Tongues of fire rest on Mary and disciples of Jesus in this 15th-century depiction of the Pentecost by Jose Pessoa. CNS photo/courtesy Newark Museum

God's Word on Sunday: The Spirit of God makes all possible

  • May 29, 2022

Pentecost Sunday (Year C) June 5 (Acts 2:1-11; Psalm 104; 1 Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13; John 20:19-23)

If a hundred believers were asked to explain the nature, role and workings of the Holy Spirit, there would probably be 100 or more answers. Backed into a corner, many have little understanding of the Spirit and its actions. The Holy Spirit has been invoked to bolster authority and to challenge it; to support the status quo and to overturn it; to head in new theological and spiritual directions and to retreat behind the fortified walls of tradition.

Many claim to be influenced or inspired by the Spirit, but how can we detect its genuine presence? There has often been the unconscious assumption that the Spirit is at our beck and call and will ratify our beliefs, opinions and prejudices. An examination of the Spirit in the pages of the New Testament paints a very different picture. As the Spirit came upon the assembled followers of Jesus, it empowered their speech in two ways. First of all, they were now able to proclaim the word “boldly” and without the fear that had gripped their hearts. Second, the words of their proclamation were heard in the tongues of people from all over the known world. Long separated by linguistic, cultural and language barriers, humanity could now begin its homeward journey towards unity with the divine source.

The Spirit challenged Peter and others to put aside artificial human distinctions and to look at all humanity and creation as one. Unity and human solidarity are just a couple of the marks of the Spirit’s presence, but very important ones, and should be the goal of all genuine religion.

It was clear to Paul that his quarrelsome and fractious community in Corinth was not living in the Spirit. Competition, factionalism and arrogance seemed to be their ruling spirits. Paul insisted that the Spirit enabled people to work in harmony for the common good with no one lording it over another. After all, the gifts of the Spirit were just that — gifts — and were to be used for the common good and then returned to God. They were not personal possessions or marks of holiness or favour.

Opening the mind and heart to the Spirit is never “business as usual.” It is through the Spirit that God crafts and molds the human soul — that is, when we allow it to happen by our openness and cooperation. The Spirit’s work should be clearly evident, and Paul lists some of the signs of its presence and activity: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Where these qualities are notably absent, they are usually accompanied by their negative counterparts — just look at the world around us.

Regardless of the fervency of religiosity and religious rhetoric, claims that the Spirit is present and doing battle for one’s cause must be seriously questioned. How can our increasingly dark, violent, fearful and dangerous world be healed? It seems that we are at war with one another and that there is no middle ground. Part of the answer is not only calling upon the Spirit constantly but being willing to allow it to take us where we would rather not go. Those who live in the Spirit are not in the driver’s seat. The Spirit cares little for our likes and dislikes, fears and hatreds or our firmly held opinions. The Spirit has its own agenda, and perhaps that is why it makes Christians just a bit nervous.

The Spirit as presented in John’s Gospel is far quieter than Luke or Paul’s version, but no less powerful. Jesus breathed on His disciples with the divine breath that was part of creation in Genesis. In a sense, He re-created them, imparting certain divine qualities to them so that they could carry out the mission He had just given them. They were to reveal God to a world that was basically ignorant of God and bring humanity to an awareness of the divine in themselves, one another and in creation.

This mission is even more urgent today, and impossible if we have to rely on our own powers. But with the Spirit of God, all things are possible. The day on which the power of the Spirit is unlocked is the day that both the Church and the world will be transformed.