Empowered by the Spirit of Truth: Pentecost Reflection
Theme: Empowered For the Mission by the Holy Spirit: The Spirit of Truth
Point of reflection: Last Sunday we celebrated the Ascension of the Lord to Heaven and today, we celebrate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the Lord has not left us as orphans but has sent us the Paraclete: Have I received the Holy Spirit? Does the Holy Spirit play any role in my life? How do I experience the manifestation of the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit in my life? The Scriptural readings of today respond to our quests.
First Reading: Acts 2:1–11
Psalm: Psalm 104:1, 24, 29–31, 34
Second Reading: Galatians 5:16–25
Gospel: John 15:26–27, 16:12–15
Sermon (Reflection): The Biblical readings of Pentecost are telling us one vital reality, as Christians, we have been empowered for the Mission the Lord gave us on Ascension. During the Ascension of the Lord, the Lord commanded us to go and proclaim the Good News to all creation, today, we are being empowered by the Holy Spirit to carry out that command and mission.
The first reading of Pentecost (Cf. Acts 2:1–11) narrates how the Risen Lord fulfilled His promise of the Spirit bestowing “the power from above” on the disciples. This took place on “the day of Pentecost”. Biblically and historically, Pentecost was one of the three main Israelite yearly feasts prescribed by the Torah (Cf. Exodus 23:14-19). Since it was celebrated seven weeks, or fifty days, after Passover, the Israelites know it as “the festival of weeks”. Christians call it “Pentecost” from the Greek word for “fifty”.
Initially, this feast was a celebration of thanksgiving for God’s gift of grain which provided food for the body. On this day, the Israelites offered various fruits of the grain harvest in acknowledgement and thanksgiving for God’s blessings and sustenance. In time, the Israelites began to associate Pentecost with yet another great gift of God – the Sinai covenant. At Sinai, God gave the Israelites the Law. Through this act, the fugitives of Egypt were constituted as God’s chosen people. In this second sense, Pentecost was a celebration of the foundation of the Israelite nation, which God had formed, and would sustain in existence through the gift of His Law. Throughout the ages, the Israelites have celebrated Pentecost commemorating the covenant, and God’s sustenance of his people, in both the material and spiritual sense.
Another significant aspect of the Sinai covenant, important for the correct understanding of Pentecost, is the manner of God’s appearance to the Israelites at Sinai. Exodus 19:16-19 reports that God’s presence was manifested through the visible and audible signs of fire, blast of trumpets, violent shaking, and thunder. This strikingly resembles the account of Acts, where the Holy Spirit descends accompanied by “a sound like the rush of a violent wind”, and in the form of “tongues as of fire”. It is no coincidence that the Holy Spirit descends upon the disciples on the day of the Jewish Pentecost. In parallel with what happened on Sinai where God gave the Israelites the Law and made them his special people, God’s Spirit descended on the apostles to lay the foundations for the new people of God. The Spirit would sustain the new community in existence and make it grow into God’s new people, which we now call the Church.
The Spirit’s arrival laid the foundations for the Church by enabling and empowering the disciples for a mission of witness. The disciples were given the gift of speaking in various languages, which the people of all nations gathered in Jerusalem could understand. This new ability meant that the Galilean, Aramaic-speaking fishermen, were now capable of communicating the Gospel message to the entire world, far beyond Jerusalem and Palestine. They were thus enabled to fulfil Jesus’ commission to be His witnesses throughout the world (Cf. Acts 1:8).
In the second Scriptural reading (Cf. Galatians 5:16–25), St Paul lays some essential guidelines for the community which came into existence on the day of Pentecost. Instructing his Christians on how they should live out their faith, St Paul uses the phrase “live by the Spirit”, contrasting it with “living according to the flesh”. He outlines these two opposing ways of life by drawing up extensive lists of vices and virtues. These qualities and attitudes outwardly express the person’s inner self, their commitments, and allegiances. Thus, those whose hearts follow “the flesh” exhibit negative qualities and behaviour for all to see. On the other hand, those guided by the Spirit, manifest the good and admirable qualities which enrich and edify others. By “the flesh”, St Paul means very base, self-centred passions, and ego-centric instincts. A Christian am I living by the flesh or by the Spirit? Food for thought and reflection.
St. Paul points to the Spirit as the only option for Christians to follow. Belonging to Christ means “crucifying” the flesh in order to be free to follow the Spirit. For Christians, the Spirit is the new law for life, which they follow as God’s people. Thus, in St Paul’s view, Pentecost was the equivalent to the Sinai covenant. The Israelites on Sinai received God’s law as the rule for life. On Pentecost, believers received God’s Spirit to empower and guide them through life. That’s the main point for us today as we celebrate the Pentecost.
Today’s Gospel passage(Cf. John: 15:26–27, 16:12–15) comes from Jesus’ farewell speech to the disciples at the Last Supper. This speech was Jesus’ testament, containing His last instructions. Significant among these instructions are statements on the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus calls “the Advocate”. The Holy Spirit would play a twofold role in the lives of the disciples and the Church.
First, as the “the Spirit of truth”, He would “guide” the disciples “into all the truth”. Not all that Jesus taught and did during His ministry was understood and remembered by the disciples. In fact, the full meaning and significance of Jesus’ mission and His identity can only be fully comprehended from the perspective of His resurrection. Therefore, the disciples need a teacher and guide, who would ensure that they understand correctly, and remember Jesus after His death and resurrection. The Holy Spirit would fulfil this role and lead them to a deeper comprehension of Jesus.
Second, the Spirit would “glorify” Jesus. John emphasizes that the Spirit was sent by Jesus but comes “from the Father”. These words imply that the Spirit intimately knows both Jesus and the Father, and understands their relationship. That’s is the mystery of the Holy Trinity. Thus, the Spirit can reveal Jesus’ true nature as the divine person. The Spirit will, therefore, reveal Jesus to the world working with and through the disciples.
The feast of Pentecost celebrates the gift of the Holy Spirit as the foundation of the Church. For Christians, the Spirit then guides the faithful as the “law written on the heart”, steering them away from the life guided by the flesh. The Psalmist confirms this saying, “when you send forth your spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground”.
Christian Act in Word of God: “Bearing Fruits of the Holy Spirit”
“Be sealed with the Holy Spirit”,in the Sacraments of Christian Initiation, we receive the Holy Spirit. In a particular way, when we are anointed with Sacred Chrism in the Sacrament of Confirmation, we hear the words, “Be sealed with the Holy Spirit.” It is not enough to have the Holy Spirit. We must also allow the Holy Spirit to have us and bear fruits. It is when we allow the Holy Spirit to have us that we are empowered for mission.
The Holy Spirit gives a person the ability to sprout and bear fruits because the Spirit empowers for mission. St. Paul writes about the fruit that manifests itself in the lives of Spirit-filled persons. He writes, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control”. Clearly, there is a connection between the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and virtuous living. A person cannot claim to be a Christian and filled with the Holy Spirit without showing corresponding virtues. As a Christian, am I living a virtuous life?
Reflectively, let us ask ourselves in our hearts, am I loving? Joyful? Peaceful? Patient enough? Kind? Generous? Faithful? Gentle? And self-control? The manifestation of virtues in a person’s life is what makes that person a powerful witness and a true disciple of Christ. And this is manifested by bearing and living good fruits, the fruits of the Holy Spirit. A virtuous person does not need to scream to bring about conversions. His or her very life speaks powerfully enough to lead others to Christ.
It is also important to note that the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples took place within the context of prayer. It is in prayer that the Holy Spirit empowers us, and virtues are born. St. Ephraim rightly said, “Virtues are formed by prayer. Prayer preserves temperance. Prayer suppresses anger. Prayer prevents emotions of pride and envy. Prayer draws into the soul the Holy Spirit and raises people to Heaven”. As we have received the Holy Spirit, let us pray that we should be empowered with the spirit of Truth.
Prayer is the weapon for our daily life living. A car without fuel can’t move, the same with the Christian life, without prayer, we cannot move and succeed in bearing fruits.
Action:I choose to prayerfully ponder over the expressions “Advocate” and “Spirit of Truth” as used to describe the Holy Spirit in the Gospel text. I allow the meaning of these expressions to sink deep down into my heart and then begin to envision the Holy Spirit as my Helper and the One who leads me to the Truth that brings freedom.
Prayer: Come Holy Spirit! As we celebrate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit today, pour on us the Spirit of truth and help us to open our hearts to receive the Holy Spirit and bear good fruits. May we be Loving, Caring, Joyful, Peaceful, Kind, Generous, Faithful, and Gentle. Grant this through Christ our Risen and Ascended Lord who has empowered us with the Holy Spirit, Amen.