Pentecost ranks among the most important feasts in the Church’s calendar: it’s up there with Christmas and Easter as marking a crucial moment in the history of our salvation. At Pentecost the Apostles received the gift of the Holy Spirit and they were inspired to leave their place of hiding and go out into the streets of Jerusalem to proclaim the Gospel.
This great outpouring of the Holy Spirit wasn’t a one-off event; rather it’s something that continues in the Church right up to the present day. And it will always be one of the identifying characteristics of the Church.
Our Lord promised his disciples: I will not leave you orphans. The Holy Spirit has been given to the Church and he inspires and sustains the Church in every age and in every place.
Pentecost is rightly considered to be the birthday of the Church. But it marks much more than the establishment of an institution. As individuals and as a community we are all being gradually drawn into the life of the Holy Trinity: we’re being drawn into the life of God himself.
Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ has saved us from our sins and from ourselves, and by virtue of our Baptism and Confirmation we now live the life of the Holy Spirit. Day by day we are being drawn ever closer to the Father, and when we die we shall rise to glory and see God face to face.
Each and every one of us experiences our own Pentecost. The Holy Spirit was poured out on us when we received the Sacrament of Confirmation. Many of the young people who are Confirmed in our parishes year after year may like to think that Confirmation ends their spiritual formation. This must be the case as many of those children are never seen in the church again. But the work of the Holy Spirit doesn’t stop with our Confirmation, because we experience many other moments of sanctifying grace because God is always at work in our lives.
Nothing of a spiritual nature ever happens by accident, and while always respecting our free will, God constantly cares for us and gently guides us in the way he chooses. If we want to know whether God has actually done this, then simply sit down and count your blessings and you will soon see what God has been doing in your life.
As people of faith, it’s natural for us to want to live in harmony with our Creator and we want to follow where he leads us; even though at times we find it difficult to discern his will. We’re not always sure what he wants us to do. Does the Holy Spirit inspire this or that particular action, or it is just me following my own inclination and desire?
To answer this question, we simply need to ask ourselves whether the deed in question is good and whether its effects will be good. If there is any shadow of a doubt, then we will know it is our own desires that are at work rather than the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. God is good and there is no shadow of darkness in him. If our actions and our motivations are good in themselves, then it’s a very strong indication that they come from God.
Some of the people with whom we share our lives will no doubt accuse us of being boring and old fashioned for being active in the Church and even for going to Mass on Sunday. And yet it’s a well-known fact that trying to be good, doing the right thing, and working in harmony with God is deeply satisfying; and many people of faith swear that true personal fulfilment can be found in no other way.
At Pentecost Our Lord breathed on the Apostles and he said to them: Receive the Holy Spirit. It is breath that gives life and the Holy Spirit certainly gives us life. We live this new life by doing the things God wants us to do, thinking the thoughts God wants us to think, and by speaking the words that God wants us to speak.
By living our lives in accordance with God’s plan for us we become more and more in harmony with him. And what begins as an act of will gradually becomes second nature to us. We don’t have to ask what God wants us to do because we instinctively know and choose what is good.
The outpouring of the Holy Spirit is closely linked with the institution of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Receive the Holy Spirit: for those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained.
As Christians we want to live in the way God wants us to live; but being human, we frequently fail, all too often we return to the selfish habits of sin, and we choose our way rather than God’s way. We are, after all human, but at the same time we are aware of our sins and shortcomings. We know when we have failed to reach the mark. And when things build up inside we find ourselves turning to God in the sacrament in order to seek his forgiveness and mercy. And when we clear away the backlog of sin we hear the priest say those wonderful words: God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace. And I absolve you from your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
The example and the witness of the saints, of all those who have gone before us, show us that it is entirely possible to make real spiritual progress even in the most difficult of situations. After all the Holy Spirit is guiding us and he guides us along the way to holiness. All we need to do is to find that humility to place our hand in his and allow him to guide us where he will. By allowing the Holy Spirit to do his work we gradually grow in love and goodness, and he slowly, but surely, draws us closer to the Father and the prospect of eternal life.
Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and enkindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And you shall renew the face of the earth.