Pentecost was the fulfilment of the Lord’s promise that he would be with his Church to the end of time. The tongues of fire and the mighty wind that had manifested the gift of the Holy Spirit called to mind earlier theophanies with Moses on Mount Sinai and with Jesus at his Transfiguration. They opened a new chapter in the unfolding relationship of God with his people.
We are naturally drawn to the extraordinary phenomena that accompanied this event. They pointed to the more important inner transformation that had been brought about by the Holy Spirit.
The Apostles, once fearful and uncertain, began to speak with conviction, a conviction immediately perceived by those who listened to their proclamation of the Word. Diverse though the gathering was, the Holy Spirit became the understanding that made these people one. The barriers of language and culture no longer applied. Something remarkable had happened. The Holy Spirit, at work both in those who spoke and those who listened, broke down the barriers that normally divide.
We, as the Church, are called to a constant renewal in the same Holy Spirit. Through the Holy Spirit we come to understand ourselves as those chosen and loved by the Lord. Through the Holy Spirit we come to understand and rejoice in each other despite our differences. Writing to the Church in Corinth at a time of deep division, St Paul appealed to the unity and understanding that had been so clearly demonstrated at Pentecost. “Just as a human body, though it is made up of many parts, is a single unit because all these parts, though many, make one body, so it is with Christ. In the one Spirit we were all baptised, and one Spirit was given to us all to drink.”
A broken world fragments under the burdens of suspicion and fear, violence and rejection. If we are to proclaim a Gospel of healing to that world, we must first allow the Holy Spirit to make us one with Christ. Through that Spirit let us experience within ourselves the peace with which Christ greeted his disciples. From that peace let us bring healing and compassion to those around us.
Above all, let us strive for an understanding that is rooted in forgiveness and compassion. “As the Father sent me, so am I sending you. Receive the Holy Spirit. For those whose sins you forgive they are forgiven.”
The Church reaches out to the world not through the eloquence of its words, but in the conviction of those whose lives have been touched and healed by the Holy Spirit.
This article first appeared in the latest edition of the Catholic Herald magazine (22/5/15).
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