“A little while, and you will see me no more.” (John 16:16)
How Jesus’ words must have shocked Peter, John, and all the disciples gathered at the Last Supper. Had they not left everything—their jobs, their homes, even their families—to follow Jesus? In him they had found the purpose for their life. They had begun to believe that he was “the Holy One of God,” the One who had “the words of eternal life” (John 6:68-69). They had seen him heal multitudes of people, raise the dead, even calm the raging seas. In his name, they themselves had gone out and healed the sick, expelled demons, and proclaimed the kingdom. Why would Jesus leave when everything was going so well?
Within just a few hours of hearing these words, the disciples experienced their full force; they saw Jesus betrayed by one of his closest friends. He was arrested, beaten, crucified, and buried. Fear filled them and they fled. And, even though they rejoiced at Jesus’ resurrection, they still lacked power and boldness. When he left them again, this time to ascend into heaven, they were once more alone. How would they continue now that Jesus was gone? Where was this Comforter, this Advocate, that he had promised?
Shortly after Jesus’ departure, on the Jewish feast of Pentecost, this little band of disciples was gathered together in prayer when it finally happened. God’s power came down upon them and filled them (Acts 2:1-4). The promised Holy Spirit had come (John 14:25-26)! The disciples were so filled with joy that some onlookers thought they were drunk (Acts 2:13). But they knew differently. They knew that because of the Spirit’s presence within them, their prayer had exploded into a whole new dimension of praise and worship of God (2:11). They were moved to preach boldly about Jesus’ triumph over death (2:36). They performed miracles (3:1-10). They could love everyone—even their persecutors—with the love of God (3:17-21). This Holy Spirit for whom they had waited and prayed transformed ordinary, uneducated disciples into bold servants of the gospel (4:13).
The Spirit’s Ongoing Work.
While that first Pentecost was a day of remarkable power, Scripture makes it clear that the outpouring of the Spirit was not meant to be just a one-time occurrence. Throughout the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, Luke tells numerous stories of the Spirit’s ongoing activity, as if to say that what was begun on the day of Pentecost was simply that—only the beginning (see Acts 8:14-17; 10:44-48; 13:1-3; 16:6-10; 19:1-7; 20:22-23).
Apart from the initial experience of joy and boldness, what does the Spirit do when he enters a person? Throughout his letters, Paul gives us a picture of the powerful work of transformation that the Spirit wants to bring about in all believers. To the Ephesians, he spoke of the Spirit granting us unrestrained access to God (Ephesians 2:18). To the Romans, he spoke about the Spirit pouring out God’s love on us and freeing us from sin and death (Romans 5:5; 8:2). He told the Thessalonians that it was the Spirit who gave them their strength in the midst of affliction (1 Thessalonians 1:6). To the Corinthians he spoke of the Spirit revealing the glory of Jesus to human hearts (1 Corinthians 2:9–12; 2 Corinthians 3:18).
Do these wonderful gifts of power and comfort sound like things that naturally occur in our lives? Do they sound like the result of “positive thinking” or of our own limited efforts at over- coming sin and darkness? Rather, in all these instances, we see God continuously pouring out his power and grace. Only God can deliver us from sin. Only God can give us the strength to love and forgive in difficult situations. Only God can make our hearts burn with love for Jesus. And he has done all these things, and more, through the wonderful gift of his Spirit (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, 733-736).
Fire, Wind, Water.
Just as it happened with the first disciples, so too for us, the coming of the Spirit is bound to shake up our lives. Many of the images Scripture uses to describe the Holy Spirit evoke a sense of power—often a power beyond our control. The Spirit is both a fire that burns (Sirach 48:1; Matthew 3:11; CCC, 696) and a wind that blows like the breath of God (John 3:8-9; CCC, 691). The Spirit is the “finger of God” that both drives out the evil one and imprints God’s word on human hearts (Luke 11:20; 2 Corinthians 3:3; CCC, 700). He is the “water of life” that floods into our lives at Baptism and that continues to flow, inviting us to be caught up in his current (John 7:37-39; 1 Corinthians 12:13; CCC, 694).
The Spirit is fire, water, and wind. All these images speak of God’s desire—and his power—to release us from sin and fill us with his life and love. When he was on the earth, Jesus prayed: “I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already kindled!” (Luke 12:49). How Jesus desired to reconcile us with the Father and so open the way for the Spirit to fill our hearts! Without his death and resurrection, there could be no Pentecost; there could be no body of Christ; there could be no indwelling Spirit. Prior to Jesus’ coming, the Spirit was at work, hovering over creation, inspiring various individuals, and advancing God’s purposes for his people. But now, because of Jesus, the Spirit has come to transform the world as he transforms all our lives.
The Spirit in Our Hearts Today.
As we are filled ever more deeply with the Spirit, we become more confident in God’s abundant love for us and his presence within us. Above all the other ways in which Scripture defines the Spirit, the primary definition is that the Holy Spirit is the love of God coming to dwell in our hearts (Romans 5:5; 1 John 4:7-13). The Spirit is the all-consuming love between the Father and the Son, and this is the love that God pours into us, transforming us into beloved sons and daughters. This is the love that brought forth creation at the beginning of time. And it is the same love that later burst forth and transformed God’s people—one by one—into a new creation.
Centuries before Jesus was born, the prophet Jeremiah foretold a new covenant that God would make with his people, a covenant not written on stone tablets, but on human hearts: “I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts . . . they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord” (Jeremiah 31:33-34). Jeremiah’s prophecy is fulfilled as we experience—both individually and together as one people in Christ—the power of the Spirit in our hearts. Jesus inaugurated this new covenant when he shed his blood for us. Today, we can experience the Spirit’s power to free us from sin, heal our wounds, fill us with God’s love, and reveal Jesus to us.
As we approach the day of Pentecost, there are some very practical ways by which we can open ourselves to experience the Spirit’s power. Every day we can ask the Spirit to speak to us and teach us as we pray (John 14:26). We can hear his voice! We can also beg the Spirit to fall with greater power upon everyone: “Come, Holy Spirit, and renew the face of the earth!” (see Psalm 104:30).
Throughout the day, we can try to be aware of the Spirit’s presence in our hearts. Call upon him and talk to him. Ask him for strength and peace in difficult situations. Be confident that he does dwell within you (John 14:16-17). When you recognize sin in your life, know that this is the work of the Spirit in you, inviting you to greater freedom, seeking to make you more like Jesus (John 16:8).
Every evening as you get ready to go to bed, spend a few minutes talking to the Spirit, asking him to give you the peace of Christ and to protect you and everyone around you. Thank him for the ways he has worked with you during the day, and ask him to soften your heart even more tomorrow—ministering God’s presence to you in an even deeper way.
“Come, Holy Spirit, and shine the light of God into our hearts. Let your fire purify us of sin and warm our hearts. Let your wind blow the old life away and breathe God’s presence into us. Let your rain fall upon us to wash us clean and refresh our spirits. Come, O Spirit, and reveal the glory of Jesus to your people!”