Sunday, May 19, 2013


Acts 2:1-11 / 1 Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13 / John 14:15-16, 23b-26

When we speak of the coming of the Spirit, whether we refer to his historic coming on that first Pentecost of the Church after the Lord had ascended into heaven, or whether we mean the coming of the Spirit into the lives of the faithful, we are quite naturally inclined to speak of the effects of the Spirit on those upon whom he has descended. They, we imagine, are the ones transformed by his coming. To be sure, we are altogether justified in thinking this way. After all, at the first Pentecost, when the Spirit descended on the disciples and they began to speak in different tongues, we are assured that they did so as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim. When Jesus promised to send his Spirit, he likewise assured his disciples that the Spirit would teach them everything and remind them of all that he had told them. St Paul, similarly, assured the faithful of Corinth that life in the Spirit is characterized precisely by the presence of spiritual gifts, not the same to each, but that nonetheless to each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.

Even so, we find one quite surprising feature of the story of the first Pentecost. When the disciples, now filled with the Holy Spirit, preach Jesus Christ to those devout Jews from every nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem, we are not told that the disciples were given the power to speak in several languages and so proclaimed one homily several times, each time in another language. That, of course, would be remarkable enough, and would remind all of the power of the Spirit to give gifts that transform those he has brought to life in Jesus Christ. Yet, the story tells us something quite different: At this sound, they gathered in a large crowd, but they were confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language. In other words, at Pentecost, it was not that the disciples were empowered such that each now had new abilities they did not have before and which simply empowered them alone, but rather that, enabled by the charisms of the Spirit, their gifts were transformative both of the disciples themselves and of those to whom they spoke.

It is helpful to remember that, unlike the age of Moses or of the prophets of old, when the Spirit came upon this or that person to effect mighty works and glorify the name of God in Israel and among the nations, the coming of the Spirit in the age of grace is altogether different. It is prodigal and universal, sweeping the world with his Lordly and Life-giving grace. The Spirit, not as sent to one individual but poured out in his fulness on all peoples in a definitive way, comes to draw all people into the life of Christ, both those who possess a special charism and those to whom that charism is applied. Just as his descent on the disciples enabled their power of speech, so also, by that transformed speech, opened the power of the listeners to hear, and in hearing, opened for them the way to life eternal, to a sharing in the eternal life of the blessed Trinity.

This is why we, the many parts of the one body of Christ, are called to be open both to one another in that body and to present ourselves with frank and open witness to those not yet drawn into the Church. While the Spirit could have given each of us a gift for his own good, and his own good alone, in the unimaginable depth of his love has distributed gifts such that each of our gifts finds its perfection not in ourselves alone, but in us only to the extent that through it the Spirit draws others into new life. Likewise, it is only when we patiently, lovingly receive the Spirit's gifts from others' charisms that we will come to know the glorious wonders that the Spirit has in store for us.

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