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This year the Liturgical celebration of Pentecost occurs on Sunday June 12. Among the many biblical accounts we will hear at Mass is this one: “When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.” (Acts 2)
On the day following the liturgical celebration of the Feast of the Ascension of the Lord there is a custom among Catholics of praying for nine days (a “novena”) for a fresh and new outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Church on the Feast of Pentecost. In many respects, the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity, seems mysterious to many Christians. When I consider this I am reminded of one of the missionary stories recounted in the Acts of the Apostles.
Chapter 19 of Acts begins with these words, “While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul traveled through the interior of the country and came (down) to Ephesus where he found some disciples. He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?” They answered him, “We have never even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” (Acts 19: 1, 2)
Too often we live our lives like those disciples in Ephesus. We act as though we did not realize there even is a Holy Spirit! Yet an examination of the teaching of Jesus and the New Testament reveals the vital role of the Holy Spirit in the life and mission of the Church – and in the life and mission of every believer. A study of the Tradition, the magisterial teachings of the Church and the Catholic Catechism underscores this reality.
The early followers of Jesus gathered as the Lord commanded them, expecting the fulfillment of the promise. The promise was fulfilled. We traditionally refer to Pentecost as the “birthday” of the missionary church. Their encounter with the Holy Spirit in the Upper Room changed them. It was a call to carry forward in time His ongoing redemptive mission until he comes again.
The outpouring of the Holy Spirit is an invitation to all of us, in this age, to live lives of sacrificial love, holiness and service in a world that God still loves – a world into which He sends His Son through the Body of Christ, the Church, of which we are members.
The purpose of Pentecost was – and still is – the empowering of the Church with the same power that raised Christ Jesus from the dead! The Holy Spirit draws us into communion with the Lord and participation in His Divine Life and mission. That communion is lived in the Church. The Catholic Catechism, quoting St Augustine, affirms “What the soul is to the human body, the Holy Spirit is to the Body of Christ, which is the Church.” (CCC # 797)
I am one of countless thousands whose life was profoundly changed by an experience of the Holy Spirit decades ago. I am old enough to remember when we were called “Pentecostal Catholics”. That was before the more refined term “charismatic” took prominence. Frankly, I do not really care for any adjectival description before the noun “Catholic”. I am a Christian, standing by choice in the heart of the Catholic Church which stretches back to the earthly ministry of Jesus. In fact, it was that encounter with the Holy Spirit so many years ago which led me back home to the Catholic Church into which I had been baptized as a child.
Sometimes people ask “What Happened to those Pentecostal/Charismatic Catholics?” I guess my life is one of many answers to that question. The Spirit continued to lead me into the heart of the Church. My hunger for more of God and my passionate love for the Word of God, led me to continued theological studies and to ordination as a member of the clergy. My heart for evangelization led me to the myriad of ministries and works in which I have involved for decades.
Do I still believe that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are available for ordinary Christians? You bet I do! I also hope that they assist us all in growing in the fruits of the Spirit and manifesting the character of Jesus Christ through living lives of real holiness. I do not identify with any “movement”. Rather, I identify with the Jesus Christ who has been raised from the dead and still pours out His graces through the Church which is His Body. My experience all those years ago was not about a movement but about a way of living in the heart of the Church for the sake of the world.
Over the years, the term “ecclesial movements’ has come to be used to refer to the many movements within the Catholic Church which are examples that the Spirit of Pentecost is alive and well. Though each has a unique charism and mission, they all invite Christians to have a “personal” relationship, an encounter, with the Lord Jesus Christ, who has been raised from the dead and is alive in our midst in the Church. That is not about a onetime experience but about a way of living in Christ.
We are led by the Spirit to live in the Heart of the Church, for the sake of that world. The Church is meant to become the home of the whole human race. Within the communion of the Church we become leaven and seed in the loaf of human culture, in order to lead the world into the “new world”, which is the Church.
We are called to live a unity of life, where Christian faith is not compartmentalized but rather informs and permeates our daily life. We are called to love the Church, recognizing that she is “Some – One” not something – the Body of Christ continuing His redemptive mission on the earth until He returns. The missionary mandate extends to every state in life and every Christian vocation. They demonstrate that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are real and still available for all Christians.
The purpose of Pentecost is the birth – and continued rebirth – of the Church. The Church is “Plan A” and there is no “Plan B”. The notion of a Christian group being “para” Church is far from the purpose of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit was not poured out on the disciples so that they could form movements outside of the Church, or compete with one another in movements within her. Rather, so that they could become full members of Christ’s Church living His life within her bosom for the sake of the world.
Jesus told the disciples that He must ascend, to “my Father and your father, my God and your God” (John 20:17) because, in His own words “If I do not go I cannot send the comforter. And when he comes he will convict the world in regard to sin and righteousness and condemnation: sin, because they do not believe in me; righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will no longer see me; condemnation, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.”
And in the same Gospel “I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth. He will not speak on his own, but he will speak what he hears, and will declare to you the things that are coming.” (John 16: 7-15)
The Church was empowered by the Holy Spirit to live differently in the midst of a world awaiting the fullness of redemption; to lead the world back to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. Can we live this kind of transformed Christian life in the stuff of our own daily lives? Yes, by living them in the heart of the Church by the power of the Holy Spirit.
There is a lot of “bad news” in our contemporary culture. However, this culture is not all that different than the cultures into which the early Christians were sent on mission; cultures such as the one which the Christians in Ephesus confronted. They needed the Holy Spirit to do their work and so do we.
The answer for the malady of this age is the same as the answer of those early disciples, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Like them we are called to present the new culture revealed in the heart of the Church through the power of the Holy Spirit to our own age. This is a new missionary age and we are called into the whole world tp ppreach the Gospel in both word and deed.
The Second Vatican Council in the Catholic Church began with a prayer for a “New Pentecost.” The Holy Spirit was poured out on Pentecost and continues to be poured out on, in and through the Church, for the sake of her mission in the world. Pentecost was and is the birthday of the Church. The Holy Spirit is the soul of the Church and the source of her power for mission.
Whatever Happened to those Pentecostal/Charismatic Catholics? We are everywhere these days continuing to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit by offering ourselves to the Church and, through her, continuing the redemptive mission of the Lord until he returns.