anyone love me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him,
and we will come and make our abode with him.”
Today we celebrate the feast
known as Pentecost, the feast of the descent of the Holy Ghost upon the
Apostles and Mary the Mother of God. They had been gathered together in
the upper room since Our Lord's ascension into heaven—told not to leave
the city, for something important was soon to happen to them—the
“Advocate” or “Paraclete” was coming to them soon.
We can safely conjecture that
they had spent the past nine days in a state of apprehension. Jesus was
gone, they were now on their own, He was not expected back anytime
soon. He would be back at the end of the world, but no one knew exactly
when that would be—and of course, nobody wanted that to happen real soon
So they did what apprehensive
Catholics have been doing ever since—they spent their time in fervent
prayer with the Blessed Virgin. And, we can conjecture again, they
probably offered Mass each day, so that our Lord could be with them,
even if only briefly each day. (The custom of reserving the Blessed
Sacrament on the altar didn't come about until years later.) We might
say, in modern terms, that they made a “spiritual retreat” in
preparation for their Confirmation on Pentecost.
The reading this morning, from
the Acts of the Apostles describes that first Confirmation, and the
effect that it had on these apprehensive men.
A mighty wind roars, they are filled with the Holy Ghost—tongues of fire
appear as though they were literally on fire with the Holy Ghost. And
they went out into the street and preached the Gospel. Their
apprehension was suddenly gone! They were able to preach in such a way
that people from all over the known world were able to understand
them—as though they were each hearing in their native language. Later
on in the same reading we learn that about 3,000 people were converted
and baptized that day.
Divine Providence had insured an ample audience for their preaching, as
Pentecost was one of those Jewish holidays which required devout Jews to
visit Jerusalem and its Holy Temple.
The Holy Ghost brought these
great gifts to the Apostles so that they could quickly go about the
business of setting up the Church. They were able to heal the sick, to
speak in languages they had never learned, able to prophesy—and they had
lost their fear, and were able to go out, and make disciples in many
nations, and even to face the death of martyrdom.
But, all of these things were
externals. They were gifts given to the Apostles to make their work a
little easier, or a little more effective, by demonstrating that these
men had the authority and the power of God behind them.
The thing that is most truly
significant about the descent of the Holy Ghost is internal. It is what
our Lord is talking about in today's Gospel, when He says that if we
keep His word, He and the Father will make their abode with us. Simply
stated, those who have received the gift of Baptism, and who retain the
graces of Baptism by keeping the Commandments, have the Holy Ghost—the
life of God—dwelling in their souls. God is with them at all times; not
just when they come to church; not even just when they receive Holy
Communion; but all the time. They become, as it were, “temples of the
And, our Lord alludes to two of
the important “side effects” of this indwelling of the Holy Ghost.
First, the Holy Ghost will improve our understanding of divine things,
calling to mind the teachings of our Lord as we need to know them; He
will give us Faith, Hope, and Charity, and the Seven Gifts of wisdom,
understanding, piety, knowledge, counsel, fortitude, and fear of the
Lord. (They are in your Catechism if you can't remember all of them, or
exactly what they mean.)
The other “side effect” is
peace. Not worldly peace. The Apostles weren't promised that they
would be left alone, unmolested, or even allowed to preach the Gospel
without interference. They were certainly not promised peace among
nations, nor the prosperity that would usually go along with such
peace. The peace that we receive by virtue of the being in the state of
grace is the peace that really matters—the freedom from apprehension
about our eternal destiny—the knowledge that no matter what happens to
us in this world, it doesn't really matter, for there are infinitely
better things in store for us.
Interestingly enough, that inner
peace often spills over to our worldly affairs as well. It gives us a
sense of proportion about what is valuable and what is not; about what
is worth fighting, or struggling over, or making a great effort for, and
what is not.
The lesson to be learned from
this is simple. We don't need to be chasing around, trying to acquire
the charismatic gifts that the Apostles received. Few or none of us
will ever heal the sick, or speak in tongues, or prophesy. But then, we
don't really need those gifts as the Apostles did. Having them, or
trying to acquire them, would probably do us more harm than good. There
would be a great temptation to view them with inordinate pride—“I can
speak in tongues, and you can't.” And there is also great danger in
leaving one's self “open to the Spirit,” for it may be that the spirit
that comes to us is not the Holy Spirit, but rather, one of the
rebellious angel spirits.
What we do need to do, is to pay
particular attention to ensuring that we never lose these great gifts of
God—sanctifying grace and the indwelling of the Holy Ghost. They should
be nourished with prayers, and enhanced by the frequent reception of the
Sacraments. And, certainly, if we are unfortunate and foolish enough to
lose them, we must quickly regain it by making a good Confession just as
quickly as we are able.
And, finally, we need to get in
the habit of getting off by ourselves and reflecting on this gift of the
Holy Ghost. Looking inside of ourselves, so to speak, spending time
with the God who dwells within.