Easter – Pentecost (Year B)

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.

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Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

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Pentecost (Year A)

It’s not likely that we need reminding that the movement of the Holy Spirit, the breath of God, did not just make an appearance in the New Testament.

 

‘God breathed into the man and he became a living being’ – Genesis 2:7

 

In several places in the Sacred Scriptures, God’s breath becomes closely identified with His Holy Spirit – the life of God moves out and draws forth His creation.  Whatever God’s breath encounters, becomes something new, dynamic, transformed.  It has a share in His Divine life.

 

In the creation account in Genesis, the breath of God transforms man, fashioned out the dust of the earth into something more;  from being a mere ‘creature’ into a  ‘living being’, with intelligence and kinship with God Himself.

 

The connection between that action of God in the beginning, to the action of Jesus in St. John’s Gospel which we read from this Sunday – Jesus breathes on his disciples and says, ‘receive the Holy Spirit’- is unmistakeable.

The disciples are still in hiding following Christ’s passion and death, and here he appears to them in the evening of that first Easter, the day of His resurrection, and he breathes on them – transforming them from something inactive and in hiding into a something alive and dynamic.   He gives new life where death had apparently dominated, and empowers these now transformed disciples to become much more than they have been – he sends them out to spread this Good News that He is risen!  He takes a group of followers, and makes them much more than just a group of people with a ‘common experience’; he grants them the same power and authority that He was granted by the Father (‘as the Father sent me so now I send you’), and grants them a share in His Divine Life.

 

This of course, is even more clear and graphic from the account in the Acts of the Apostles of Pentecost, of the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles with the sound of a rushing wind and visible as tongues of fire.  The Apostles are transformed, moving from a group of men who have experienced the closeness of Christ, His teachings, His gifts, into something bold and brave and truly dynamic.  They go out, changed from an inactive group still in hiding, into fearless preachers and teachers, proclaiming the Good News of salvation to all people.

 

In our world and culture, we can fall into that false notion that so often seems emphasized in the secular media, that the Church is an organization; that it is simply a very large group of people who share a common affiliation – that the Church is an administrative entity that runs a city-state.  This view focuses on troubles caused by a few individuals within the ‘organization’, and ignores the historic and monumental works of charity, education, health care, disaster relief, compassion and mercy that have been the hallmarks of the Church’s members through the ages.

 

But the Church is not simply another corporation or collection of those with common views and interests.  It is a dynamic, living organism.  It is the Body of Christ, made up of His disciples, empowered by His Holy Spirit, commanded to be a visible sign of His presence and love in the world.  The Church is that Body, guided by His Spirit, called to be an instrument of fulfilling the Father’s will throughout the world.

 

That is the same Spirit, that same ‘breath’ that Christ gave the Church.

 

It is that same breath of God that, if we are open to receiving it, transforms each one of us as members of the Church, and subsequently transforms the Church herself, into such a powerful and dynamic force for God and good in the world.

 

It is that same Spirit, that same ‘breath of God’, that makes us much more than what we appear to be. It impels us to go out into the world, to bring the love of Christ to others, and to invite them into what we share – His Divine Life.

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Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Easter – Pentecost

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 with its 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; 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 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.

And all because they are moved, inspired, empowered by the Holy Spirit of God which has been 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.

We can’t let the notion take hold, that we are not participating in the mission of the Church, brought into being by Christ who is the head of the Church, unless we are doing something huge and impressive. 

Blessed Teresa of Calcutta thought of herself as anything but “big or impressive”.  But she understood that each of us, surrendering in our own ordinary lives to the power of the Holy Spirit, had the potential to do great things for God; and that great things for God were not determined by numbers of converts or monumental buildings or statues; one of her more famous quotes was ‘We can do no great things; only small things with great love.”

But one of her lesser known quotes was this; ‘Little things are indeed little; but to be faithful in little things is a great thing.”

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!