When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.
Amazed and astonished, they asked, "Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs-in our own languages we hear them speaking about God's deeds of power."
Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says "Jesus be cursed!" and no one can say "Jesus is Lord" except by the Holy Spirit. Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in every one. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body-Jews or Greeks, slaves or free-and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."
The Holy Spirit used to be the forgotten person of the Trinity. Perhaps he suffered from being a spirit, since for many of us, only concrete things are real. The Father and Son make an impact because one took flesh and the other was given a beard. Have you ever imagined the Holy Spirit with a beard? Whatever the reason, even among devout Christians, the Holy Spirit had been overlooked. He had been cast in the role of a third candidate, valued for his transfers to the front-runners, but never earmarked for a seat in the House, much less a post in the Cabinet. It's only recently that he has been coming into his own. And about time too! There are several reasons why we should never forget the Spirit. The first is that he wasn't forgotten by Jesus. On the contrary. On the eve of the Passion, he promised to send the Spirit to the disciples. In fact, he took pains to emphasise the importance of the Spirit's role. Here was no poor substitute, a duckling doing "locum" for a swan. He would be a helper, a counsellor, a teacher, a replacement for Christ himself. Indeed, Our Lord's words of introduction are rather startling: "It is for your own good that I am going, because unless I go, the Paraclete will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you" (Jn 16:7).
Another reason for acknowledging the Spirit is the example of the early Christians. He made such a difference to their lives that they could never forget him. Before his coming they were timid and afraid, like children huddling together in a storm. When he descended upon them in a miraculous confusion of wind, fire and speech, they were utterly transformed. "They were all filled with the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:4), St Luke tells us, and we think of billowing sails or mothers filled with child. But some of the bystanders were less poetic in their reaction. "They're drunk" (Acts 2:13), they sneered, and for once the cynics were right, drunk they were, drunk with the Spirit of Christ's love and their own furious eagerness to proclaim his message. The Spirit was breathing where he would and from now on "Jesus is Lord" (1 Cor 12:3) would be shouted from the housetops. They stayed drunk for life, in this sense. They were never to be sober again. For as long as they lived, the Spirit would stay in the bloodstream. Every decision they made would be Spirit-shaped: the choice of seven deacons; the admission of Gentiles to the Church; the sending of Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey. And the influence of the Spirit was not confined to decision-making at executive level. It was felt at the ordinary level too, at what politicians love to call the "grassroots." It was felt in the gifts that were Spirit, sent for the service of the Church, unusual gifts like healing or prophecy, designed to meet the needs of an infant Church, but ordinary gifts too, required to meet the needs of God's children everywhere, "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self control" (Ga 5:22).
It is by exercising these gifts that we remember the Spirit best. When we are loyal to a demanding partner, when we are cheerful and courageous, when we console the bereaved, link the old or encourage the young, we are doing the work of the Holy Spirit. When we curb our evil instincts, we honour him. When we respond to the better impulse, we honour him more. The Holy Spirit is "the rising sap'. He is also the climbing warmth in our hearts. It is through and with our better instincts that the Spirit works. "Whether we're aware of it or not, he is never idle. Our part is to grunt and heave with him and to push our stalling lives to the top of the hill.
When you look around our church you will find that there is no shortage of images, mostly in the form of statues, paintings, stained glass, carvings and plaster moulds. They are mostly images of Jesus, Mary and of the saints. There are also images of some figures from the Old Testament, such as Abraham and Melchizedek to the front of the altar. There is a long tradition of images within the church, beginning with the paintings in the Catacombs in Rome. The Holy Spirit, whose feast we celebrate today, does not lend itself all that easily to imagery. The traditional image of the Holy Spirit is the dove. That is drawn from the gospel accounts of the baptism of Jesus. However the language of the evangelists in that passage is very tentative; they simply saw that the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus like a dove, in the way that a dove might descend. There are two other images of the Holy Spirit in this morning's first reading from the Acts of the Apostles. There again the language is very tentative. Luke says that all who gathered in one room heard what sounded like a powerful wind from heaven; he goes on to say that something appeared to them that seemed like tongues of fire. Just as the evangelists do not say that there was an actual dove at the baptism of Jesus, Luke does not say that there was an actual wind and fire at Pentecost. The Holy Spirit does not lend her/himself to concrete representation, because the Holy Spirit cannot be seen as such. Yet the Holy Spirit is profoundly real .
There is much in our universe that is real but is not visible to the naked eye. It is now accepted that what we see with our eyes is only a fraction of our physical world. The Holy Spirit is part of the spiritual world, and it is no surprise that we cannot see the Spirit with our eyes. Yet, there are helpful ways of imagining the Holy Spirit. In today's second reading, Paul uses an image drawn from nature, speaking about the fruits of the Spirit . He is talking about the visible impact of the Spirit on one's life. We may not be able to see the Holy Spirit, but we can see the impact of the Spirit in our life, just as we cannot see the wind but can see the impact of the wind on people and objects of various kinds. Paul is saying that wherever we find love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self-control, the Spirit is there at work. The Spirit becomes visible in and through these qualities and virtues. The person who most of all had those qualities was Jesus because he was full of the Holy Spirit, full of the life of God . The Holy Spirit is essentially the very life of God, and that life is a life of love. It is that divine life, that divine love, which was poured out at Pentecost, initially on the first disciples but through them on all who were open to receive this powerful and wonderful gift. Paul expresses it simply in his letter to the Romans, 'God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us'. It is that Spirit of God's love we have received who bears the rich fruit in our lives that Paul speaks about in today's second reading. The Spirit is constantly at work in our lives, making us more like Jesus. The ordinary, day to day expressions of goodness and kindness, of faithfulness and self-control, of patience and gentleness, are all manifestations of the Spirit that has been given to us by God. We can recognize the Spirit's presence in the common happenings of everyday life. The spiritual is not something other-worldly; it is humanity at its best.
We have an example of humanity at its best in today's first reading. On that first Pentecost, there was a wonderful communion between people from all over the Roman Empire. They were united in hearing in their own native language the preaching of the first disciples about the marvels of God. In spite of differences of language and culture there was a profound communion among them. Wherever we find such communion of heart and spirit today among those who are strikingly different, there the Holy Spirit is at work. Unity in diversity is the mark of the Spirit. In the gospel Jesus points out another manifestation of the Spirit, and that is the pursuit of truth. Jesus declares that one of the Spirit's roles is to lead us to the complete truth. If someone has a genuine openness to truth, a willingness to engage in the search for truth, there the Spirit is at work. Full truth is always beyond us; we never possess it completely. In John's gospel Jesus declares himself to be the truth and he is always beyond us; we never fully possess him in this life. One of the roles of the Spirit is to lead us towards the complete truth, in all its dimensions and manifestations.