As the feast of Pentecost approaches (May 23 this year), what do we know about the Holy Spirit and how is He working in our lives, thousands of years after the first Pentecost?
Jane Guenther, director of the of the Catholic Renewal Center, often jokes that nowhere in Scripture does it say that we’re to believe in two Persons of the Trinity and one dove. “It makes people laugh, but it breaks the idea that somehow the Holy Spirit is something so nebulous and unapproachable,” she said. “It creates this desire to see the Holy Spirit as a person — our advocate, our counselor, our comforter.”
What is Pentecost?
Pentecost is a feast of the Church that celebrates the third person of the Triune God — the Holy Spirit, which descended upon the first disciples of Jesus.
Pentecost concludes the Easter Season. It occurs 50 days after the death and resurrection of Jesus, and 10 days after His ascension into heaven.
The name comes from the Greek word pentecoste, which means 50th. In the Jewish tradition, there is a parallel holiday, Shavu’ot, which falls 50 days after Passover. Shavu’ot is sometimes called the festival of weeks, referring to the seven weeks since Passover.
In the story of how the Holy Spirit descended upon the first Christians, a “strong, driving” wind filled the room where the apostles were gathered, and tongues of fire came to rest on their heads, allowing them to speak in different languages so that they could understand each other. Some people thought these early Christians were just drunk, but as Peter described in the Acts of the Apostles, this occurred in the morning and was the work of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit also gave the apostles the other gifts that were needed to go out and preach the Gospel to all nations. It fulfills Christ’s promise that the Apostles would be “clothed with power” before going out to spread the Gospel (Luke 24:46-49).
Some consider Pentecost to be the Catholic Church’s “birthday.” After the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles, Peter, the Church’s first pope, was inspired by the Holy Spirit to preach to Jews and other non-believers, in which he opened the Scriptures of the Old Testament, showing how the prophet Joel prophesied events and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
He also told the people that the Jesus they crucified is the Lord and was raised from the dead, which “cut them to the heart.” Peter exhorted them to repent of their sins and to be baptized. According to the Acts of the Apostles, about 3,000 people were baptized following Peter’s preaching.
How is the Holy Spirit working in our lives now?
People have the ability to see how Jesus is living in our midst every day, said Auxiliary Bishop Robert Hermann, who serves as a liaison for the Catholic Renewal Center.
Citing a line from Jesuit Father David Meconi’s book, “Christ Unfurled,” he said, “the Church teaches us today that the good sense of the believer never separated Christ from His Church, the head from His body. This reality helps us better understand that the apostles and their immediate successors had no greater access to our Lord Jesus Christ than we do today.”
Throughout the centuries, long after Christ had risen, He remained alive in the midst of the people who brought Him to light and to witness to others and evangelize.
“Christ is using us every day to be His intercessors,” Bishop Hermann said. “Every good deed we do, Christ uses that. It doesn’t go to waste, and He uses that to save souls. That’s an exciting thing to know — that Jesus uses ‘klutzes’ like us and does that to save souls.”
Jesus’ eucharistic presence and the Holy Spirit
Do we allow ourselves to give the Holy Spirit the room to work in our lives? It’s possible, if we have the ability to surrender our heart to Jesus. How can we do that? One way is through Jesus’ eucharistic presence.
“When we come into the silence of the Tabernacle, the eucharistic presence of Christ comes out and into our hearts to absorb all of the things that are distractions in our lives — our anger, our resentment, the memories of what happened yesterday,” Bishop Hermann said. “It’s in that quiet that we become aware of the person of Jesus. If we can teach people who use the eucharistic presence to become quiet and absorb the noise in our lives — that’s when God can speak to us.”
When we give the Holy Spirit the freedom to come into our lives and surrender our lives to Him, then we are excited to share the Good news with others. “It’s so spontaneous,” he said. “That’s how the Spirit should be released in all of us. Once the Holy Spirit turns us loose, then it is no longer a ‘chore’ to evangelize; it’s something you can’t stop from doing.”
Pentecost in the Bible
The Coming of the Spirit
When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong
driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were.
Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.
Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem. At this sound, they gathered in a large crowd, but they were confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language.
They were astounded, and in amazement they asked, “Are not all these people who are speaking Galileans? Then how does each of us hear them in his own native language?
“We are Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene, as well as travelers from Rome, both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs, yet we hear them speaking in our own tongues of the mighty acts of God.”
They were all astounded and bewildered, and said to one another, “What does this mean?”
But others said, scoffing, “They have had too much new wine.”
Peter’s Speech at Pentecost
Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice, and proclaimed to them, “You who are Jews, indeed all of you staying in Jerusalem. Let this be known to you, and listen to my words. These people are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. ...
Peter (said) to them, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the holy Spirit. For the promise is made to you and to your children and to all those far off, whomever the Lord our God will call.” He testified with many other arguments, and was exhorting them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.”
Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand persons were added that day.
Acts 2:1-15, 38-41
>> The breath of life
Throughout Scripture, there are numerous examples that portray the Lord as the “breath of life.”
“What does it mean for the Church to be revived — it is the breath of the Holy Spirit (that) is breathed in,” said Jane Guenther, director of the archdiocesan Catholic Renewal Center. “What does it mean for any individual to be revived? The breath (of God) is there, and we see that all through Scripture. We want to be revived by the breath of the Holy Spirit.”
Here are several passages from Scripture that depict the Lord God as the breath of life.
u “Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7).
w “The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life” (Job 33:4).
u “You send forth Your Spirit, they are created; And You renew the face of the ground” (Psalm 104:30).
w “Thus says God the Lord, Who created the heavens and stretched them out; Who spread out the earth and its offspring; Who gives breath to the people on it; And spirit to those who walk in it” (Isaiah 42:5).
u Jesus “said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the holy Spirit’” (John 20:21-22).
>> Spiritual gifts program
The archdiocesan Catholic Renewal Center offers a spiritual gifts survey designed to help individuals discover where the Holy Spirit is working in their lives and the spiritual gifts each person has received.
Baptism opens each person to certain spiritual gifts, talents or charisms that help in the building up of the Body of Christ on earth. When we are baptized, we receive His Holy Spirit in a deep and spiritual way. On Pentecost Sunday, Peter repeated Joel’s words, “I will pour out my Spirit upon all” (Acts 2:17). From the day of Pentecost, the Church has celebrated and administered baptism.
The spiritual gifts program is to confirm the work that Jesus has begun in us through baptism and to help individuals discover their unique gifts. We can use our spiritual gifts and talents to serve Jesus, His Church, His people and His world.
For more information on participating in a spiritual gifts survey, contact Jane Guenther, [email protected] or (314) 792-7734. For more information on other programs and resources offered by the Catholic Renewal Center, visit www.archstl.org/catholic-renewal-center.
Pentecost means receiving the Holy Spirit and using His gifts to evangelize
Where were we when the day of Pentecost arrived? We were still awaiting the Father’s call to birth. He brought us into being so that we too could experience our own Pentecost.
The apostles didn’t receive the Holy Spirit because they were holy. They received the Holy Spirit because they were sinners who needed the Holy Spirit to make them holy. This was God’s surprise gift to them — and to each of us.
It’s one thing to receive a Christmas gift. It’s another thing to open the gift and enjoy using it. We all received the gift of the Holy Spirit in baptism, but have we asked God to unpackage this gift for us to use in our daily lives? Reflecting on the readings from Pentecost help us to move in that direction. This is a neverending and a joy-enhancing experience.
On the day of Pentecost, the Father gathered the apostles and disciples together for prayer in one place. Then, the Holy Spirit visited them with a lifechanging experience. “And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and filled the entire house in which they were.”
Jesus earlier told Nicodemus, “The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
The Church teaches that on Easter Sunday night the apostles received the fullness of the Holy Spirit, and Pentecost was the wider manifestation of the Holy Spirit coming upon the entire Church.
So what does Pentecost mean to you, an ordinary Catholic? It means that God loves you just where you are, but He doesn’t want you to stay there. He needs witnesses to receive His Holy Spirit gifts and to use them to bring others to know Jesus.
Receiving the fullness of the Holy Spirit isn’t about you. It is about the Heavenly Father using you as a witness to Jesus. The more you are open to the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the more the Father can use you to witness Jesus to others.
Pray that every day from your heart. It’s a prayer that Jesus and the Father can’t resist.
This reflection was from a previous Sunday Scriptures column written by Bishop Robert Hermann for the May 14-20, 2018 edition of the Review.