This Sunday, we celebrate the arrival of the Holy Spirit, and the great birthday of the Church, Pentecost. It may be one of the most neglected of the church’s feast days. We don’t hang lights, as we do at Christmas, and we don’t wear fancy hats or eat lots of candy, as we do at Easter. There are no big Pentecost sales at Macy’s.
But maybe there should be.
I don’t think we give this feast the credit or attention it deserves. Part of that may be because the one who dwells at the center of this great feast, the Holy Spirit, is surprisingly low key. Despite arriving with a roaring of wind and tongues of fire, the Spirit is very much someone who likes to stay in the background. He works behind the scenes.
To many of us, the Holy Spirit seems to be the quietest member of the Blessed Trinity. After all, in sacred scripture, the Father speaks often, and so does Jesus. But you’d be hard-pressed to find famous quotes from the Holy Spirit. It sometimes seems as if the Spirit is the Trinity’s silent partner.
But this morning, I’d like to suggest that, in fact, the Spirit does speak. Eloquently. Passionately. Fearlessly.
And He continues to be heard, even today.
It began in the Acts of the Apostles, and the account of Pentecost:
“They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.”
Moments after His descent, the Spirit gave the disciples a voice – a voice that could not be contained in that upper room. A voice that needed to be spread to the wider world.
Despite the wide range of cultures and languages gathered in Jerusalem that day, everyone there heard and understood. Someone even exclaims, incredulously: “We hear them speaking in our own tongues of the mighty acts of God.”
God’s great work transcends time, place, language, culture. It is infinite. It is “catholic” in the truest sense of what that word means: it is universal.
And it is courageous. If you keep reading this chapter from Acts, the next important voice belongs to Peter. The apostle who only weeks before had publicly denied even knowing Jesus was transformed by the Spirit. On Pentecost, Peter stood before the world and began to preach the good news without hesitation or qualification or fear. “Let this be known to you,” he said. “Listen to my words.”
The Holy Spirit has spent the ensuing centuries expressing the inexpressible – from the mouths of saints and the pens of popes and prophets, gently but insistently making sure that the world continues to hear, in every language, in every medium, across every barrier, the good news about the “the mighty acts of God.”
The Holy Spirit has worked to inspire, to encourage, to uplift. He has inflamed hearts, again and again, to preach and to proclaim, to counsel and console. Just before his Ascension, Christ described the Spirit as our “Advocate.” And so He is. This member of the Blessed Trinity stands with us and beside us, pleading our cause, acting on our behalf. He helps to lead us where God wants us to go, to help fulfill His holy will. I’ve seen it in my own life. It was in 2002, during a retreat in Georgia, that I first felt the stirrings of my own vocation to the diaconate. I’m sure it’s no coincidence that this happened at a place called the Monastery of the Holy Spirit. I have no doubt that Holy Spirit was doing His work, fanning the embers of my faith until they’d catch fire.
My prayer is that the adults who are about to be confirmed here today will feel similar stirrings in their own hearts. Every one of you has a vocation, a call to live out your lives in a particular way as Catholic Christians. This moment, literally, confirms it.
This morning, you may not see tongues of fire fall. But pray for the light – and for the heat. Welcome the Spirit’s warmth and friendship. Turn to Him. Call upon Him. Ask Him for guidance and direction. He will always answer.
Pray that the one who gave voice to Peter will also give YOU a voice, so you can share in your own way, in your own lives, all that you know of “the mighty acts of God.”
Birthdays, of course, are a time we look forward to receiving gifts. So, too, with today, the birthday of the Church, when we recall the gifts of the Holy Spirit – wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, fear of the Lord.
Those really are gifts that keep on giving.
You may not see any “Happy Pentecost” cards in the Hallmark store. And tomorrow, you won’t find Pentecost decorations that are half off at Rite Aid. But this great feast, this great holy day, stands as a towering and enduring moment, the day when our Church was born. Celebrate this day of days. Give thanks for it.
And give thanks, as well, for the one who seems to be the silent partner in the Blessed Trinity – the quiet Spirit who, despite what we may think, is often the one who speaks the loudest.