Come Holy Spirit! The Whole Church Needs a New Pentecost
On Pentecost the early followers of Jesus gathered. So their Lord had instructed them. Why? To expect the fulfillment of the promise he had made to send the Holy Spirit. We refer to Pentecost as the birthday of the missionary church for a good reason. Their encounter with the Holy Spirit in the Upper Room changed them.
They were filled with the same Holy Spirit which raised Jesus from the dead. The Apostle Paul would later explain the experience. He was not at that first Pentecost. But he certainly experienced the same encounter, and came to know of its powerful, transformative effects! (Romans 8:11)
The Holy Spirit capacitated the early followers of Jesus to go from being a frightened fraternity to a band of brothers and sisters. Of them it was said “they turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6) They were empowered to carry forward in time the ongoing mission of Jesus Christ until he returns to complete the work of redemption.
We’re Offered the Same Gifts
Every year, this celebration of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost is an invitation to each one of us to have the very same encounter. It is the Holy Spirit which makes it possible for us to live lives of sacrificial love, holiness and service in a world that God still loves. It’s a world into which He still sends His Son, through the Body of Christ, the Church — of which we are all members. (John 3:16)
The purpose of Pentecost is the birth — and continued rebirth — of the Church.
We are, in this millennium, commissioned to carry forward the very same mission of those first disciples who gathered with Mary the Mother of the Lord. Jesus promised his followers, “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:12)
That includes you and me!
A Transforming Fire
In these in words, recorded in that same chapter of John’s Gospel, Jesus made a promise.
I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows it. But you know it, because it remains with you, and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me, because I live and you will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you.
Among the readings read at the Catholic Liturgy on Pentecost Sunday is the account of that first Christian Pentecost:
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)
There is little doubt from their actions following that event. They were very different. They went forward and really did turn the entire world upside down. With their preaching and the witness of their changed lives. Will we do the same in this new missionary age? The choice is ours to make.
We’re Not Post-Christian But Pre-Christian
As I have regularly written and proclaimed, it is time for all Christians to stop bemoaning the collapse of the culture. Stop using the language of “post-Christian.” Look at this moment, our moment, as PRE-CHRISTIAN.
It is time to get to work, empowered by the same Holy Spirit, TODAY.
In many respects, the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity, seems mysterious to many Christians in our own day. When I consider this reality, I am reminded of one of the many missionary stories recounted in the Acts of the Apostles.
I am one of countless thousands whose life was profoundly changed by an experience, an encounter, with the Holy Spirit decades ago. I am old enough to remember when we who had this encounter were called “Pentecostal Catholics.”
See Chapter 19 of Acts. “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)
Pretending the Holy Spirit Doesn’t Exist
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. But he’s still at work, still pouring out gifts and still making it possible for us to bear spiritual fruit. The same Holy Spirit still changing each one of us, individually and collectively, into the Image of Jesus Christ. The same Holy Spirit calling us to make disciples of all the Nations.
An examination of the teaching of Jesus and the New Testament reveals the essential role of the Holy Spirit in the life and mission of the Church. And in the life and mission of every individual believer. A study of the Tradition, the magisterial teachings of the Church and the Catholic Catechism underscores that this reality is meant to continue. It was not a onetime event.
The purpose of Pentecost was — and still is — the empowering of the Christian Church with the same power that raised Christ Jesus from the dead! The Holy Spirit draws us into communion with the Lord and a 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)
My Life Was Changed
I am one of countless thousands whose life was profoundly changed by an experience, an encounter, with the Holy Spirit decades ago. I am old enough to remember when we who had this encounter were called “Pentecostal Catholics.” That was before the more refined term “charismatic” took prominence.
Pope Francis has taken to calling the experience a “Current of Grace.”
I do not really care for any adjective before the noun “Catholic”. No, I am a Christian, standing by choice in the heart of the Catholic Church, which stretches back to the earthly ministry of Jesus and forward to His return. I stand reaching out, with all Christians, into an age which needs to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ and be set free.
In fact, it was an 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. That same Holy Spirit which leads me to work with other Christians, across the confessional lines, in evangelistic and culturally engaging work and mission.
What Happened to All the Charismatics?
Sometimes, people ask me, all these years later, when they hear of my earlier identification with that movement called the Catholic Charismatic renewal. “What Happened to those Pentecostal/Charismatic Catholics?” I guess my life is one of many answers to that question. I give them the following answer.
The Holy Spirit continued to lead me into the heart of the Catholic 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, a deacon. My heart for evangelization led me to assist in the myriad of ministries, apostolates 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.
Many Movements, One Body
I do not identify with any particular “movement”. Rather, I identify with the Lord 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 specific movement. No, it was about a new way of living in the Lord, by the Holy Spirit, in the Church, for the sake of the world.
Over the years, the term “ecclesial movements’ has become the term used to refer to the many movements within the Catholic Church. They demonstrate 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. They proclaim that He has been raised from the dead and is alive in our midst in the Church. They call men and women to the encounter, to experience the Pentecost of the Holy Spirit He promised, right now.
A New Way of Living
Pentecost is not about a onetime experience. It’s about a way of living in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. 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 our 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 Church, Born Again
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. Nor 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 Christian 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 Gospel Is Still the Answer
The answer for the malady of this age is the same as the answer of those early disciples for their broken and lost age, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Like them we are called to present the new culture which is revealed in the heart of the Church through the power of the Holy Spirit to our own age. As I continually proclaim, we are living in a new missionary age and we are called into the whole world to preach 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.
We need to pray for a New Pentecost for the WHOLE Church in this hour! Because we need more of the Holy Spirit for the work of the New Evangelization within the Church so she can take the mission to the whole world. We need to be baptized afresh in the Holy Spirit in order to take our role as a member of the Body of Christ in this new missionary age.
To Transform the World
The Church needs to rise up in this hour with the same power with which she transformed the world of the first centuries. She can … by the power of the Holy Spirit!
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 Lord in His Church and, through her, continuing the redemptive mission of the Lord until He returns.
This column originally appeared in a slightly different form at Catholic Online. It is reprinted by permission.