in our hearts that God raised Jesus from the dead, but to confess with our lips that Jesus is Lord! And none of us can confess Jesus is Lord unless we are under the influence of the Spirit.
Holy Spirit, renew in our hearts every day our belief in Jesus that we may confess Him as Lord to people in our society, by the life we live as Catholics and the opportunities we have to tell them He is the meaning of our lives.