The Feast of Pentecost is the celebration of God’s will breaking into the lives of a frightened and paralyzed group of Jesus’ followers. Huddled behind locked doors and incapable of moving out to witness to Jesus, the disciples needed something or someone to help them, to bring them courage and to move them to action.
That was the role of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of Jesus took hold of their hearts and they were a different bunch after. They moved from fear to courageous witness in the greatest intervention by God since the Incarnation.
The fruits of this intervention were immediately obvious. They began to speak a “universal language,” a language all races could understand. They boldly proclaimed a message of life, radical love and resurrection from the dead. This message, they knew, would lead to hardship, persecution, and even martyrdom, but this did not stop them.
We are indebted to these first believers who risked it all for their faith in Jesus. It is no wonder, when the church comes to the point of ordaining a person for servant-leadership, they put them on the ground (prostrate) and pray over them the names of the saints and martyrs in a litany. This is an act of “branding” into the psyche of every servant that they are being placed on the shoulders of every saint who has followed the movement of the Holy Spirit in their lives and, through fidelity, has kept this church of ours alive, vibrant, and faithful to the Gospel.
So wherever that Gospel is proclaimed, lived out and Spirit-led, we, with all humility can see the work being accomplished, not solely by our own efforts, but the work of God’s Holy Spirit: renewing, unifying and sanctifying the world!
Under that sacred influence, divided worlds will unite: the east with the west, the conservative with the liberal, the estranged husband and wife, the divided communities. Such is the power of the Holy Spirit.
That is why we call this feast day the birthday of the church. As long as we were imprisoned by fear and incapable of witnessing to faith, we were simply taking up space in the “upper room.” But, thanks be to God, the fire of the Holy Spirit reached into the closed door of our hearts to set alight a flame of faith and witness that changed the course of history. What a proud tradition for every Christian to belong to.
The fruits of this Spirit-led force are everywhere to be found: in moments of healing, times of renewed communication, in unity beyond our own limited capacities. The Spirit will lead us to a more intimate “togetherness” at a time when so many divisions and hostilities surround us. We will witness not only with our words but our works as well. We will be inspired to reach out to the poor, the sick, the imprisoned and the lonely. God will literally drive us out of our self-preoccupations and move us more deeply into the hearts of a needy humanity.
So, the celebration takes the form of a prayer: Veni Sancte Spiritus! Come, Holy Spirit! Yes, I’m frightened, maybe somewhat discouraged, maybe a weak example of a disciple. But come anyway. Fire me up, and let me loose on a world so in need of the Gospel message of Jesus Christ.
As Pope John Paul II puts it: “It is he, the Spirit of truth, the Paraclete sent by the Risen Christ to transform us into his own risen image . . . and this Redemption is, at the same time, constantly carried out in human hearts and minds — in the history of the world — by the Holy Spirit, who is our counsellor.”
So today we celebrate God acting in our life and the life of the world. Pray again that prayer of invitation to the Holy Spirit and be filled today with the power of God’s divine love.
Veni Sancte Spiritus!
Williston gives parish missions and is a former missionary with the Redemptorists. He is also a song writer and recording artist.