CYCLE A | PENTECOST SUNDAY
– By Fr Ugo Ikwuka
On Pentecost Sunday, a pastor asked his congregation to do something “spirited” to demonstrate that they have received the Holy Spirit. In frenzy, people started speaking in tongues and falling over each other. He urged them on to do something more fiery. People started jumping from chairs to tables, and knocking things over. He then pushed his luck and urged them to go crazy for the Lord. At this, a man dashed to the altar and made off with the Sunday offering. The pastor went after him in hot pursuit.
The Holy Spirit came upon the apostles on the day of Pentecost and they spoke in tongues: each person in the mixed language crowd understood them in their own language. To help unravel this mystery, let us recall that the Holy Spirit is a creative force as demonstrated at creation. It was the Spirit that was breathed into man to give him life. When God created the heavens and the earth, and the earth was a formless void with darkness covering the abyss (Gen. 1:1-2), it was the Spirit that intervened, ordering creation; light is separated from darkness, dry land from the sea, and everything takes on a definite shape.
Thus, it is the Holy Spirit who transforms creation from chaos into cosmos which comes from the same language root as cosmetic and means beautiful. The creative power of God through the Spirit continues in the world. The Holy Spirit is at work in all the breakthroughs and discoveries that have positively shaped existence be they in science, technology or the arts. A text of Vatican II pertinently notes that the Holy Spirit is at work in the evolution of the social order (Gaudium et Spes, 26). Thus, with so much chaos around us: moral, political, and social, the world has great need to invoke in the words of this Sunday’s Psalm: “Send forth your Spirit, O Lord, and renew the face of the earth!”
That the apostles spoke in tongues as the Spirit came on them is therefore not an invitation to any form of chaos or madness. It inspires something creative and the meaning is very clear; the message they preached is destined for the whole world, not just for one “Chosen people”. They are to advance the same creative mission of their Master who had announced that the Spirit is upon him and has commissioned him to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives, to give new sight to the blind, to declare freedom to the oppressed and to announce the coming of God’s favour! (Luke 4:18-19).
With His seven gifts (Wisdom, Understanding, Knowledge, Counsel, Fortitude, Piety and the Fear of God), the Spirit confirms the followers of Christ for this mission in basically three ways. First, the Spirit strengthens our relationship with Jesus from which everything flows. On this, Jesus had left a very high stake, “Unless you love me more than your father and mother, you are not worthy of me” (Matt. 10:37). Recall that after Peter had denied him during his passion, following his resurrection, Jesus had to clarify his relationship with Peter before sending him on mission. Thrice he asked Peter, “Do you love me”. It was after Peter had affirmed his love the three times that he got his mandate – “Feed my sheep” (John 21:17).
Thus, based on established relationship with Jesus, every baptised and confirmed person is strengthened by the Spirit to be missionaries that spread the faith. The Christian faith is meant to be shared not hoarded, even if for my personal moral life. Recall that until the Pentecost, the role of the apostles has been to listen, observe and follow. But now, cooperating with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, they have been turned from passive and helpless inward-looking followers into active and leading ambassadors for Christ – evangelisers that explain the Gospel, perform miracles, celebrate the sacraments and make Christ known beyond borders. Peter who had been too afraid to admit that he ever knew Jesus when questioned by a mere servant-girl is fearlessly proclaiming the Gospel of Christ to the highly educated despite being practically an illiterate.
Furthermore, the Spirit strengthens us in our capacity to defend the faith. Today, the Christian faith is under siege both by aggressive secularism and religious extremism. The preceding 20th century had more martyrs than all the Christian centuries combined. A defender of the faith needs to be equipped with wisdom, knowledge, understanding of the faith, but above all courage (fortitude). Disturbingly, for most Catholics, religious formation and education ends with confirmation at age 14 or 15. No professional ever stops learning and growing at 15. That’s more like the beginning. Yes, with confirmation, the Spirit is poured upon us with His gifts but we are now to begin to cooperate with (cultivate) these gifts, to live them, to use them. Practice makes perfect.
Being filled with the Spirit does not take away our free will; the way we choose to respond. The initiative is still with us. Cooperating with the gifts means stepping out and stepping up our game like the Apostles. And as we cultivate and grow in these gifts, we begin to bear the fruits of the Spirit; Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self-control (Gal. 5:22-23). Love, the first fruit of the Spirit is the indispensable sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit in a person. Other fruits flow from it. From love flows joy. People search for happiness in all the wrong places. Mother Teresa has a good advice: “Don’t worry about doing great things, do the smallest things with great love and you will be happy.”