The lesson of Pentecost—fifty days after the Resurrection (in fact, Pentecost means 50 days)—is that the Word of God will not be contained or diminished or reduced—but will go out—in every language and dialect and in every corner of the world until the end of time—because it is the word of Love, the Law of love—the gift of God Himself.
We received the Holy Spirit at Baptism. We are told that this Spirit is within us as we grow up. But, so many of us do not really appreciate this presence. We have an opportunity to grow in the Gifts of the Holy Spirit at Confirmation, which has been called our own “personal Pentecost.” However, for many, Confirmation has just become a “rite of passage” or even worse, for some, the last time they will attend religious education or even Mass!! So we go through the preparation choosing a Saint’s name, getting a nice outfit, and planning a little family reception. The day comes and we go through the liturgy just hoping the Bishop doesn’t ask us a question. Admittedly, I too at the time of my Confirmation did not appreciate it or think about it much afterwards.
The disciples in the closed room may have had the same mixed feelings before their Pentecost. They had been waiting and praying for ten days. The doors were most likely locked for fear of the Jewish leaders who had crucified the Lord. Then, all of a sudden a “strong driving wind” (like a tornado) comes upon the building. “Tongues of fire” come to rest on each of them. They are filled with the Holy Spirit and go forth proclaiming the Gospel in different languages with great courage. We may ask ourselves: Why doesn’t our own personal Pentecost have the same effect?
First, the Scriptures tell us that “the Spirit blows where it wills.” God chooses to work most often through the ordinary events and circumstances of daily life. The Spirit is present and working, but only a prayerful and humble soul can see His great works done in ordinary events. Secondly, we often do not open ourselves up to the grace given to us by the Sacrament of Confirmation to use the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. Do we really desire to spread the entire Gospel message? Do we even believe that the Catholic faith is the truth? Or, do we even believe in any objective truth at all?
The disciples, for all their foibles, loved Jesus and the message that He taught them. They wanted to spread the Gospel to all nations, because they believed that it was the life changing revelation of God! When the tongues of fire came upon them, they embraced the Holy Spirit as a great gift. These 11 weak men were open to the Holy Spirit’s promptings, which told them to proclaim the Gospel to all nations.
The amazing “power” that was given to the Apostles after they received the Spirit was a reversal of the story of the Tower of Babel. In that story everyone spoke one language until through their pride they thought they could build a tower to heaven so nothing they wanted would be out of their reach. God punished them and suddenly they could no longer communicate with each other and different languages were born.
The reverse happens at Pentecost – God restores the ability to communicate and each hears the Word of God in his or her own language. Finally, in St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians we get, not a story, but a theological interpretation of the event. It seems that Paul had been writing to Corinth because there had been arguments in the Corinth community about the relative importance of the different graces or gifts given by the Spirit. They thought that some gifts were more valuable than others, and that speaking in tongues was to be most valued. Paul response to this is to lump all the gifts together and describe them in their totality as graces given by the Spirit in order to build up a community. This is also one of the passages where we get some idea of early theology on the Trinity. The one Spirit gives gifts in many varieties; we give service, as a result, in many ways, as Christ did, and there is but one Christ; and we take action and evangelize in many ways, but in the name of the one God.
The idea Paul suggests is that being a part of the body of Christ, we each have a function for the common good. We need to find out what that function is that the Spirit has given us, develop it, trust God the Spirit to activate it, and then appreciate and not be envious of the gifts of others which work to further our own good.
I am suggesting that each of you has been given a gift to advance the community here. You may not have discovered that gift yet. You may have been afraid to discover that gift. But with your confirmation, it can be discovered and activated. It may even surprise you. This week I would love for you to think about what gift or gifts you may have been graced with, and whether you are using them for the good of this community or in building Christ’s kingdom beyond us. You may want to think of it as a talent for something or just simply something you are good at, but it is important to bring it to our table, to use it, to function as part of Christ’s body.
The work of Christ in sending us his Holy Spirit is that of making us His blood brothers and sisters. The work of Christ and the Spirit is that of reconciling, of forgiving, of loosening that which binds us up in our own isolation and our sterile self-centeredness. The work of Christ, now raised in power by the Holy Spirit, is the work of bringing a holistic communion to a people that are alienated, fractured, shattered, and divided by the waste of not loving when they could have loved. The work of Christ and the Holy Spirit is that of overcoming human sin. Sin is the name of all that has caused us to waste our chances to be better persons, to hurt, divide, and separate us from each other and from God.
Our task, is to be that source of healing for others. Ours is the mission of speaking God’s language where we work, among our colleagues and associates, friends and neighbors. Ours is the ministry of healing that which was divided, of inspiring those who have become jaded and cynical, of animating those who have lost hope, and of telling all who have missed chances of being better persons that there is a Second Coming of Christ. The Holy Spirit is at work in the mysteries of life, death, love, suffering, and beauty.
It’s essential to be available to God, to be open to God, to bring Him your mind and let Him infuse His presence into your thoughts. Awareness of the nearness and of the love of God is vital for you spiritually. But equally as important it’s awareness of that nearness that helps us realize the gift of the Holy Spirit within us and allows us to be Christ to one another. After all, isn’t that what we are called to be?