So often when we look at today’s passage from the Acts of the Apostles, with its description of tongues of fire and the sound of something like a whirlwind, we expect that this is the hallmark of the movement of the Holy Spirit. We look to see God’s activity in the world as monumental or spectacular. It’s as if we are saying, ‘if the Holy Spirit is active in my life, surely that would be accompanied by sights and sounds and actions that are certain to amaze and impress.’ The logical conclusion to this would be, of course, that in the little things, the ‘ordinariness’ of our lives, that the Holy Spirit of God is not active or moving through us.
But nothing could be further from the truth. Of course God can move and inspire us to great heights, and throughout salvation history, God performed great signs and wonders – we can think of things like the parting of the Red Sea during the Exodus of the Israelites when they left Egypt; or Jesus calming the stormy sea with a word – but more often, God’s presence and the action of the Holy Spirit appear in less dramatic fashion – think of the prophet Elijah and God’s revealing of self to him in the still, small breeze; or perhaps the resurrected Jesus walking quietly beside the disciples on the road to Emmaus as an unknown stranger.
We should never confuse the outward flash and show of something (or someone) with importance. We have two accounts today in our readings of the Holy Spirit being received by the Apostles – the first from the Acts, with the whirlwinds and fire and the result of the Apostles being filled with courage and conviction and going out and preaching to the crowds in Jerusalem; no longer afraid and remaining in hiding, but boldly proclaiming the resurrected Jesus.
Contrast that account with the passage from St. John’s Gospel – Jesus appearing to his disciples in the upper room where they are still hiding, and breathing on them, saying ‘receive the Holy Spirit’; here we have God in the person of Jesus, the Son, imparting the Holy Spirit in a quiet, calm and intimate way; quite apparently unspectacular.
But the results are most certainly spectacular; here this small group in Jerusalem will take this Gospel – this Good News of Salvation through Jesus – and spread it throughout the Roman Empire and beyond in a few short decades.
All because they are moved, inspired, empowered by the Holy Spirit of God, given to them.
We might see these examples from Scripture, though, and whether we look at the ‘big production’ of Pentecost in Acts, or the low-key handing on of the Spirit in St. John, we might be tempted to think that the movement of the Spirit is restricted only to historic figures that had a physical encounter with Jesus, or perhaps the great saints in the history of the Church who undertook and performed great works.
We might think that the movement of the Spirit is something outside our experience or our own ‘reach’ because, quite honestly, our lives are ordinary, or unspectacular.
Don’t sell yourselves or the Holy Spirit short. In the first letter to the Corinthians, our second reading today, the Apostle tells us, “No one can say, ’Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.’
In other words, just the urge to pray aloud or affirm that we believe Jesus is God, is a movement of the Holy Spirit within. It may not seem spectacular, or feel particularly exciting immediately, but it is a movement of the Spirit just the same.
There’s perhaps something that we need to understand at this point as well. As rational, practical beings, humans are given to thought and analysis and problem-solving through a whole process. In a strictly rational, practical existence, it would make absolutely no sense to pray.
And yet, we do. Often times we feel moved to have that conversation with our Creator God – and this conversation, this is what prayer is; and it is this prayer that is certainly not a rational exercise.
We feel a need or desire to converse with the One who loved us into existence; and it is this very desire which in and of itself, is a movement within us of the Holy Spirit. And when we surrender to this movement, the deeper we feel invited into this relationship; and the deeper we are drawn into this relationship, the more we show outwardly our inner journey with God – the more we are inclined to show in our actions and our words that ‘Jesus is Lord’ – a claim that we can make only through the power of the Holy Spirit.
And while we may not immediately see some spectacular or dazzling result in our circumstances from this movement, there will most definitely be an influence on others around us – and it is in that influence that the Spirit continues to move outward, reaching out through us, drawing us and others closer to God the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit. That is indeed something spectacular and amazing.
Every time we participate in the Mass; any time we spend in prayer; each time we reach out to help a neighbour- to feed the hungry; to shelter those who have no place to live; to comfort someone in sorrow; to support those suffering emotional or physical illness – each time we do any of these things, we are responding to the movement of the Holy Spirit within us.
We are living out the inheritance that was first given to the disciples by the very breath of Jesus as He breathed on them – this breath of Christ is the breath of God; the same breath of God that gave life ‘in the beginning’ ;the same breath which gives life as the Church is born on that feast of Pentecost; that breath is the Holy Spirit and continues to move – to breathe -through the Church and all of her members – through you and me, urging us to proclaim ‘Jesus is Lord’ in so many ways – and every one of these ways is extraordinary, because they are inspired by God; and in that, in each of us, there is greatness in the Holy Spirit.
Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!