The Feast of Pentecost ranks among the most important in the Christian Calendar; it is up there with Christmas and Easter as marking a crucial moment in the story of our salvation
As we have just heard read to us, on Pentecost Day the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the Apostles and they were inspired to leave their place of refuge and go out into the street to proclaim the Gospel eloquently in the languages of all their listeners.
This great outpouring of the Holy Spirit was not a one-off event it is something that continues in the Church right up to the present day. Indeed it will always be one of the identifying characteristics of the Church.
The Lord himself said: ‘I will not leave you orphans’. And neither he has. The Holy Spirit has been sent down on the community of believers and he inspires and sustains the Church through all the ages.
This great Feast of Pentecost is rightly considered the birthday of the Church. But it marks much more than merely the birth of an institution. What is happening is that we are being gradually drawn into the life of the Trinity; the life of God himself.
We have been saved by the work of the Son and we now live the life of the Spirit. We are being drawn ever closer to the Father and when we die we shall rise to glory and see God face to face.
Actually, each one of us experiences his or her own Pentecost. The Holy Spirit is poured out on us in the Sacrament of Confirmation but the Spirit does not stop there. We experience many other moments of grace because God never ceases to act in our lives.
Nothing occurs by accident and, while respecting our free will, God constantly cares for us and guides us in the way he chooses. If we want to know whether he has actually done this then simply sit down and count your blessings and you will soon see what he has been doing.
We as Christians want to live in harmony with our creator and we want to follow where he leads us. Sometimes though we find it difficult to discern his will. Does the Holy Spirit inspire this or that particular action or it is just me following my own desires?
To answer this question, we simply need to ask ourselves whether the deed in question is good and whether its effects will be good. If there is a shadow of doubt then we will know it is our own desires that are at work rather than the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
God is good and there is no darkness in him. If our actions and motivations are good in themselves then they certainly come from God.
This might not sound like much fun; we may regard being good all the time as rather boring. But this is a basic error on our part. Doing good deeds is certainly pleasurable, working in harmony with our creator is in fact deeply satisfying; and indeed, true personal fulfilment can be found in no other way.
The Lord Jesus breathed on the Apostles and said ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’, so we are told in the Gospel reading. This is a most interesting action and indeed the Holy Spirit is often identified as the very breath of God.
It is breath that gives life and the Holy Spirit certainly gives us life. We begin to live a new life; we have a new breath in us, the breath of God. We live this new life by doing the things God wants us to do, thinking the thoughts God wants us to think and by speaking the words that God wants us to speak.
By living in such close conformity to the will of God we become more and more in harmony with him. What begins as an act of will, sometimes only with great difficulty, gradually becomes second nature to us. We don’t have to ask what God wants us to do because we instinctively choose the good.
This sounds all very lovely and pious and you might be thinking by now that although I might be saying these rather marvellous things I quite obviously don’t live them! And you would be right.
You might also be thinking that you wish you could live in this way yourself but it would be too hard. There are so many practical things that get in the way. And actually, we all quite like our little vices and bad habits and are reluctant to let them go.
And this is understandable and in fact it is an inevitable effect of the original sin that we were all born into. Concupiscence is the technical word, if you want to know.
But look again at our Gospel reading and you see that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is simultaneous with the institution of the sacrament of reconciliation. The Holy Spirit comes upon us and this Spirit is a forgiving, healing and reconciling Spirit.
We want to live the way God wants but we frequently fail, we frequently return to the selfish habits of sin, we frequently choose our way rather than God’s way. But we are aware of this. And when things build up we find ourselves turning to God in repentance to seek his forgiveness and mercy.
When, in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we clear away the backlog of sin we hear the priest say those wonderful words: ‘God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace.’
So, although we are still fairly hopeless and always will have a certain propensity to sin we can yet make progress. After all the Holy Spirit is guiding us and he guides us along the way to holiness. By letting him do his work we gradually grow in love and goodness. By letting him do his work he draws us to the Father, he leads us to life eternal.
Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful,
And enkindle in them the fire of your love.
Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created.
And you shall renew the face of the earth.
Let us pray.
O God, who has taught the hearts of the faithful by light of the Holy Spirit, grant that by the gift of the same Spirit we may be always truly wise and ever rejoice in his consolation. Through Christ our Lord. Amen
Father Alex McAllister SDS
Parish Priest of
St Thomas à Becket