Tongues as of fire

Something enormously significant happened to Jesus' followers 50 days after the Resurrection. St. Luke recounts that day in the Acts of the Apostles by using intense images and language. "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 filled with the Holy Spirit."

In the same way that our limited minds will never be able to fully grasp the vastness of space (for example, the energy in the stars, the complexity of black holes, the number of galaxies and the distances between them), so our brains will never fully understand how incredibly important the Holy Spirit is in the life of the Christian.

We do get glimpses of the importance of the Holy Spirit in Scripture and Tradition, in personal prayer and in our efforts to live the Gospel way of life on a daily basis. I shall limit this reflection to four glimpses, rooted in our Scriptures for today.

The Holy Spirit is the means by which God chooses to come and dwell in our hearts and souls. God made us because of His great love and He desires to be in relation with us on a personal level in order to share the enormity of His life and love with us. The goodness of this gift is beyond comprehension. Jesus says in our Gospel for today, "Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him." St. Paul speaks of the same reality in his letter to the Romans, "If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit that dwells in you."

Second, the same Spirit, the Advocate, is one who actually makes faith in God possible for the Christian. St. Paul, in the letter to the Corinthians, proclaims that we can't even believe in Jesus without the assistance of the Holy Spirit: "Brothers and sisters, no one can say, 'Jesus is Lord,' except by the Holy Spirit." In Romans, he says something very similar regarding our faith in God, the Father: "For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a Spirit of adoption, through whom we cry, "Abba, Father!" The Holy Spirit is God's precious gift to us that enables us to believe in the Father and the Son.

Third, the Holy Spirit sends us out to bear witness to the Risen Christ in our world. The Book of Acts goes on to describe the Pentecost event by noting that people from every nation on earth were staying in Jerusalem and heard the disciples of Jesus speaking in their own language about the mighty acts of God. Each of us has been filled with the same Holy Spirit in Baptism and Confirmation. By means of our unique personality, our God-given talents and interests, and with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, we are able to speak to people of today about Christ and His mighty works in a way that can pierce them to the heart. There are people in our lives who may never hear about Christ in a positive and encouraging way if we do not speak about Him.

Fourth, the Holy Spirit is guaranteed guidance for the church. Christ's teaching was a critical part of His saving work. "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." Jesus established the church for a variety of reasons, one of which was to preserve, protect, and to pass down the truths necessary for our salvation as well as to apply those truths to new cultures and future realities down through the ages. The church needs clear guidance for this part of her mission. The Holy Spirit, poured out upon the church, is the guarantee of that guidance. Jesus refers to this role of the Holy Spirit when He says to his disciples: "The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you."

This promise of the Holy Spirit, working through the Magisterium of the Catholic Church, is an immensely important gift of Jesus to the church. It gives us confidence that the church will always teach without error regarding faith and morals. It gives the church the capacity to stand up against the winds of changing culture, the latest philosophical trends, and clever talk show hosts with the truth of Jesus.

Come Holy Spirit. Fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth Your Spirit and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth. O, God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy His consolations, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Fr. Peterson is assistant chaplain at Marymount University in Arlington.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016