Before he left his disciples and ascended to heaven, Jesus promised to send his Holy Spirit to enliven their faith, to give them wisdom, and to console them in times of need.
And from that point on, believers have come to understand that we all need the Holy Spirit to live out our faith and to be the Lord’s witnesses. In fact, we could easily expand on Paul’s famous quote from Ephesians 2:4 and say, “He who made us alive by the resurrection now keeps us alive by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
Just before he ascended, Jesus told the disciples not to leave Jerusalem but to wait there. “John baptized with water,” he told them, “but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now” (Acts 1:5). Jesus had already died. He had already risen. The disciples were already “made alive.” Yet here Jesus is saying that something more needed to happen so that they could fulfill their calling.
That “something more” was the power they would receive when the Holy Spirit was poured upon them. It was the supernatural power to lift them up to heaven and to empower them to perform miracles. It was the power to make them into “witnesses, in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
From Small Beginnings
The apostles lived in an age of dramatic growth. The Church began with a very small nucleus of people, but within thirty years it had spread throughout the Mediterranean Basin. Such rapid growth came because the disciples were empowered by the Holy Spirit and were experiencing what it means to be “made alive.” Seeing God work so powerfully through them, they became increasingly confident. And because their faith and hope grew, the Church grew as well.
Their zeal for the Lord was so strong that it led them to be glad even when they had to suffer arrests, beatings, and persecution for the sake of Jesus (Acts 5:40-41). Rather than deter them, these “setbacks” only made them more determined to preach the gospel—and it moved them to go back to God in prayer and ask for more of his Holy Spirit!
The same is true for us. The more we cooperate with the Lord, the more his wisdom and counsel will fill our minds. The more we yield to the Holy Spirit, the more we will know God’s peace and mercy and compassion. No matter what our situation, the Holy Spirit will reward us with God’s grace as we seek him humbly and faithfully. We are not being greedy or overly ambitious when we ask Jesus for more of his love and more of his power in our lives. After all, this was how the early Church was built, and it has been the secret to every work of renewal that the Church has seen.
Winning the World
What about our age? It would be hard to determine whether the challenges we face are more difficult or easier than the challenges that the early Church faced. But we can know for sure that, just like Peter, Paul, James, and John, we too need the gifts of the Holy Spirit. We need his counsel. We need his patience and we need his fortitude.
What are the challenges we face? Scripture calls us to be poor in spirit and to love the poor, yet we live in a world that adores the rich and neglects the poor. While Jesus tells us to mourn over our sin, the world tells us that sin is a myth and that every ill can be fixed through economic and social engineering. Jesus calls us to be meek and humble, but we are drawn toward selfish ambition and self-aggrandizement. Jesus asks us to show compassion and mercy on our neighbors, yet we see so much resentment, division, and anger in the world. Jesus asks us to be pure in heart, but manipulation and deceit are everywhere, and chastity is ridiculed.
This certainly can seem like a grim picture, but we need to be clear that the world is God’s good creation and that he will ultimately triumph over the sin that is in the world. The Holy Spirit is prepared to lead us into a great renewal. He can empower us to hold our ground and make progress against the forces in this world that are opposed to God. The Holy Spirit is our one hope for change and renewal. As St. John wrote, “the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).
The first disciples waited in Jerusalem until they were filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. Now this same Spirit who moved the apostles closer to God wants to move us closer to God. This same Spirit who convinced them that Jesus had won the victory wants to convince us that we have been made alive and that we can be his witnesses to the ends of the earth.
Holy Spirit, Come and Renew Your People
The call to be witnesses for Christ can seem overwhelming. But we are not alone. We have each other. We have the communion of saints. We have the Eucharist. And amazingly, we have the Holy Spirit living in us and empowering us with God’s grace every day.
Those who were first “made alive” and heard Jesus say, “you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit” were very small in number. But once they were empowered by God, they went out and changed the face of the earth. They were convinced; they were determined. But above all that, they were filled with the Spirit.
Like them, we too need to trust that the Holy Spirit is preparing us and calling us to be Jesus’ witnesses in the world. We need to trust that he is at work in our day just as powerfully as he was in the first century. The Holy Spirit longs to bring home those who are lost. He longs to renew and deepen the faith of those who are already home but who could be experiencing more of their inheritance. He longs to renew the face of the earth so that there will be no more war, poverty, or suffering. And he longs to do this through our own witness.
At our baptism, we were filled with the Holy Spirit. The more we let the grace of our baptism renew us, the more we will be motivated to be God’s witnesses. So let’s all try to answer God’s call. He is telling us, “You have all been made alive and empowered by my Holy Spirit. Now take the gifts and blessings I have given you and enjoy them. Let my gifts draw you closer to me and to one another. Then go out and be my witnesses in your homes, your neighborhoods, your cities, even to the ends of the earth.”