This Sunday we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit to the followers of Jesus after his death and resurrection; this gift is what transformed them into the Church, a group of people that continues Jesus’ mission in the world.
The reading from the Acts of the Apostles is the familiar story of how the Holy Spirit was given to the followers of Jesus as they were gathered on Pentecost, the Jewish Feast of Weeks, 50 days after Passover. The Holy Spirit appeared in the forms of a strong wind that filled the house and tongues of fire that rested on each of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit within them gave them the courage and energy to go out of the house and begin witnessing to Jesus; this is what Jesus had told them to do before his ascension into heaven.
The Holy Spirit made their witness effective by enabling them to speak to a crowd consisting of people from many different places in the native language of each. This made their message more comprehensible and believable. It was comprehensible because each person heard it in the language he or she understood best; it was believable because only a supernatural power could make simultaneous speech in many different languages possible.
The other readings point to other ways the presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church is important. The reading from the gospel according to John consists of two things Jesus said about the Holy Spirit during his long farewell discourse to his disciples at the Last Supper. When Jesus' disciples receive the Holy Spirit, they will testify to Jesus. This is what is described in the reading from Acts. But in John, Jesus emphasizes most of all that the Holy Spirit will testify about Jesus to Jesus' disciples; the Holy Spirit will guide them into all truth. Jesus' disciples cannot testify to him unless they know the truth about him. The Holy Spirit leads us into deeper and deeper understanding of the truth about Jesus.
According to the reading from the letter of St. Paul to the Galatians, the Holy Spirit also serves as a general guide to Christian living. Paul says, “If we live in the Spirit, let us also follow the Spirit.” Picturing the Holy Spirit within us as a fruit tree or vine, Paul says that the Spirit bears the following fruit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” When we see these things in ourselves and others, we know that we are being guided by the Spirit.
Paul says that the opposite of life according to the Spirit is life according to the flesh. We might think that living according to the flesh means following the impulses of our bodies. However, what Paul means by life according to the flesh is life under the power of sin, life apart from God. This includes all kinds of improper behavior, not just improper indulgence of bodily desires. Paul lists the following works of the flesh: “immorality, impurity, lust, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies and the like.” Anything we might call sin is an instance of life according to the flesh; any virtue manifests life according to the Spirit.
© Terrance Callan