Acts 2:1-11; Ps. 104; Rm. 8:8-17; Jn. 20:19-23
(Audio recorded live, 5 June 2022)
Today, on this fiftieth day after Easter, we celebrate Pentecost. Traditionally, this day has been hailed as the birthday of the Church, for as we heard in our reading from the Acts of the Apostles, the disciples received the Holy Spirit and began preaching in Jerusalem. Just as when Jesus received the Holy Spirit at his own baptism and began his public ministry, so too, do the disciples, baptized in the Spirit, begin theirs. The sound of their voices carried throughout the city and by the power of God, they were able to be understood by all who heard them, including those from every nation under heaven. At the core of their teaching was to repent from the evil they had done by rejecting Jesus and turn back to God. On account of Peter’s preaching, about three thousand were baptized that day. This is evidence of the power of the Holy Spirit working in and through the apostles.
The Holy Spirit is the first principle of life. In the Book of Genesis, we hear of how God breathed the spirit into Adam and he became a living being. The psalmist praises God for the Spirit, saying, “When you send forth your spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth.” Indeed, the glory of God endures in his works and his works are manifold.
Given all that has come about through the Spirit, we arrive then at a question: How do I respond to the Spirit of God in my life? How do I respond to the Spirit dwelling in me? St. Paul gives us some very good advice about living a life of righteousness, that is, a life of virtue. He says, “But you are not in the flesh; on the contrary, you are in the spirit, if only the Spirit of God dwells in you.” What does he mean when he says if only the Spirit of God dwells in you? I suppose the question we might ask ourselves is: Have I created a space for the Spirit to dwell within me? Have I opened my heart to this indwelling of the Spirit? Paul says, “Whoever does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the spirit is alive because of righteousness.” Righteousness is a matter of living a life of discipline, standing for what is right, and doing what is right. The ancient philosophers would recognize this value as exercising virtue, and those who remember their study of the Sacrament of Confirmation will remember the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which are tied to virtue. These gifts are knowledge, wisdom, understanding, fortitude, counsel, piety, and Fear of the Lord.
Indeed, the gifts of the Spirit are many, but how are they linked to virtue? Well, one cannot have knowledge without the discipline of study; one cannot understand without contemplation; wisdom is the result of applying knowledge and understanding; fortitude requires tempering fear; counsel can only be effective with prudence; piety is the discipline of practicing the faith with devotion; and cannot fear God without avoiding sin. If we wish to be truly well-rounded Christians, we will create a space for the Spirit by exercising the virtues that allow the gifts of the Spirit to shine in our hearts. In other words, the Spirit has already given us the tools we need to create a space for Him to dwell. For those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons [and daughters] of God.
And so, practicing virtue and exercising righteousness helps us create a space for the Spirit to dwell in us. Now, one may object and say that the Spirit does what He wills, and there is nothing we need to do for the Spirit to dwell in us. But, let us not forget that God gave us freewill. Our capacity for the indwelling of the Spirit, therefore, is directly proportionate to our willingness to accept Him into our life. Consider what Jesus says in the gospel: “‘As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” To receive the Holy Spirit, then, implies that the disciples must be open to it. We hear in the Acts of the Apostles how they “devoted themselves with one accord to prayer, together with some women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.” Then, when they were all in one place together, there came a strong driving wind, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. The key to their openness to the Spirit was their unity in prayer, their devotion.
We are all called to the same unity, for it is the same Spirit that draws us together today. And so, as we celebrate this Solemnity of Pentecost, the coming of the Spirit, may we also open our hearts to receive the Holy Spirit. And as we exercise a life of virtue, may the gifts of the Spirit be made manifest in our lives. And may the communion we share in the Body of Christ, make us ever more faithful to God, who has made all things new through his Son, and whose Spirit renews the face of the earth.