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Pentecost: Overflowing with the Spirit

On Sunday May 23 we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit on the Feast of Pentecost. Pentecost wasn’t a once only event but is rather a perennial one in which we can expect to receive a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

St Luke’s account of the coming of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost is fascinating: ‘When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place’ (Acts 2:1). These words tell us that Pentecost existed before…Pentecost. In other words, there was already a Pentecost feast in Judaism, and it was during this feast that the Holy Spirit descended. As we cannot comprehend Easter without understanding the Jewish Passover, of which we believe it was the fulfillment, so we cannot understand Pentecost without considering this ancient Hebrew feast. The word Pentecost refers to fifty days after the Passover – it was originally an agrarian feast, the day of the first fruits, when a sheaf of the new crop was offered to the Lord. Later on, however, the feast took on a new emphasis and it was to do with celebrating the giving of the law on Mount Sinai and of the covenant (Exodus 19‑20). St Luke’s account evokes the theophany on Mount Sinai. The liturgy affirms this interpretation as it draws on Exodus 19 as one of the readings for the Pentecost vigil. Why is this significant, you may ask? It was to highlight the coming/giving of a new law, a new life, which seals the new and eternal covenant and consecrates us as the royal and priestly people that forms the Church. St Augustine said: ‘Who wouldn’t be struck by this coincidence and at the same time by this difference? Fifty days pass between the celebration of the Passover and the day on which Moses received the law written by God’s finger on tablets of stone; similarly, fifty days after the death and resurrection of the one who like a lamb was slaughtered, the finger of God, that is the Holy Spirit, filled the faithful who were gathered together’.

One of the great gifts of the Holy Spirit is that we see the Old Testament with new eyes and understand the prophecies of Jeremiah and Ezekiel as pointing to the new Covenant: This is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: ‘I will put my law within them and I will write it upon their hearts’ (Jer 31:33). God’s law is no longer written on tablets of stone but upon our hearts; it will no longer be an exterior law but an interior one. Ezekiel unpacks this further: ‘A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances’ (Ez 36:27). St Paul confirms this understanding: ‘The law of the Spirit which gives life in Jesus Christ has set me free from the law of sin and death’ (Rom 8:2).

But how does this new law of the Spirit work in practice and in what way can it be called a ‘law’? The new law is nothing other than what Jesus called the ‘new commandment.’ The Holy Spirit has written the new law on our hearts by pouring his love into them: ‘God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us’ (Rom 5:5). This love is the love with which God loves us and through which, at the same time, he makes us love him and our neighbour. It is a new capacity to love – to love God and to love our neighbour. This is how Jesus’ disciples are known , by their love. This new capacity to love involves a change, an inner renewal, in short, a miracle, the miracle
of Pentecost.

At the wedding feast of Cana Jesus changed water into wine. This wine wasn’t mere ‘vin ordinaire’ but a top notch quality vintage, the kind served first not last. Imagine: the six stone water jars held up to thirty gallons and they were filled to the brim (John 2:7). On the feast of Pentecost, the disciples were so full of the Spirit, so happy and overflowing with joy, that they were accused of being drunk (Acts 2:13). They were drunk, but with the Holy Spirit. God has generously poured out the Spirit, the new wine, so that we too can overflow with the fruits and gifts of the Holy Spirit.

St Leo the Great said: ‘Christian, recognize your dignity now that you share in God’s own nature.’ Through the grace of baptism and the sacraments of the Church we have become partakers in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). God has poured out his Spirit and has lavished on us every spiritual gift, charism and blessing. The Holy Spirit is like a river, so abundant, deep and fast flowing, that the Spirit doesn’t just trickle into our lives but rather like a tidal wave washes, cleanses, and renews us in our inner being, filling us with the very life of God. We have received the Spirit, we can live holy lives pleasing to God. We can become holy, we can become saints.

Be expectant and hopeful that you will receive a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit. We know the Spirit is being poured out upon us because our hearts overflow effortlessly with this simple proclamation of faith: ‘Jesus is Lord.’ We cannot say ‘Jesus is Lord’ unless the Spirit lives within us and puts a new song in our hearts. The great symbols of the Holy Spirit are fire and water. The Holy Spirit is the fire that keeps us going; the water of the Holy Spirit is the immensity of God’s life within us; the dove of his peace comforts and consoles us; the wisdom of the Holy Spirit shows us right from wrong; the creativity of the Holy Spirit moves us to think and act in ways that bring joy, peace and hope; and the wind of the Holy Spirit urges us on to our heavenly home, if only we will let him do so!

Holy Spirit of God:
Thou of all consolers best
Thou the soul’s delightful guest
Dost refreshing peace bestow.

Give us comfort when we die
Give us life with thee on high
Give us joy that never ends.

Come, Holy Spirit, enkindle in my heart the fire of your love, for I am your temple. This is my dignity, my destiny and the pledge of eternal life.

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