Pentecost Sunday

Catholicism as had problems with the Holy Spirit. Our Church never found it easy to present this element, this personality. We have no such problem with Jesus. He took human shape. The image of the Father too is familiar to us also. But how many of us can visualise the Holy Spirit? Maybe life was easier when he was a simple Ghost! How do we describe him, or her or it for that matter? So a variety of words and images were pressed into service: Breath, Wind, Fire, Dove. All of these images and more were employed in the Acts of the Apostles. And what all the images hold in common is energy, freedom, and a great generosity. That little community didn't simply form a holy huddle and keep that gift for themselves. They went out to the whole world, the scriptures tell us, sharing the good news with all they met.

A generation later, Paul is confronted with a difficulty. Some years earlier he had established a new community at Galatia and had established leaders in charge. Now these same leaders sent messengers to Paul outlining their difficulties. Members of the community are leading lives of self-indulgence. And they claim that they are doing this at the behest of the Holy Spirit. In all probability they were quoting Paul himself, and his teachings on the worthlessness of the law. It was the age old dilemma, and still remains a dilemma: at what point does freedom merge into self-indulgence and individualism? The leaders are bamboozled. How are they to counter this argument? So they write to Paul. 'How do we know a community or an individual has received the Holy Spirit.' Paul, never short of an answer, shot off a letter to the people of Galatia. He wags the finger at them: "I warn you now as I warned you before." Essentially, he invoked the old tried and tested biblical yardstick: by their fruits you shall know them! And he made a list of the most obvious fruits they should look out for: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. If you identify these characteristics or fruits in a community or in an individual, then the chances are that he she or they are under the influence of the Holy Spirit.

The image of the Holy Ghost whispering in the Pope's ear only doesn't at all fit the evidence of the Scriptures. As Paul told the Corinthians: "There are a variety of gifts but always the same Spirit; there are all sorts of service to be done, but always the same Lord; working in all sorts of different ways in different people, it is the same God who is working in all of them." The Church is not just a hierarchical organisation administered from without. It is primarily, a living organism animated from within. And the animator, the life-giver, is the Spirit himself. And his function is not just a corporate one of keeping the body alive. It is a personal one too. He renews and revives each one of us.

The Holy Spirit is a harmonious spirit, but also a spirit of diversity. Enforced uniformity breaks the spirit of a people and does terrible damage, as we learned to our cost in the various abuse scandals. Institutionalization breaks the human spirit. Conformity kills. Diversity gives life. The Holy Spirit is characterised by an energetic, boundless diversity. He will not be contained or confined within a single Church, religion, culture or language. This feature of the Spirit baffled even the first witnesses in Jerusalem: "Surely" they said, "these men speaking are Galileans? How does it happen that each of us hears them in his own native language?" The Tower of Babel has finally fallen. The different languages, up to this, barriers dividing people, have suddenly become bridges uniting them. Babel, once seen as chaotic confusion, is now seen as enriching variations, enhancing the community.

The work of the Spirit are best summed up in the Preface to the Prayer of Reconciliation: "Your Spirit changes our hearts; Enemies begin to speak to one another; those who were estranged join hands in Friendship and nations seek the way of peace together; Your spirit is at work when understanding puts an end to strife, when hatred gives way to mercy and vengeance gives way to forgiveness." On this Pentecost Sunday, we pray that God will breathe new life into us through this Eucharist which we are about to celebrate in memory of his Son.


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