The Easter Season is nearing the end as the easing of the stay-at-home orders created by the coronavirus pandemic begins. It is quite providential that within this printing the Sunday celebrations are focused on the Ascension of the Lord and Pentecost Sunday. It is the time of the “Lord, the giver of life,” the Holy Spirit. Jesus promises the apostles they are to receive the power of the Holy Spirit and be his witnesses. We are called to the same, as we safely transition once again into shared spaces. Thus, the power of the Holy Spirit directs, guides and sanctifies the life of the community, then and now as we leave our upper rooms and go out.  

Promise  

Jesus appeared to the apostles and other disciples on and off for 40 days after the resurrection. During this time, he offered them hope and spoke to them about the “kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3). The apostles gained strength to believe, to hope and to proclaim, yet were still hesitant. Jesus instructed them to wait for “the promise of the father about which you have heard me speak; for John baptized with water, but in a few days, you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:4-5). What does it mean to be baptized with the Holy Spirit? How will the Holy Spirit sustain my life?  

Life_Giving Faith.pdf

Witness  

Soon thereafter, the Lord reiterates this promise, along with the Great Commission, a commission we embrace as missionary disciples. “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Mt 28: 18-20). Then Jesus is taken up to heaven in a cloud, and the apostles stand there looking up. Looking up. Looking up. These same people witnessed the resurrection. They witnessed Jesus alive during the 40 days since. And then, like that, they witnessed his ascension, in a cloud, then gone from their sight. Looking up. Breaking this stance were two men dressed in white. They questioned why the apostles were looking at the sky, then witnessed the hope in the return of Jesus one day. What will they do now? How do they, and we, witness this truth?  

Coming 

The Acts of the Apostles, as written by St. Luke, not only tells of the coming of the Holy Spirit but also describes the power of the Holy Spirit in the life of the church. Acts 2:1-11 tells the witness account of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, a supersonic “boom” of sorts, that continues to resonate long after the barrier is broken. This triumphal presence of God is one to be celebrated. Now the new law is written on the hearts of believers by an unyielding power. The coming of the Holy Spirit gives life, as with Adam, as with the overshadowing of Mary and as with the church, the people of God, as we profess, “… the Lord, and giver of life” (Nicene Creed).  

Wind, fire and language  

St. John Paul II writes, “Three basic elements mark the event (Pentecost), the sound of a mighty wind, tongues as of fire and the charism of speaking in other languages, hence … those present in the upper room ‘were filled with the Holy Spirit (General Audience, July 12, 1989). The coming of the Holy Spirit is like to the wind: movement with unseen origin and unknown destiny to the human eye. The same “mighty wind sweeping over the waters” (Gn 1:2), the literal breath of God. The same breath that filled Adam’s nostrils, “the breath of life, and the man became a living being” (Gn 2:7). The same Holy Spirit which fills the sails of the mission of the church, and fills our souls with life, in order for us to glorify God and be life-giving witnesses of Jesus Christ.  

The Holy Spirit is the spark which gives rise to the flame from within; fire of the presence of God; fire to stir passion; fire to follow Jesus; fire to speak the truth; fire for the path to his life. The same fire in the burning bush, as Moses accepted his calling. The same fire in the form of a towering pillar, as the Israelites crossed the desert. The same fire within the churches illuminating candles beside the ambos, on the altars and next to the  ambos, on the altars and next to the tabernacles holding the real presence of Jesus. The same fire that burns within our hearts as we proclaim the word of God, offer sacrifice for others and eat of his flesh. Fire that purifies, sanctifies and glorifies.  

The Holy Spirit unites all in one common language: the language of love, willing the good for the other. St. Pope John Paul II wrote, “One might say that the many incomprehensible languages have lost their specific character, or at least have ceased to be a symbol of division. They have given way to the new work of the Holy Spirit, who through the apostles and the church brings to spiritual unity peoples of different origins, languages and cultures in view of the perfect communion in God announced and implored by Jesus. Pentecost is a powerful manifestation of God” (Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Holy Spirit, General Audience, July 12, 1989).  

Mission  

As living missionary disciples, we are called to be open to the presence and power of the Holy Spirit working in our lives every moment. We each have a personal mission: to grow in holiness by prayer, by conversion, by receiving the sacraments that come to us by the power of the Holy Spirit, by embracing virtue and living the Ten Commandments and beatitudes. We, as church, have a corporate mission as one, holy, Catholic and apostolic. We are many people and one in the body of Christ. We are people called to unite. We are holy because God is holy and we, as his body, are called to deeper holiness. We are Catholic, universal, embracing all of humanity with the tender love of Jesus, as we serve their needs and promote a culture of faith, hope and peace.  

We are apostolic, as we follow in the footsteps of the apostles, those who first received the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and by the grace of God changed the world as they proclaimed the mighty deeds of Jesus.  

As a thriving community of faith we answer the call and “go out and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the father, and of the son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Mt 28:18-20). May our hearts, minds and hands be open to receive the power of the Holy Spirit so that all may be one in the Lord.  

Happy Birthday, church!  

Dow is the director of the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis for the Diocese of Baton Rouge.