Pentecost 2008, 10 May 2008

In the Scriptures the Spirit is symbolised as the “breath of God” which transmits the life of God in the creation of Adam:

Yahweh God fashioned man of dust from the soil. Then he breathed into his nostrils a breath of life, and thus man became a living being.

It also transmits the authority of Jesus to the Apostles:

After saying this he breathed on them and said: ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’.

We receive the Holy Spirit through the Sacrament of Baptism. The Spirit, the life-giving love of God, imparts the life of God himself to us, making us his children. In traditional terminology, baptism frees us from the power of original sin, restoring us to a right relationship with God. The Spirit also imparts the gifts of faith, hope and love. These gifts enable us to grow in our relationship with God and with one another. Then through the Sacrament of Confirmation the work of the Holy Spirit enhances our growth towards maturity in our lives as Christians. The gifts of the Spirit – wisdom, understanding, counsel, piety, fortitude, knowledge, fear of the Lord- are known as the sanctifying gifts; they serve to enable us to live holier lives, to mature according to God’s will for our lives. The Spirit also strengthens us to take an active role in sharing responsibility for the work of the Church. Our Catholic understanding is that every Christian has the Holy Spirit living in their lives as a result of Baptism. And the Spirit has a vital role working within individuals and working through them.

The Spirit works within individual Christians by empowering us to live as children of God.

And we, with our unveiled faces reflecting like mirrors the brightness of the Lord, all grow brighter and brighter as we are turned into the image that we reflect; this is the work of the Lord who is Spirit.

Our lives are intended to reflect the glory of Christ through our personal holiness and we grow in this personal holiness as we mature. However, this is not accomplished by our own human efforts alone; it requires co-operating with the grace of the Holy Spirit. By co-operating with his work within us our lives will bear the fruits of the Spirit which Paul lists as:

love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self-control. There can be no law against things like that, of course.

The Spirit also works through individual Christians, empowering us to be effective members of the Body of Christ, the Church. The Church is called to carry on the work of Jesus in proclaiming the Gospel and bringing salvation to all the world. Neither can this mission be accomplished by human effort. It too requires the power of the Spirit working in the Church. Each and every member of the Church shares in the responsibility for the work of the Church. All of us play an important role in working together to evangelise the world and to work for the renewal of the social order. In the Second Vatican Council document on the Church, De Ecclesia, we hear how the Spirit gives each member of the Church special gifts which enable us to fulfil our roles in an effective way.

The Holy Spirit….distributes special graces among the faithful of every rank. By these gifts, he makes them fit and ready to undertake various tasks and offices for the renewal and building up of the Church.

The life of the Holy Spirit within us is vitally important for both our personal lives and for the effectiveness of the whole Church. The power of God’s love dwells within us in the Person of the Holy Spirit. And he desires to transform our lives, the Church and the world. But, perhaps we do not experience this transforming power even though we were baptised years ago. With our knowledge of the love of the Father, we may know about the Spirit’s role and power, without being open to experience it. If we are not careful, we may limit our experience because we expect the Spirit to work only within certain methods such as the sacraments. Again from the Document on the Church we read,

It is not only through the sacraments and the ministrations of the Church that the Holy Spirit makes holy the People, leads them and enriches them with his virtues. Allotting his gifts according as he wills (cf. 1 Cor. 12:11), he also distributes special graces among the faithful of every rank.

The Spirit is free to work in any number of ways and we should be eager to experience his power in whatever way he desires to express it. This is the day when the Church urges us to pray for a fresh outpouring of the Spirit in our lives, leading to greater growth in personal sanctification and in service of the Church. Although we have been given the fullness of the Spirit in the Sacraments of Initiation, it is important to allow the spirit to be stirred up afresh in our lives. In my own simple way, it is like putting sugar into your cup of tea but not stirring it up! Although the agent of sweetness is there, there is no real evidence until you stir it up – hence praying for a fresh outpouring of the Spirit! It is an experience of the Spirit’s presence and movement in our lives. While the Holy Spirit is able to transform us – and through us, others – he needs our openness and co-operation. However, we must be flexible enough in our lives to allow the Spirit to lead us and transform us as he wills. This requires trust – trusting in the Spirit’s ability to do what we cannot do, to work in ways that do not make sense to our limited understanding. Some of us may struggle with certain obstacles getting in the way of being open to receiving a fresh outpouring of the Spirit. One obstacle is resisting because we do not intellectually understand. We should realise that we do not always understand God’s ways and that we will grow in our understanding as we experience his working in our lives. Through faith we trust fully without understanding. Or perhaps we are withholding forgiveness from someone who has hurt us. We need to rely on the Lord’s strength and to choose to forgive – just as he has chosen to forgive us. Some feel as though they are not worthy or holy enough. The fact is no one is holy or worthy enough. God’s grace is a gift, not something we deserve or earn. We should humbly accept it. The Holy Spirit is the life giving Love of God. He has begotten us as children of God and is capable of transforming our lives into clear reflections of God’s glory. He invites us to open our lives to his ways.

Father in heaven, fifty days have celebrated the fullness of the mystery of your revealed love.
See your people gathered in prayer, open to receive the Spirit’s flame. May it come to rest in our hearts and disperse the divisions of word and tongue.
With one voice and one song may we praise your name in joy and thanksgiving.