In a few days, we will be celebrating the great Solemnity of Pentecost. The story of Pentecost in the Acts of the Apostles tells us about the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles, inspiring them to go forth preaching about Jesus Christ crucified and resurrected and baptizing many into the faith. We call Pentecost the birthday of the Church, because those who accepted the testimony of the Apostles formed the new community of believers, the Church, the Body of Christ in this world. (Acts of the Apostles 2:1-41)
In my own faith life, I find myself becoming more aware of the Holy Spirit at work. Perhaps it is because I spend a lot of my ministry focused on the Sacrament of Confirmation. In every Confirmation homily, I tell the young people about the importance of the gifts of the Holy Spirit at work in their lives as they continue their lives of faith.
Lately, when I read the Gospels, I pay more attention to the relationship of Jesus with the Holy Spirit. The Gospels relate that John the Baptist baptized Jesus in the River Jordan. Coming up out of the water, the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus like a dove, and a voice from heaven said, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:11b) The Spirit of God drove Jesus out into the desert where, for 40 days and nights, he fasted and prayed. There, Satan tempted him, and Jesus emerged victorious.
Jesus is the “Anointed One.” The title “Christ” means “Anointed,” and his anointing is the Holy Spirit. In the Synagogue in Nazareth, Jesus identified himself as God’s Anointed One with the words taken from the book of the prophet Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.” (Luke 4:16-30)
That which marked the ministry of Jesus and astounded his disciples was the way he preached, healed the sick and cast out demons with power and authority. He conducted his mission in the power of the Holy Spirit. At the Last Supper, Jesus assured his disciples that his Father would give them another Advocate, the Spirit of truth, who will be with them always.
After Jesus died and rose again on the third day, the Acts of the Apostles describes him as appearing to his disciples over a period of 40 days. He then met with his disciples and promised that they would receive the Holy Spirit, telling them that they would be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and “to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:1-12)
We know from the Gospels that the Apostles were not perfect individuals. In their time with Jesus, they were slow to believe, they often misunderstood Jesus’ words and they made their share of mistakes. Why then did Jesus entrust them with so great a mission? Why did he commission them to proclaim the Good News to the world? The answer is that they were his witnesses. They were the ones whom Jesus called to follow as disciples. They were the ones who listened to his teachings. They were the ones who witnessed the works of Jesus as he healed the sick and expelled demons. The disciples were the ones who abandoned Jesus in his passion and death, but it was to them that Jesus appeared on the day of his resurrection, offering them peace and reconciliation. They were witnesses of the glory of the resurrected Lord.
The Apostles were all together praying when the day of Pentecost arrived. On that day, the Holy Spirit came upon them like a rush of wind and tongues of fire. When they received the Holy Spirit, they went forth into the streets of Jerusalem proclaiming the mighty works of God. They spoke in different tongues, and though the crowds in the street came from many different countries and spoke different languages, they all understood what the Apostles were preaching. The Apostles went forth preaching and teaching about Jesus Christ crucified and resurrected – how he died on the cross to save us from sin and how he rose from the dead to bring us to new and eternal life.
The Apostles, filled with the Holy Spirit, witnessed to their faith in the Good News of the resurrected Lord. The Holy Spirit inspired their bold witness, and they brought many to the faith. On the day of Pentecost, the Apostles baptized many, about 3,000 according to the Acts of the Apostles. It was the birth of a new community, animated by the Holy Spirit – a community of faith.
In the moment of our baptism, we entered that community of faith. In baptism, we entered into the profound relationship of the love of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Whenever we renew our baptismal promises, we acknowledge how wonderful that relationship is, and we express how grateful we are for God’s love, forgiveness, mercy and friendship.
The Holy Spirit is at work in our lives. God’s Spirit heals us of our inner wounds, our false pride, and our exaggerated sense of self-reliance and moves us to surrender to God’s saving power, or in other words, moves us to faith, giving us a spirit of humility and peace. This same Spirit inspires us to go forth proclaiming the Good News of the resurrected Lord, not simply by our words, but by our actions of compassion, charity, mercy and justice toward those most in need in this world. Together with the whole Church we pray, “Come Holy Spirit.”