Solemnity of Pentecost 2013. May 19th 2013.
Acts 2:1-11; 1Cor 12:3-7, 12-13; Jn 20:19-23
Tuning-in to the Holy Spirit
Powerful and peaceful transformation!!! That is one sentence that captures the Pentecost event. Today’s readings show us that this event radically transformed the scared disciples into courageous witnesses to the murderous Jews. St. John places emphasis on the Holy Spirit’s gift of peace to the disciples in Jesus’ words: “Peace be with you.” How can we as Christians become so powerfully transformed that we become transforming witnesses to others and abide in Christ’s own peace? How can we have this powerful transforming experience?
On a recent visit to my native country of Nigeria I came across a church sign that read, “Come and experience God in our Church.” I did a double-take and thought, “What? At last, a place where we are guaranteed an experience of God just as if God can be turned on and off like a water faucet!” Pardon the sarcasm but can we really generate an authentic experience of God? Is it not a frightful form of pride to think that a human being can guarantee us an experience of God? Can we manipulate God to manifest Himself to us?
God is master of His gifts and He gives and takes as He wills. Jesus Himself teaches us that “The Spirit blows where He wills.” Today’s solemnity of Pentecost show us the suddenness and unpredictability of the Spirit’s descent on the Apostles gathered in the Upper Room: “Suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind and it filled the entire house in which they were.” The evangelist Luke depicts the Pentecost experience as an event unexpected and not as the disciples had thought it possible. Such an experience of God is not something that we can generate or fabricate. Neither is it something that we can force God to produce but it is something that we can only dispose ourselves to receive by the grace of God.
Imagine that you want to listen to a particular radio station and the radio waves from the radio station are already present in the air loud and clear. In addition to a functioning radio set with a reliable source of power, you must know the number of the radio station and you must be able to tune into the station if you are going to listen to the desired station without interference from other stations. Without this ability tune in, the radio set, the loud and clear radio signals, and the proximity of the radio station are useless to you.
This is an analogy of the Spirit in our lives. In a similar way, God’s Spirit is with us from the moment of baptism with the same power that we see in the Pentecost event. But why aren’t we transformed like the disciples on Pentecost? Why aren’t we on fire with the Holy Spirit? The Holy Spirit is with us but we cannot experience His power until we learn how to dispose ourselves properly and tune-in to His frequency. Today’s readings show us ways of tuning-in to the Holy Spirit.
The first way of tuning-in to the Spirit is by constant prayer. The disciples gathered to pray for the gift of the Holy Spirit. Though the gift of the Holy Spirit was promised to them, prayer remains necessary. Prayer opens our hearts to the presence and action of the Holy Spirit. Jesus even promised that the Holy Spirit is the guaranteed answer to every prayer: “How much more will my Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask?” We must pray always and everywhere in the ways that we find helpful like the Holy Rosary, pray with the scriptures, pray at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, etc. We close ourselves to the Spirit the moment we give up prayer.
But prayer alone is not enough!!! The second way of tuning-in is to live in peace, unity and love with others as best as we can. The disciples “were all in one place together” despite their previous conflicts with each other and their diverse experiences during the passion of Christ. Here there was no more bickering as they used to do before about who was the greatest among them or who was following Jesus or not. The Holy Spirit descended on hearts that had resolved to live together in peace and unity. We invite the Holy Spirit into our hearts when we too strive to live in peace and unity with others. The Holy Spirit will not completely manifest Himself in hearts that are constantly fighting, insulting, bearing grudges or quarreling with others.
A third way of being disposed to the Holy Spirit is to be open, willing, and ready to be transformed and used as the Holy Spirit’s instrument of salvation to others. The Holy Spirit is a spirit of transformation and action and He wants to make us instruments of His action in the world. To invite the Holy Spirit in our hearts we must face the need for deeper personal repentance and readiness to share the gifts He bestows on us. The disciples were ready and willing to be used to proclaim to Jews from all around the world the “mighty acts of God.” With the Holy Spirit, “there are different forms of service but the same Lord…and to each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.” Readinesses for generous action and to change for the better are necessary for one to be transformed by the Holy Spirit.
I am reminded of a woman in my previous parish that was known to get up most nights at 2 am to pray. No one knew what she was praying for. When she passed away, the family discovered that her worn out prayer book contained numerous names of people in and outside the parish whom she was praying for, including my own name. She had been praying for each and every one of us all along and we did not know it. She received the talent of interceding for others and she made use of it faithfully without seeking any publicity. If you are praying to experience the transforming power and peace of the Holy Spirit, what are your gifts and how is the Church benefiting from your gifts and talents today?
A fourth way is to maintain contact with the living body of Christ in the sacraments. In the words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “The mysteries of Christ’s life are the foundations of what He would henceforth dispense in the sacraments, through the ministers of His Church, for ‘What was visible in our Savior has passed over into His mysteries’…Sacraments are powers that come forth from the Body of Christ, which is ever-living and life-giving. They are actions of the Holy Spirit at work in His Body, the Church.”(CC C#1115-6) The sacraments connect us to the risen Christ in His humanity and bestow on us the Holy Spirit. This is evident in St. John’s Gospel where he depicts the sending of the Holy Spirit as Jesus “breathing on them” and saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” It is through the now glorified humanity of Christ that the Spirit is bestowed. In the new and everlasting covenant, the guarantee of the Spirit’s presence and action cannot be sought apart from the sacraments instituted by Jesus Christ Himself.
Perseverance in fidelity to Christ is a fifth way of tuning-in to the Spirit. The recipients of the Holy Spirit are those who went through the failure of Gethsemane, witnessed the death of Jesus from a distance, were slow to believing and now are gathered in fear behind locked doors even after Christ’s Resurrection. Please note that Judas alone missed out on Pentecost!! They other disciples persevered and never gave up despite their failures. Perseverance in the Christian life, more than our successes, draws the Holy Spirit to our souls. The spirit is given in fullness to those that obey, and obey to the very end. We must be willing to begin again in our live of discipleship if we are going to be in tune with the Spirit.
Lastly, a devotion to Mother Mary is crucial in experiencing this transformation of the Spirit. Mary is not just one other means of getting tuned into the Holy Spirit. Because she is the irresistible bride of the Spirit, she is perfectly tuned in to Him and she embodies all that is required to be properly disposed to the action of the Spirit. In the first place, she first opened herself to the Spirit when she pronounced her fiat to the Angel Gabriel at the Annunciation and produced the God-Man, Jesus Christ. She is the perfect model of prayer who prayed with the disciples for the coming of the Spirit. St. Luke sums it up in these words: “All these with one accord devoted themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the Mother of Jesus.”
St. Louis de Montfort emphasizes this inseparability of Mary and the Holy Spirit in these words: “One of the greatest reasons why the Holy Spirit does not now do startling wonders in our souls, is because He does not find there a sufficiently great union with His faithful and inseparable spouse?” It appears that they early disciples thought the same when they wisely placed Mary at the center of the cenacle when they prayed for the Holy Spirit. We would be wise in placing Mary in the center of our hearts too if we want to be peacefully and powerfully transformed by the Holy Spirit.
Mary also lived in peace with God and others because she saw God in all that happened to her by “pondering all these things in her heart.” She was perfectly ready and willing to be used by the Holy Spirit in His work of sanctification of souls. She only greeted Elizabeth in the Visitation and the latter was “filled with the Holy Spirit.” She used her intimate relationship with Jesus and gift of intercessory prayer in interceding for the couple at the wedding feat of Cana. No one had greater contact with the humanity of Christ than Mary did. Her perseverance in fidelity to Christ up till the dark moments of Golgotha was singular. We will share in this her properties if we seek to be devoted to her, to pray to her, to love her, to depend on her and to imitate her. We cannot ignore the Spirit’s bride and be intimate with the Spirit.
In conclusion, God’s powerful Spirit is with us today and He is still as potent and ready as He was in transforming the disciples on Pentecost. God desires that we experience such a transformation and thus He has sent the Holy Spirit to perfect His work in us. Nothing created can give us this experience. We cannot fake the powerful transformation that God’s Spirit brings. Neither can we force God to manifest Himself. All we can do is to dispose ourselves by faithfully using the means mentioned above to tune in and to stay tuned in.
By so doing we will surely experience a peaceful but powerful transformation.