Sunday, May 11, 2008

Gifts From On High

1. The Holy Scriptures proclaimed for Pentecost Sunday present us with two instances of the gift of the Holy Spirit- in the upper room on Easter Sunday, and in the upper room on the day of Pentecost, 50 days later. What is going on? Are there two Pentecosts? We can consider the nature of the Holy Spirit. There is only one Holy Spirit, but because He is God, He is infinite. To receive the Spirit does not prevent us from receiving Him again. And to receive one gift or collection of gifts of the Spirit does not prevent us from receiving more. We could look at the life of Mary. She received the Holy Spirit when she conceived Jesus in her womb. But certainly the joy of being the mother of our Lord and God was not an isolated or single instance, as if giving birth was the sum of motherly joy. Her experience of being the Mother of God affected her whole life in many ways.
2. Likewise when the disciples received the promised gift of the Spirit, we do not have to presume that the gift they received was an isolated experience. Neither was it just one type of gift. For example, they received the Spirit of Sonship, by which they became the adopted children of God. They received the Spirit of Love- that is, the Love of God was poured into their hearts, so that they could love as Jesus loved them. Today’s Bible readings talk about three other aspects of the Spirit which the disciples received at Pentecost: the spirit of peace, the spirit of knowledge, and the spirit of power.
3. In the Gospel, Jesus says Peace be with you and breathed on the disciples. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of true peace and contentment. Not the peace of the world, which usually is simply the absence of war or fighting, but the peace which only God can give. The peace of God is something that is only completely fulfilled when we rest in the Lord. Saint Augustine said our hearts are restless Lord, until they rest in you. When we are fully conformed to the image of Jesus Christ in the Kingdom of God, then we will have peace, because then we will be what God has made us to be. Our attempts to find contentment and rest through doing what makes us feel good only end leave us in emptiness and sorrow. So part of the gift of the Peace which Jesus gave His disciples is the gift of the authority to forgive. Forgiveness is necessary so that we can become more like Jesus, not just as we are forgiven our sins which deform us, but also as we give forgiveness to others.
4. In his letter to the Corinthians, Saint Paul says that only through the Holy Spirit can we even say that Jesus is Lord. That is the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Knowledge of God. Only with God dwelling within us can we know who Jesus really is. We may know He existed, we may know He died, we may even know that He rose from the dead. But to get to know Him personally as He really is, we need the Holy Spirit. Through the gift of the Spirit, we can begin to grasp the mysteries of our faith because the Light of Truth is shining within us. An example of this is the Holy Eucharist- until we believe, until the Light of Truth shines inside, we will not see and understand.
5. The Acts of the Apostles recounts the event which we would say is formally Pentecost. That day, the Holy Apostles were huddled in fear in the upper, praying for the gift of God. When the Spirit rested upon them, they burst forth to proclaim the Jesus is Lord and God. They were no longer afraid. In the next few months and years, they would be arrested and persecuted, and most of them would be killed. But they did not waver in the faith, or in their desire to share it. And because they shared the faith, many came to believe and receive the same gift of the Spirit. Witness the mighty power of their words, by which more than 3000 were converted the very first time they spoke. It was not human wisdom which motivated these people to believe and receive baptism, it was the power of God Himself.
6. All this sounds exciting. Wouldn’t it be great to speak the truth about Jesus and convert thousands? Wouldn’t be great to receive knowledge of the mysteries of God? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to exercise authority and experience peace that the world cannot give? Are those days past? Could we receive the Spirit for the same kind of mighty works?
7. Those days are not past. Each one of us has received the gift of the Holy Spirit in our Baptism, so we are God’s children. The Church exercises the authority to forgive sins in the Sacrament of Penance, which we can make use of almost any day we want (just ask). We can boldly state “Jesus is Lord” because the Spirit has given us knowledge. And even if we do not fully understand, we are able to know that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and the Eucharist is the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ.
8. Every one of us has been anointed at Baptism as Prophet, to proclaim the Gospel through our actions and through our words. In Confirmation, we receive the same gift of courage that enabled the apostles to lose their fear and speak out loud.
9. But we do not always experience the same power that the apostles did. Maybe the problem is, do we actually do it? Or are we still afraid? Do we hide our Catholic Faith? Or do we profess belief and then live as if there is no god? In various times in history, there have been tremendous numbers of conversions. And even in our own country, many people enter the Church each year. Will we be bold today in the true expression of our faith?

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