4 June 2017
Today's feast of Pentecost is the Church's most important celebration of the Holy Spirit and acknowledgment of its life-giving presence among us. We mention the Spirit each time we make the sign of the cross and we profess belief in the Spirit at every Sunday mass when we recite the creed, yet it often has gotten short shrift in Catholic devotion. To be sure there have been moments in the history of the Church when belief in the Holy Spirit became especially prominent-the charismatic renewal movement that began fifty years ago this past February right here in western Pennsylvania is a good example-but the Spirit has typically taken a more ambiguous role in most Catholics' lives than the persons of the Father or Christ the Son.
This pattern at the personal level holds true at the broader ecclesial level. While even the earliest Christians believed in the Holy Spirit and acknowledged the Spirit as divine (witness today's scriptures), as late as the Council of Nicaea in the fourth century the Church was content to profess faith in the Spirit without venturing to say much more about it.
Looking to the Bible for guidance, we find that the Holy Spirit, which is the bond of love between the Father and the Son, enters powerfully into the life of Christians in several key ways. First, the Spirit fills those who believe in Jesus and brings them together in unity. In the case of the Christians described in the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles it brought them together by enabling the members of a large crowd to understand each other in spite of speaking many different languages. No matter the particular form of its unifying activity, at a fundamental level the Holy Spirit always brings believers together by leading them to Jesus: "No one can say, 'Jesus is Lord' except by the Holy Spirit" (1 Cor 12:3).
Next, the Holy Spirit renews us, as seen in Psalm 104 which is our responsorial today. Even once we have been brought together there is always still a need for renewal, conversion, and deeper belief. The Holy Spirit pours forth this new life upon us in the sacraments of the Church that initiate us into Christian life such as baptism, the Eucharist, and confirmation: "you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God" (1 Cor 6:11). The Spirit is active in effecting such renewal as well in the sacraments that heal us and make us whole again: reconciliation and anointing: "the Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings" (Rom 8:26).
Finally, the Spirit sends us forth: "Jesus said to them again, 'Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.' And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained'" (John 20:21-23). As we worship the Holy Spirit on this feast of Pentecost let us remember the Spirit's uniting, renewing, and sanctifying presence in our own lives, giving thanks that we too have been claimed in the Spirit as beloved sons and daughters of our heavenly Father through Christ Jesus our Lord. (574 words)