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Celebrating the Holy Spirit- Pentecost


This year the Feast of Pentecost will be celebrated on May 19. This is a very significant day because it is the birthday of the Church, the moment when the Holy Spirit utterly transformed the apostles from being fearful and without direction into a community empowered to carry on the mission of Jesus. Just before he ascended to the Father, Jesus promised them that he would not be alone:

“The Father will give you another Advocate to be with you always,” he says, “the Spirit of truth… you know him, because he remains with you, and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans: I will come to you.”

The Advocate of course is the Holy Spirit. The Pentecost episode in Acts portrays the apostles being able, by the infusion of the Spirit, to preach ecstatically and convincingly to people of all nations in each nation’s own tongue. The language barrier was supernaturally overcome as a sign that the nations would be gathered together in Christ. This, some also think, reverses the “babble” of language and nations that have been our lot since the day when people tried to build a tower to heaven (Gen 11:1-9).

More importantly, it is both a foretaste of the successes of the Church’s ministry and a move forward from the Old Testament situation in which inspired prophets often spoke ecstatically but unintelligibly.

A Day that Changed Everything

On Pentecost day before the Holy Spirit came down a powerful wind shook the house. This wind is like the breath of God hovering over the chaos in the biblical account of Creation. It is followed by tongues of fire which come to rest on each of them. Fire is associated with light and heat, and it also purifies and transforms. It consumes chaff and prepares the vessel ( in this case the apostles) for the indwelling of God’s Holy Spirit. The prophecy of John the Baptist has now been fulfilled when he said that the Holy Spirit would baptize “with the Holy Spirit and fire”.

Pentecost is worth celebrating if for no other reason, it is a celebration of the Holy Spirit. For many of us Christians, the Holy Spirit is often neglected.  We talk much of God and Jesus, but the Holy Spirit seems to get less attention.

“What is the greatest need of the Church today?”. To this urgent question Pope Paul VI responded, “The Holy Spirit”.  For it is the Holy Spirit he continued, “who animates and sanctifies the Church, who is her divine breath, the wind in her sail, the principle of her unity,  the inner source of her light and strength, her support and consoler, the source of her charisms and songs, her peace and joy, the pledge and prelude of her blessed and eternal life.”

On 6 June 1973, a year after he spoke these words, the pope called the whole Church to deepen the study of and submission to the Holy Spirit as the indispensable fulfillment of all that Vatican II had begun.  On Pentecost, 1986, Pope John Paul II recalled these words of Paul VI and issued the encyclical Dominum et Vivificantem (Lord and Giver of Life), publicly placing the Church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Life at its Best

For Paul, human life without the Holy Spirit life is no life at all; it is devoid of power, sweetness, and hope. He terms unaided human efforts the “flesh” whose pitiful “works” result in strife, anger, jealousy, dissension, envy, drunkenness, carousing, enmity, and immorality (Gal 5: 19-21). But the Holy Spirit of life poured out by the risen Lord gives human persons the power to live in a totally different way, with joy, peace (Rom 14:17), and freedom (Gal 5:13, 16, 22-23) that infinitely surpass what merely human efforts could accomplish or imagine.

Paul stresses that the Spirit’s intimate activity does not form isolated individuals but a community of people in loving relationships, united to the triune God and one another in the communion (koinonia) of the Holy Spirit. By the Spirit they are baptized into the one body of Christ, the Church, and drink of the one Spirit (1 Cor 12:13). In this body of Christ, each member is important; the Spirit gives to each one his or her gifts and service in fostering the growth of the entire body (1 Cor 12 4-11). Infusing all the gifts is the Spirit’s own charity (Rom 5:5; 1 Cor 13: 1-13) by which Christians are called to give themselves to others in unselfish love and service  (Gal 5;13).

Another reason why celebrating Pentecost is such a glorious thing is because of its hope-giving power.  When the apostles scurried off to their upper room retreat after Jesus’ Ascension, they were in quite a state. Here they were, a handful of men, invested with great truths and commissioned with great promise. But where was the power? What could they do? The arrival of the Holy Spirit was nothing short of shocking.  In His power, they had hope. Things were happening! Thousands were converted and the church grew in size. The truth was proclaimed in every language.

Pentecost is the fulfilment of the paschal mystery, the birth of the Church in the Spirit.  The entire Acts of the Apostles, Luke’s second book of his two-part work, recounts the joy and power of this Spirit filling the church and spreading its boundaries to the ends of the earth. Today we have the same Holy Spirit, and He is no less powerful than he was at Pentecost.  Pentecost is about beginnings, about beginnings, about possibility, about carrying the joy of Easter out of the Upper Room and into the world.


Written by Marie–Therese Cryan

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