The Gospel passages tell of the ministry of Jesus as he fed thousands, gave sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, speech to the mute, made the lame walk, brought the dead back to life. The disciples were witnesses to Jesus driving out demons, calming the raging sea, walking on water, and rising from the dead. The three closest to Jesus, Peter, James, and John, were there for all the miracles as well as the Transfiguration. The disciples, nonetheless, failed to recognize who Jesus truly was.
John’s gospel, Chapter 16, recounts Jesus’ talk with the disciples about the coming of the Holy Spirit. He indicated that he would be leaving then but the Advocate would come thereafter. Jesus asked the disciples to remain in Jerusalem until the arrival of the Holy Spirit.
After Jesus’ death the apostles, our Blessed Mother, and others retreated to the Upper Room, possibly out of fear and assuredly for prayer. While in Jerusalem they had their first Pentecost experience when the Holy Spirit manifested His presence by a strong driving wind and tongues of fire. “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.” God’s presence entered their lives and began to transform them. Spirit-filled Peter quoted the Prophet Joel’s words of the promise of the Holy Spirit. Peter who had denied knowing Jesus on three separate occasions was no longer able to keep the Good News of the Resurrected Christ to himself. He publicly declared Jesus’ lordship. Comparing Peter in the gospel narratives to the Peter in the Acts of the Apostles, we can see the change brought on by the Holy Spirit. The once impulsive Peter, who cut off Malchus’ ear, becomes a bold, dedicated, and effective leader. Peter who was unable to follow Jesus’ direction to walk on water was now capable of performing healing miracles in the name of Jesus. The Holy Spirit, working on earth, guided the apostles to profess with confidence that Jesus, the risen Lord, was the long-awaited Messiah. Conversion of thousands resulted from Peter, the leading evangelizer of the Jewish people.
Saul of Tarsus was born to Jewish parents who were Roman citizens, a coveted privilege that their son also possessed. According to Scripture Saul was present at Stephen’s stoning that marked Stephen as the first Christian martyr, Acts of the Apostles 7: 54 -60. The Acts of the Apostles further tell us that Stephen’s executioners laid their garments at the feet of Saul, Acts of the Apostles 7: 58. And that Saul was in full agreement with the gang’s violent acts, Acts of the Apostles 8: 1. Saul continued to attack the new Christians, entering their homes and arresting them, motivated by a strong anti-Christian zeal.
We all know Saul’s conversion story. On his way to Damascus to continue his persecution of the newly formed Christian communities, Saul heard the voice of God asking him why he was persecuting Him. This encounter resulted in Saul of Tarsus becoming the apostle Paul, one of the greatest leaders of the Church. This conversion lead to his applying his education, Roman citizenship, and his steadfast zeal to the evangelization of the Gentiles.
The Acts of the Apostles record the descent of the Holy Spirit and the first Pentecost experience – the life of the first Christian communities and the beginnings of our Church. It is through this same spirit that so many people became believers in the risen Lord. The Holy Spirit gave the new Christians the ability to understand God’s will and to live together in love and mutual respect, as evidenced in Acts of the Apostles 2: 42-47 and Acts of the Apostles 4:32-34. The early Christian community felt the manifestation of God’s presence and an empowering boldness from the Holy Spirit. The love within these communities empowered their witness to the gospel. Thus, the adage, “they will know we are Christians by our love”. Like the early church, we are called to promote social justice, communion, peace, and solidarity.
Luke, in his writings, points to Jerusalem as the place where salvation is accomplished. From this place, the church began to spread through Judea, Samaria, Rome, and other areas. After the descent of the Holy Spirit, we all were commissioned to be heralds and witnesses of Christ and entrusted with the message to “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). Jesus taught about God by word and lived the Word by the actions and attitudes of His daily life. He took the Jewish people by surprise. They, who expected a “king”, were given a baby born in a manger. Instead of fighting the status quo, Jesus told the people to turn the other cheek. He asked that we serve and not be served.
God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. His Spirit encourages us to live lives of loving service to one another. The Spirit empowers. Jesus is the perfect example of the one who follows wherever God’s will lead. As recipients of the Holy Spirit, we are to be prime examples of the love of God and have an obligation to reflect God’s nature.
Through the power of the Holy Spirit, our words and actions make a difference in God’s kingdom on earth. Our collective vocation should be building strong faith communities rooted in the Eucharist. Countless Bible passages demonstrate how ordinary people provided Jesus with what he needed to conduct His ministry. Andrew and Peter provided the boat in which Jesus traveled throughout the Gospels. According to John, a young boy, identified by Simon, gave Jesus the two fish and five loaves He used to feed the 5000 on the mountain. Jesus was a frequent guest of Lazarus, Mary, Martha. Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna provided for Jesus and His followers out of their own resources. The Samaritan woman by the well gave Jesus a drink of water. The disciples borrowed a colt from a stranger for Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. The disciples and Jesus shared the Last Supper at a stranger’s house. On the way to Calvary Simon of Cyrene, a passerby, helped Jesus carry His cross. Joseph of Arimathea, a secret disciple of Jesus, provided the tomb.
God makes his power available to us through the Holy Spirit. He has a plan for each of us. When we allow the Holy Spirit to reveal that plan to us, we can then begin to realize the calling we have been given. My first recognizable and memorable Pentecost experience happened many, many years ago. I grew up going to the Seventh Day Adventist Church with my grandmother who raised me. She also ensured that I attended the Catholic Church on Sundays per my parents’ wishes. From the age of 11 till around 16 years I was engaged in the music ministry at mass, was a Junior Catholic Daughter, and played CYO sports. When I was about 17 years old, I had an extremely unpleasant situation in the confessional and fled the Church.
During my separation, I explored many other churches. I took part in bible study with several denominations. I learned about the Koran and other “sacred” writings. I felt, though, I was still missing something.
After having been away from the Church for approximately 7 years, I returned. However, I would attend mass on Sunday morning and then felt an emptiness that would lead me to the Brooklyn Tabernacle at night. I had reached a point where I felt the urge to make a clean break and completely leave the Catholic Church. But I also knew there was something that drew and held me at the church, but I could not put my finger on it. That year part of the homily from Holy Thursday resonated and I was marveled by the procession to the altar of the repose. I spent an hour before the Blessed Sacrament and fell asleep. I was one of the disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane. That experience remained within me all through the Easter season. Someone invited me to my first Pentecost Vigil liturgy with the charismatic community. At the mass I felt overcome by the Holy Spirit several times: first during the Veni Creator (I had no clue what was being chanted), then during the consecration, and lastly during the prayer over the leaders. For the first time in my life, I got a sense of what it may have felt like on that first Pentecost.
Feeling filled by the Holy Spirit, I realized that I was only a spectator at church. The Lord was speaking to my soul calling me to come (fully) home. He was asking me to become a fully active member of His church. I became involved in ministerial activities. As I reconnected to the church, my eyes were opened to the real presence in the Eucharist. I discovered that I had a love for the Eucharist and that love would keep me in the Catholic church. I, now, understood why I needed to go to the Catholic church on Sunday mornings, despite going to the Brooklyn Tabernacle at night. The ministries in which I have engaged have served as a channel helping others to come to the Lord and have also helped me to remain grounded in my faith. I now have an insatiable thirst to nurture my faith and live out the Beatitudes. I am slowly learning to understand how to live “Eucharist”, and hope to be able to share the knowledge and love with others.
Witness and service must occur within the family and political, professional, social, and cultural levels of society. Our ecclesial community is the conduit where we can learn to express our faith, grow in unity with God and others, and continue the saving mission of Christ. As laypeople we share in the Church’s saving mission throughout baptism. The Holy Spirit pours out gifts that make it possible for every baptized person to assume different ministries and forms of service for the good of all. Ministry is rooted in charisms given by the Spirit in baptism and enhanced by the Spirit at confirmation. Our call to holiness and service is a gift from the Holy Spirit, and our fiat is a gift to the world.
The Holy Spirit continues to work in our lives, transforming, and healing us. He empowers us to be witnesses for Jesus and equips us to do God’s work in our world. When we lend our voices and hands to the work of justice, reconciliation, and peace in our communities, we become true ambassadors for Christ in this world.
It is a blessing to know that I am created by the life-breath of God and animated by His Spirit.