Four Ways to Live More Fully In the Spirit This Pentecost
At the great solemnity of Pentecost, we celebrate the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles and Our Lady. The Advocate and His power, promised by Jesus, came to fruition. Not only did the apostles preach with fire, but the crowds heard and responded. Pentecost is the final step in the Paschal Mystery that began on Holy Thursday.
“The Risen Christ does two things: on the one hand he fulfills God's promise already expressed through the Prophet's words: 'A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you,...my spirit' [Ezekiel 36:26]; and on the other hand he fulfills his own promise made to the Apostles with the words: 'If I go, I will send him to you.' [John 16:7] It is he: the Spirit of truth, the Paraclete sent by the Risen Christ to transform us into his own risen image." –St. John Paul II, Dominum et Vivificantem #24
Why the Ascension?
I expect the apostles felt a deep loss when Jesus ascended into heaven. I imagine them feeling a mix of confusion, not wanting Jesus to leave, and uncertainty over what was to come. That can be seen in their question to Jesus right before He ascended: “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6, RSVCE) We can easily ask the same question: Lord, why not come back now? Stay here on earth with us!
Jesus tried to prepare the apostles for that moment at the Last Supper. In St. John’s account of the Last Supper, Our Lord explains that He must go to the Father so that the Advocate could be sent. This would bring several effects: first, Jesus promised they would do greater works than He (John 14:12). In addition, the Holy Spirit would “teach you all things,” “bring to your remembrance” all that Jesus taught them, and lead them into truth (John 14:25, 16:13).
Peter’s Preaching as a Template
With that background, picture the apostles together with Our Lady and some of the other disciples. Suddenly, a driving wind rushes through the house where they gathered. “And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:3-4). Proclaiming the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit, some derided them as drunks. In response, Peter speaks to the crowd with such authority that 3,000 people follow his urging to be baptized (Acts 2:14-36).
“To hear [Peter] speak one would think it was an entirely different person. Not only has he become enlightened, courageous, but his attitude towards Jesus is now that other one bearing witness to ultimate truth personally experienced in proclaimed with authority. Peter does not speak about Jesus, but from him.” Romano Guardini, The Lord pg. 436
In Peter’s preaching, we have four key takeaways to bring forward into our present day. After all, the action of the Holy Spirit did not end with Pentecost—or with the death of the apostles. Two millennia later, we are heirs to the same Spirit. Let us reflect on Peter’s preaching in order to live more fully in the Holy Spirit.
#1 “In the last days”: Living the New Covenant
Peter cited several verses from Joel, who prophesied that “in the last days,” God will pour out His Spirit on all flesh, visions would happen to anticipate the day of the Lord, and “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:17-21). This echoes the prophet Jeremiah, to whom the Lord spoke of a new covenant. The law would not be given on stone tablets on a mountaintop, but “I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (31:33). This is the day that Abraham longed to see (John 8:56) as well as “many prophets and righteous men” (Matthew 13:17).
In short: Jesus has done something extraordinary for us. Never before in the history of the world has God made Himself so available to men.
Pause for a moment to consider this. We live in the time of the New Covenant—a time that the Chosen People of the Old Testament awaited. King David received a promise that one of his heirs would sit on the throne forever. It came true and we live under that kingship! The prophets Joel and Jeremiah heard the word from the Lord that the new law would be written in people’s hearts. The Holy Spirit was poured into the heart of the Church at the first Pentecost. In the last 2,000 years, the Holy Spirit has continued to be poured out at every baptism and confirmation. Every praise and worship night, every time a Christian prayed over another, every sacrament: God is with us.
We live among an embarrassment of riches in grace. Take advantage of it! Go to Mass as often as possible. Go to confession to stay in a state of grace. Learn about the faith as to spread it to others.
#2 Jesus was raised: Living As Resurrection People
Bishop Robert Barron has a good video on this subject, though St. Paul said it first:
“If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied.” –1 Corinthians 15:17-19
Any scripture scholar or fiction novelist that says the resurrection was an invention of the apostles, to express how they felt about Jesus: it is complete hogwash and has been from the beginning. The apostles had to deal with resurrection doubters in their day; St. Paul even had to address it among the Christian community at Corinth.
One of the points Bishop Barron raised in the video was the issue of hope. If the resurrection was not real and this life is all there is, everything will be erased by death. Nothing we do will matter for anything. On the flip side, if the resurrection did happen, then our lives echo into eternity. The things we do and choices we make matter much more. No matter what suffering may be happening, there can always be hope.
#3 Identity of Jesus as the Messiah: Living Life with Christ as King
Peter cites two Psalms in his Pentecost preaching and finishes with a forceful statement: “Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36).
One of the promises that Jesus made about the Holy Spirit was that the latter would teach the apostles all things, help them remember what Jesus taught, and lead them into truth (John 14:25, 16:13). The most important thing the apostles taught? Jesus is who He said He is. What Jesus taught was true and never ceases to be true with the passage of time.
Even though no one alive was present at the first Pentecost, Peter preaches this very thing to us. We can get so easily misled by other world religions or by the secular culture that Jesus was, first and foremost, a nice guy and a good teacher. Guided by the Holy Spirit, we can look to the Scriptures. We can hear the witnesses, still preaching to us through the Bible.
#4 Convicting of Sin: Living Repentance
In my experience, this part does not usually make it into homilies on Pentecost. The modern eye may read Peter’s preaching on this at Pentecost and close their mind. It is easier to look at the divine love on the cross (Jesus dying for us) than our own sins that put Him on there.
St. John Paul II’s Dominum et Vivificantem spends quite a bit of time on this aspect. Notice how Peter continues after calling out the sin of the crowds. “What shall we do?” the crowd asked. He did not turn them away or told them to get ready to burn in hell. “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” responded Peter.
In other words, we should never let sin be a permanent obstacle between us and God. That is exactly why Jesus died! Repent, come to the sacraments, and come to know a deeper union with Christ! Ask for the push of the Holy Spirit.
For all of these things, the Holy Spirit is our guide. Holy Spirit, come and renew our hearts!