Today’s Feast of Pentecost is the birthday of the Church. After Christmas and Easter, its next most important Feast of the Church. It may not seem like it because we don’t have all the festivities that occur at these other feasts. Pentecost gives us an opportunity to focus on the gift of the Holy Spirit and the mission we are sent on as disciples of Jesus. The Psalm today sums up the mission: Lord send out your Spirit and renew the face of the earth.
In the Gospel Jesus sends his disciples out to the world to spread God’s love. It didn’t sound like they were ready to go on this mission as they were hiding in a room locked away in fear of the Jews. By returning Jesus fulfilled a promise he made. He told them they would see him again and that he would give them an Advocate to be with them. Jesus offers them his peace, and their fear is turned into joy. Jesus then breathes the Holy Spirit on them. This is reminiscent of God breathing life in the nostril of Adam to create man. Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit on the disciples so they can re-create mankind by making disciples of Jesus who will become children of God. The disciples are given the power to extend God’s mercy, freeing mankind from the power of sin. What another word for God’s Mercy? Love!
In Acts the Holy Spirit comes in a more dramatic way. Jews from around the world are gathered in Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost. This was a Jewish harvest celebration. Jews from around the world would typically gather for this feast. A strong wind fills the place where they were gathered and tongues of fire came to rest on the disciples. This gave them the ability to speak many languages to people of many nations. The gift of tongues enabled the Church to spread to Jews all over the world.
St. Paul’s letter tells us the Spirit is given in different ways to each individual. These different gifts provided the ability for the spread of the Church beyond the Jews to Gentiles. Even though there are many different gifts of the Spirit, they’re all given to build up one Body of Christ.
Most of us here have received the gift of the Holy Spirit through Baptism and Confirmation. Does this mean we’ve all been given the gifts of tongues to speak in other languages? We have a growing immigrant and refugee population in central Indiana, but many of us don’t encounter people who speak a language other than English. But we do have opportunities to speak the language of love by being Christ to others. We may do so by witnessing the joy that Christ brings to us in being his disciples. Most likely this will be by extending acts of charity to others who are most in need.
I’d like to share an example of the Holy Spirit at work in the Kairos prison ministry that I’ve served in. To be effective I’ve learned that listening and being present to others is the most effective way to be a witness of Christ. Kairos is a four-day retreat very much like a Christ Renews His Parish where the Gospel and personal witnesses are shared with participants. This is the first exposure to Christ for the majority of those who attend. On the first day of the retreat I was paired up with an inmate, Bob, who really didn’t want to be there. Bob put up a wall to prevent anyone from getting close to him. I didn’t pressure him to participate, but daily I’d tell him I was glad he came and happy to see him. After 3 days he finally opened up and started sharing with members of our table. Bob was about 40 years old and said this was the first time in his life that kindness was shown to him without expecting something from him in return. He also found it hard to believe that anyone would give up four days of their own time to be with guys in a prison without being compensated. By the end of the weekend Bob was so moved he agreed to continue with the Kairos. Bob eventually become a Christian and a leader within the Kairos ministry inside the prison. This transformation was only possible through the Holy Spirit’s help.
So where are opportunities in your life to share your witness of Christ by using the gifts of the Holy Spirit? It may be closer than you think if you’re open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. It may be with a co-worker, a friend, a relative, or maybe the homeless person you see on your way to lunch. It could be spending ten minutes listening to someone who seems troubled or could be as simple as looking at someone who is down and smiling at them. A simple prayer to help keep you aware is: “Come Holy Spirit”. The Holy Spirit can provide the power to do some things that you never thought possible. So remember to pray the simple prayer daily to be open to the Spirit so that you can help the Lord to renew the face of the earth.