The Holy Spirit, Life-Breath of the Church

The first Pentecost, foundation of the Church

At the Ascension, when Jesus was on the point of leaving his apostles, he charged them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, “of which you have heard, He said, from my own lips: John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized in the Holy Spirit not many days hence.” (Acts 1.4-5).

In obedience to the Master’s injunction, the apostles returned to the “Upper Room” in Jerusalem, their customary meeting place. There they waited for the fulfillment of the promise, united and persevering in prayer, in communion of hope and expectation, with Mary, the mother of Jesus.

In the Acts of the Apostles we read how the Holy Spirit appeared to the first group of the one hundred and twenty disciples on the day of Pentecost, under the form of a violent wind which shook the house, and of tongues like fire which came to rest on each of them.

This outpouring of the Spirit signals the visible birth of the Church: it transformed the fearful, trembling apostles, beginning with Peter, into fearless witnesses of Christ, who would henceforward proclaim, fearlessly and cogently, that the crucified Jesus was risen and alive, and demonstrate the truth of their claim by signs and wonders, up to and including martyrdom.

Pentecost continued

The outpouring of the Spirit, however, is not an event in the past that is over and done with: Pentecost, as a transformative experience brought about by the Holy Spirit, is still going on in the Church.

The acts of the Apostles already highlights other experiences of the Spirit breaking through and bringing about conversions, cures, new pastoral orientations.

Pentecost remains pertinent

In the recent past, when he was announcing the Second Vatican Council, John XXIII did not hesitate to claim a special inspiration of the Holy Spirit and to ask the bishops to join in prayer with Mary, begging the Holy Spirit “to work marvels once more in our day, as on a new Pentecost”.

After John XXIII, Paul VI asserted that “The primary need of the Church is to live out Pentecost at all times”. And in our time, John Paul II has repeated on many occasions that the New Evangelization must derive its momentum from the grace of Pentecost.

The experience of the Holy Spirit, lived in response to prayer – an experience of conversion, of recognizing the living Christ, of openness to the Holy Spirit with his gifts, his charisma, his power – is to be found taking place before our very eyes, through that current of grace which is called the Charismatic Renewal. In order to do justice to its scope and avoid any suggestion of exclusivity, it might be better named the Renewal in the Holy Spirit.