Fifty days after the Paschal Mystery of the Lord Jesus, the Holy Spirit came upon the Church as tongues of fire. Falling upon the apostles and Mary, the Holy Spirit gave recollection and strength to the early Church. Through his active presence, the Church went out from Jerusalem and proclaimed the message of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth.
This Pentecost event begs some questions: How did the Spirit accomplish such a monumental work? Where has the Holy Spirit gone? Is he found in the work of the Church today?
As the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles and Mary, so that same Spirit comes upon every baptized Christian. As Saint Paul teaches us: “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.”
This is a remarkable teaching that is oftentimes not understood by the baptized themselves. Saint Paul is exhorting believers to realize that the exact same Spirit who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead dwells within each of us.
It was the exact same Spirit who raised the Lord from the dead who came upon the early Church and who comes upon us today. As Saint Paul would also teach: “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own?”
In our baptism, we die to ourselves and become a new creation in Jesus Christ. This movement from death to life happens by the power of the Holy Spirit, who enters our heart and allows us to live as the adopted children of God. Again, Saint Paul teaches: “And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’”
And so, the Holy Spirit continues to dwell and work within the Church. Every baptized Christian has received the gift of the Holy Spirit and is called to give the obedience of faith to his righteous impulses and heavenly inspirations.
In the early Church, as we see throughout the Acts of the Apostles, the Spirit was listened to and relied upon by the disciples. In this way – and only through this way – was the widespread proclamation of the Gospel made possible. The apostles and disciples died to their own whims and preferences and lived only for the direction of the Spirit. They went where they did not prefer. They suffered hardships that they would not have chosen.
They spoke truth to power and were bold in their preaching. They didn’t succumb to self-pity, tiredness, entitlement, or lukewarmness. They were staunch in their docility to the Spirit.
The life of the early Church, however, was not without its problems. As seen in portions of the Acts of the Apostles, and in the letters of Saint Paul (which are so strong at times denouncing evil practices that we can forget that they were written to baptized Christians), there were those who rebelled and rejected the work of the Holy Spirit.
While this disobedience hurt the spiritual health and well-being of the Church, it did not limit or suspend its evangelization and good work. This happened in large part because the overall faith of the Church was able to identify and correct this sinfulness and so remain focused on the mission that was given to her by the Lord Jesus.
In spite of some very grave sin, therefore, the overall mission of the Church was still able to happen. The Church is weakened and becomes less significant when the Spirit is grieved. Saint Paul warns us: “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption.”
The Spirit is grieved when evil is called good and good is called evil. He is grieved when error is spoken over truth and truth is dismissed as error. The Spirit is grieved when falsity is triumphed and truth is not spoken. He is grieved when charity is lacking and justice is not given.
While such actions are expected among those who do not believe, they are a shocking scandal when found among Christian believers. Such actions are a screeching halt to the work of the Spirit.
If believers today want the vibrancy and momentum of the early Church, then they must be willing to live as they lived, to love as they loved, and to obey the Spirit as they did. Only in this way can the Spirit work through the Church and continue the work of the Lord Jesus.
Follow Father Jeffrey Kirby on Twitter: @fatherkirby