The reading from the Acts of the Apostles (2:1-11) begins: “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.” Of course the reference there is to the Old Testament feast of Pentecost, which commemorated the giving of the Law on Mt Sinai. But now the Christian day of Pentecost has come once again for us, and we gather together to celebrate not the giving of the Law, but the giving of the grace of the Holy Spirit. We may not experience the extraordinary phenomena that the disciples experienced on the first Pentecost, but the same Holy Spirit of God is present with us today, desiring to fill us with Himself as He filled those gathered in the upper room nearly 2000 years ago.
The Scriptures give us several lists of various gifts of the Holy Spirit. But aside from the manifestation of the Wind and Fire, we learn of only one in the account of the first Pentecost, which the people of many nations gathered in Jerusalem described as follows: “We hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” The “gift of tongues” here is not the same as the charismatic gift of the same name, which is an ecstatic (though unintelligible) utterance that is a form of prayer. When the Holy Spirit first came upon the apostles, the gift was actually an ability to speak in many known languages, which were quite intelligible to those who heard them. That is because this gift was not for the sake of personal prayer but for the sake of evangelization, for they were impelled by the Spirit to speak of “the mighty works of God,” so that those who heard would come to believe in Jesus as Messiah, Lord, Savior, and Son of God.
We might be astonished at the sudden God-given ability of the unlettered disciples to speak in different languages, but perhaps there was a gift given that is greater still. That is the fearless courage of the disciples to put themselves at risk for the sake of proclaiming the Gospel of Christ. Recall that before the Spirit had come they were still in hiding, afraid of reprisals from the authorities, for they were known to be disciples of the One who had recently been executed for blasphemy and sedition. Suddenly, filled with the Holy Spirit, they abandoned their hideout and marched into the public square, free from fear and filled with zeal to proclaim the mighty works of God accomplished through the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. As events would bear out, there still were reasons to fear—from a purely human perspective—for the apostles would be threatened, beaten, and otherwise persecuted for their witness to Christ. But the power of the Holy Spirit made all that irrelevant for, as St Peter would later say, they had to obey God rather than man and thus they could not keep quiet about what they had seen and heard.
St Peter even became an expert in the Scriptures due to the grace of the Spirit, for he saw how the ancient prophecies were being fulfilled in their presence. In his very first address to the people—with the divine Fire freshly blazing within him—he said: “This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel… ‘I shall pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,’ says the Lord… ‘and they shall prophesy. And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth beneath…’ And it shall be that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Peter would make it clear that the fulfillment of this prophecy was not only in the striking manifestations of the coming of the Spirit on Pentecost, but that now it is on the name of the Lord Jesus that people must call in order to be saved. He would later say that there is no other name under heaven by which we can be saved (Acts 4:12). This is an incredible claim to make to people who believed in God but who had crucified this same Jesus as an imposter and blasphemer. Yet the power of the Holy Spirit was so strong that on that very day there was a mass baptism and 3000 souls repented and believed in Jesus and his Gospel.
As for us, we may already believe in the Lord Jesus and call upon his name, but we are still greatly in need of the power and grace of the Holy Spirit. Declaring faith in Christ is but the beginning of living our whole life in Christ, and for this we need the Holy Spirit every day. Perhaps we are looking for extraordinary gifts, but what the Spirit is actually giving us is the same fearless courage He gave to the first apostles, the strength and the zeal to proclaim Christ through word and deed, to hear the word of God and to keep it.
Many years ago, I would approach the feast of Pentecost wondering what gift the Holy Spirit might wish to grant unto me, having in mind St Paul’s lists of charismatic gifts in First Corinthians (12:4-11). How about prophecy, or healing, or even miracle working? Well, I never received any of those, and I think anyone who desires extraordinary charisms will probably not be granted them, because there’s always a danger of self-aggrandizement, of receiving the glory for oneself instead of giving it all to God, humble disclaimers notwithstanding. Shortly after Paul lists the charismatic gifts, he says: “Now I will show you a still more excellent way.” What follows is his incomparable hymn to love as the greatest of all gifts, one which does not pass with this world, like prophecy or healing or tongues, but which endures for all eternity—for God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God and He in them. It would perhaps have been a subtle but powerful liturgical master-stroke if First Corinthians 13 were chosen as one of the readings for the feast of Pentecost. St Paul says elsewhere that the love of God is poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. The Gift of the Holy Spirit is the love of God.
Having learned from the Spirit-filled St Peter that we must call on the name of Jesus to be saved, let us turn to the Gospel and hear the words of Christ, for if we are to receive the Holy Spirit, we must come to Jesus. In the Gospel (Jn. 7:37-52; 8:12) the Lord exclaims: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.” For as the Scripture says: “Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.” The evangelist hastens to add that this Living Water referred to the Holy Spirit, who would be given to those who believed in Christ, after his glorification, that is, his death, resurrection, and ascension into Heaven.
The Holy Spirit is often spoken of in Scripture as being “poured out,” and to receive Him is to be “filled.” So here in the Gospel Jesus invites us to come and drink. All this symbolizes an intimate and personal communion. We eat and drink the Body and Blood of Jesus so that He can abide in us and impart his own life to us. Likewise, though in a less tangible manner, we “drink in” the grace of the Holy Spirit—the River of Living Water poured out from the Heart of Christ—to satisfy our insatiable thirst for love and peace and wisdom and immortality.
All the gifts of the Holy Spirit are contained in the one Gift of the Holy Spirit which is Himself, given personally to us, first in the sacrament of Chrismation, and then in all the other means of sanctification provided by the Church, as well as our own faith and prayer. Whatever specific gifts may be given by the Spirit are given in view of the particular vocation He has granted to us. He doesn’t give us gifts so that we can amaze crowds with signs and wonders, but He gives us whatever we need to do his will in this world, fearlessly and courageously, calling on the name of the Lord Jesus and inviting others to do so as well. The Holy Spirit gives us whatever works toward our sanctification and salvation, and this River of Life, this Living Water of divine grace, will continually flow into all those who ceaselessly come to the Lord Jesus to receive it.
There may be a drought here in California and in other parts of the country and the world, but there is no drought of the grace of God. If our souls are dried up it is because we ourselves have cut off the flow, have severed ourselves from the Source, through our lack of openness and surrender in love to Him whose Heart overflows with Living Water. If we close ourselves up, living in our own little world of thoughts and feelings, the Living Water flows around us rather than within us. The Lord always looks for an opening to come in, but He has to wait for our free choice to come out of our fearful hiding and receive the power and the joy to live fully in the grace of the Holy Spirit, and to proclaim that Jesus is Lord, not merely with our lips but in the witness of our whole life.
With the Living Water of the Spirit, we will bear sweet and abundant fruit for the glory of God, for Jesus said: “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples” (Jn. 15:8). We see again that it is not sufficient to merely consider ourselves disciples, or say that we are disciples. Jesus requires that we prove we are disciples by bearing much spiritual fruit for the glory of his Father.
We know from St Paul what the fruit of the Holy Spirit is: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23). If we bear this fruit in abundance, we know we are in the Holy Spirit, that we are disciples of Christ, and that we are giving glory to the Father.
So let us come to Jesus to receive the Holy Spirit. For Christ has been glorified and longs to let the grace of his Spirit flow into us. We come directly to the overflowing Heart of Christ as we approach the Eucharistic Chalice. Let us open ourselves wholly, and never close ourselves, through grievous sin or self-centeredness, to this heavenly flow of grace and thus become like a “dry, weary land without water” (Ps 62/63). Jesus says at the end of the Gospel that He is the Light of the world. Let us enter that Light, then, and therein expose ourselves without reserve to the Wind, the Fire, and River of Living Water, which is the irrepressible life and love of the Holy Spirit, which will bring us, laden with spiritual fruit, to the lush and eternally refreshing repose of the life of the Blessed in Paradise.