The Church here and throughout the world celebrates the great solemnity of Pentecost.
Pentecost commemorates the revelation of the Holy Spirit to the apostles and disciples. This revelation happened after the Lord Jesus ascended to his Father, and took his rightful place as Lord of our lives and Lord of the world.
Prior to his Ascension, the Lord Jesus promised that he would reveal the Holy Spirit. This happens in an extraordinary event that is described for us today in the Church’s first scripture, an excerpt from the New Testament book entitled “Acts of the Apostles.”
We learn from this eyewitness account, that the Holy Spirit was revealed with frightening power, in what appeared to be wind and flame and the shaking of the earth. This power overtook the apostles and disciples of the Lord Jesus and transformed them, enabling to enact mighty and wondrous deeds, to do the kinds of things that the Lord Jesus had done, and invigorated them with the courage to speak openly, publically about the Lord Jesus.
The Holy Spirit was the driving force that impelled the apostles and disciples out from behind locked doors and closed rooms and into the world.
The Church is not meant to be a private, faith-based club, but an open, public, missionary society that goes out into the world. The fundamental task of the Church is the proclamation of Lordship of Jesus Christ and the invitation to know Christ and serve him in the Church. The acceptance of this invitation expresses itself in a willingness to repent, to live a different way of life, a way of life that expresses itself in a unique way of worship that we call the Mass and in works of mercy that seek to sustain the bodies and souls of those in need.
The Church’s unique way of life, her proclamation, her worship, her works of mercy give rise to a civilization, a living culture that transcends the boundaries imposed by ethnicity and language, and is, here on earth, an expression of the Kingdom of heaven.
None of this would be possible if disciples of the Lord Jesus sequestered themselves in a private, faith-based clubhouse. In fact, the Holy Spirit will resist our attempts to reduce the Church to a private club by withdrawing his blessing if we give in to this temptation. Christians are meant to be overtaken by the power of the Holy Spirit and when they are they are like fire, earthquakes, and hurricane winds- they are forces to be reckoned with, whose impact on the world is evident in their bold proclamation, beautiful worship and lively works of mercy. In a world where so many dwell imprisoned in darkness and cold and death, the Christian filled with the Holy Spirit is a reprieve of light, warmth and abundant life.
Christians who resist the Holy Spirit languish in narrowness, frustration and self pre-occupation and their private faith-based clubs show forth these negative qualities- repelling, rather than attracting, closed and locked, rather than open to invite the world in; unsure of Christ, rather than knowing him as one knows a friend; concerned more with maintenance of programs and structures, rather than with accomplishing the mission Christ gives his people.
St. Paul doesn’t mince words about the characteristics of Christians who resist the Holy Spirit.
In his Letter to the Galatians, he provides a dirty laundry list of the negative characteristics of Christians who resist the Holy Spirit- he pulls no punches. He has no qualms about airing the dirty laundry of his fellow Christians in public. Listening to his list this morning we shouldn’t think that any of those characteristics would not be found here or that the effect of what St. Paul identifies could be safely contained in the privacy of our homes. The kinds of things that St. Paul identifies in his dirty laundry list are the kinds of things that Christians do that poison the Church.
Why is St. Paul nagging at us about things that most people in our culture would protest are private matters?
St. Paul wants us to examine our consciences and we all should. Pope Benedict aptly observed once that Christians who speak of God but who live contrary to him, open the doors to unbelief and further that the Church’s greatest need in this present moment of the Church’s life are people who make God credible by means of their way of life.
The worldly dabble in trying to divide character from morality, identifying success in terms of wealth, pleasure, power and honors as being of higher value than truth and goodness. The self-esteem of the celebrity is preferred to self-gift of the saint. Christians attempt to live their faith in ideas and emotions rather than in acts of repentance and works of mercy. This is all contrary to the Holy Spirit.
If something on St. Paul’s dirty laundry list strikes at your conscience, good. Praise God! That means that you are not yet completely lost!
Those who are overtaken by the Holy Spirit manifest the presence of the Holy Spirit in lives that look a lot like the life of the Lord Jesus- they know him, they love him, they serve him- and they do so by loving what he loves and serving what he serves.
St. Paul describes the attitude, the demeanor of a Christian who loves and serves what Christ loves and serves. You meet in these Spirit-filled Christians the qualities that best describe God in Christ: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
Are those qualities in you? They can be- if you surrender yourself to the power of the Holy Spirit.
Now, I have spent a great deal of time speaking about the effects of the Holy Spirit as he takes hold of our lives and we take hold of him.
But what is the Holy Spirit specifically?
The Holy Spirit is not an invisible magic force that gives us superpowers.
The Holy Spirit, is, simply put, the love of God in Christ, specifically he is the love that is shared between God the Father and God the Son.
In other words, what you receive in the Holy Spirit is Christ’s own relationship with his Father, and in doing so, he gives to you the possibility of becoming like him!
This is what the Lord Jesus is speaking about in his Gospel today. In words that sound cryptic and mystical he is telling you that he loves you so much that he wants you to have what he has- and the most important thing that the Lord Jesus has is his relationship with his Father.
That’s what he wants to give you. The means by which he gives that relationship to you is the Holy Spirit.
The Christian Faith, the Church’s Faith, is about many things- so many things that at times we are distracted from seeing, understanding the one, necessary thing that our Faith is all about- a relationship with God in Christ.
God revealed himself in Christ and in the Holy Spirit not just so that his expectations in terms of justice, morality and worship could have the proper point of reference for our understanding. Contrary to what many Christians have come to believe, God’s revelation in Christ and the Holy Spirit cannot be reduced to ethics and values or the support of institutions (any more than it can be reduced to ideas and emotions).
God’s revelation in Christ and the Holy Spirit is ultimately about his desire to be in a relationship with us. God wants us to know him so that he can express his love for us and offer us a way to be like him. God comes into the world and into our lives in the Lord Jesus to let us know that this is what God intends to do. And it is for this reason, that God in Christ sends the Holy Spirit to us- and this Holy Spirit is what happens to us when we are really and truly willing to be in a relationship with him!