Thinking over the whole liturgical year, I would argue that Pentecost is the second most important Feast Day of the year, behind Easter. It brings to an end what we call “The Great Sunday,” the 50 days of the Easter Season. It marks the birthday of the Church as it is sent forth, empowered by the Holy Spirit, to proclaim the praises of God and to forgive sins.
Today the Church has placed us in the middle of two of the most powerful events in salvation history. The Risen Lord appeared to the apostles on the evening of Easter Sunday, breathed into them the Holy Spirit, and gave them the power to forgive sins – a sort of foretaste of the Spirit the Apostles received in full, 50 days later. Then, the Holy Spirit almost seems to be breathed into them from the lips of God the Father Himself – “suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were.”
This isn’t just one among many miracles. The power breathed into them on Easter Sunday and the filling of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost are intimately connected. The only other times in Scripture when God breathed on mankind, was in the beginning – in the book of Genesis, when “the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” (Gen 2:7) – and in Ezekiel, where God raises an army of corpses to new life by the breath of the Spirit (37:9). Just think of how the apostles felt! They probably remembered when Jesus breathed on them 50 days before and they knew the Scriptures of Genesis and Ezekiel. All of this comes together in one magnificent moment in which the apostles receive a newfound courage and zeal and the ability to praise God in languages they didn’t even know. Their hearts, and souls, and minds are filled with God, the Holy Spirit. The Church is on fire and alive! Today this moment is ours too! We are that same Church today. We are the Church of the Apostles, still alive, still on fire, forever young with the exuberance of the Holy Spirit!
God the Holy Spirit wants to fill us too. He wants us to receive the same fullness of Himself that the Apostles received on this very day, over 2000 years ago. In fact he has done this already. He infused in our souls Faith, Hope, and Love through the waters of our Baptism and he enhanced and completed these gifts when we were Confirmed. But He hasn’t stopped there! The Holy Spirit wants to fill our souls every single day so that the Church 2000 years from now will still be on fire and alive.
We have our own part to play in this. Most importantly, I think, would be to simply pray to God, the Holy Spirit. Often times we have no problem praying to God, the Father, because we can imagine a fatherly figure, with gray hair, and a beard! And we can pray to God, the Son, because Jesus Christ is so vividly depicted in the Gospels and in artwork. But the reigning image of the Holy Spirit is a dove! We don’t pray to doves! Most of the time we think of God, the Holy Spirit, simply as a force, or a power, that comes and goes, as if He is the magic pixi dust that God sprinkles on us every now and then! He is much more than this! He is God. He is the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity. And, as God, He welcomes and answers our prayers.
Throughout my childhood and still today, my Dad always encouraged my brothers and me to pray to the Holy Spirit. Any time we were nervous about a minor league baseball game, or a test at school, or an argument with a friend, my Dad would always tell us to pray to the Holy Spirit for wisdom and guidance before we went into it. I recommend that for us today. If you have not been in the habit of praying to God, the Holy Spirit, today is the perfect day to start, the day when we celebrate how generously He filled the apostles, and us, with courage and zeal.
Maybe during the quiet time after Communion today, or at home together with your family, or before you go to sleep tonight, call to mind something that may be troubling you. It could be the pressures of our economy, a difficult project at work, a relative who has fallen away from the Church, a wound from your past that is still painful, or anxiety over an illness. Ask God, the Holy Spirit, to renew in you the graces He gave you at your Baptism and Confirmation. Ask him to make you on fire and alive with the same courage and zeal that He gave the Apostles on this very day. Ask for big graces! Ask him for wisdom or healing or reconciliation or faith. Heck, ask Him to make you a saint! There probably will not be a driving wind or tongues of fire. He may only come to you in a very small way. But when he does, he will stretch your soul to receive him in a little bit bigger way the next time he comes. Then, he will work on your soul even more. And between His visits, if you maintain your soul with prayer, with Confession, with the Eucharist, He will find you more and more receptive of bigger and bigger gifts.
Come Holy Ghost, Creator blest, and in our hearts take up Thy rest; Come with Thy grace and heavenly aid to fill the hearts which Thou hast made, to fill the hearts which Thou has made. Come the same Spirit, let us pray, that breathed into the Apostles on Easter Sunday and filled them when Easter had ended at that great Pentecost. Come, the same Spirit, let us pray, that makes the Church, then, now, and forever on fire and alive. Let us, each one of us, go forth today bearing new fire and life to every place and relationship we have.