The feast of Pentecost draws us closer to the fact that God’s saving love for everyone is made manifest by His Spirit that unites the Church.
As the first reading clearly states, the love of God is for all and the Spirit of God empowered the Apostles to proclaim the Good News in different languages. The Spirit of Unity manifests the power of God in this regard because those who had come from far and wide heard them and understood. Thus wherever the Spirit is at work, the people understand each other, accept and love one another; and live in peace and harmony.
The word Pentecost is a Greek word pentecoste which means “the 50th day”. It was the name that the Jews gave the feast that was celebrated after the Passover. This same word refers to the feast of the Holy Spirit or “the birthday of the Church”. The Pentecost recalls three major events in the life of the people of Israel:
The first is the establishment of the covenant between Yahweh and his people (Exodus 19); the second is the giving of the Books of the Law to Moses (Exodus 20) and the third is the harvest feast to thank God.
There are some areas of closeness between the Jewish celebration and our Pentecost:
Firstly, the death of Jesus through which he won salvation for us occurred during the Jewish Passover. As the blood of the lamb symbolised the liberation of the Jews, the Blood of the Lamb of God freed humanity from enslavement to sin, evil and death.
Secondly, just as the Jews celebrated the fiftieth day after the Passover, we celebrate the fiftieth day after Easter as the day the New Covenant established by Jesus Christ was made accessible to all through the action of the Holy Spirit on the Church.
The Holy Spirit is not a new personality in history since the Spirit of God hovered over the waters in the beginning (Gen 1:2). The same Spirit of God has been active in the history of Salvation. The Israelite leaders were inspired by the Spirit to lead their people into freedom from the oppression of their neighbours. The book of Judges gives us examples like Gideon. The Spirit of God inspired the prophets to speak against the ills of their time even when they would have preferred not to. Amos 3:8 says: “The lion roars: who is not afraid? Lord Yahweh has spoken, who will not prophesy?” The activity of the Spirit of God brings renewal upon the people like rain which brings life to dry land.
Isaiah 32:15 says: “Until the Spirit is poured out on us from above, and the forest becomes an orchard, and the orchard that seems like a forest”.
Ezekiel 36:25 says: “I shall give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you”. It is this same spirit that brings life to dry bones in Ezekiel chapter 37.
Throughout the life and ministry of Jesus, the activity of the Holy Spirit is manifest. From the moment of his conception, throughout his ministry to his Passion, Death and Resurrection, he clearly showed that he had power over the whole of creation.
The action of the Holy Spirit was manifested in the Early Church when they spoke in tongues. The people that heard them understood all that they were saying because they spoke in different languages. The gift of tongues to the Church is a clear sign that the Christian community extends to all people. By this event, what was scattered at the tower of Babel has been gathered together through the action of the Holy Spirit.
Today we celebrate the beginning of the mission of the Church. Just before his ascension, Jesus promised to send the Advocate. In Acts 1:8 he assures them: “You will receive power…You will then be my witnesses at Jerusalem, in all Judaea, Samaria and as far as the ends of the earth. When they received the Holy Spirit, they preached boldly to all. People who once hid behind closed doors for fear of the authorities came out to preach boldly in broad daylight. Peter who denied Jesus before a servant was their spokesman. We have received the same Spirit that inspires courage, strength, love and self-discipline.
As Peter was transformed by the Holy Spirit, so too shall our lives be transformed if we are open to the workings of the Spirit. In Galatians 5: 16 St. Paul advises us: “Let the Spirit direct your lives, and you will not satisfy the desires of human nature”. He also adds that the result of our cooperation with the Spirit is that we would be able to make use of the virtues like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility and self-control (cf Gal 5:22). Since the Spirit has given us life, we must allow him to control our lives.
The Spirit descended on Mary and the disciples of Jesus in the form of a strong wind and tongues of fire. These are in themselves signs of the power of God. The wind in Scripture has always referred to the presence of God and the fire is a symbol of purity, it makes people warm and gives light. When Christians are purified and cleansed from sin, the faith in their hearts is warmed and they become the light of the world. It is the Holy Spirit that purifies, warms and enlightens our minds.
Despite failures, scandals and calumnies, the Holy Spirit is still active in the Church. The Holy Spirit never ceases to work to free and protect its members from evil forces. He brings hope in disappointment, joy in sorrow, and unity in times of division.
Life in the Spirit is life lived in faith which is manifested in external charisms; different gifts which are meant to be used to glorify God through service. These gifts have been given by the same Holy Spirit at Baptism and Confirmation and they can only be put to good use when we understand that Christ is the centre of our lives. He is the source of unity and we are the members of his Body. We are temples of the Holy Spirit and we must live according to his will to experience wholeness, joy and purity. Let us open ourselves to respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and confess from our hearts that Jesus is Lord.
Let us pray:
O Lord Jesus, through You we humbly beg our merciful Father to send the Holy Spirit of Grace, that He may bestow upon us His sevenfold gifts.
May He send us the gift of WISDOM which will make us relish the Tree of Life that is none other than Yourself; the gift of UNDERSTANDING which will enlighten us; the gift of COUNSEL which will guide us in the way of righteousness; and the gift of FORTITUDE which will give us the strength to overcome the enemies of our sanctification and salvation.
May He impart on us the gift of KNOWLEDGE which will enable us to discern Your teaching and distinguish good from evil; the gift of PIETY which will make us enjoy true peace; and the gift of FEAR which will make us shun all iniquity and make us avoid all danger of offending your majesty.
To the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit be given all glory and thanksgiving forever.