Opening the Word: Holy Spirit empowers

Read chronologically, today’s readings are like a painting that begins with confined, uncertain strokes but results in a masterpiece of decisive, expansive brilliance. And that change — a divine trajectory — was the direct result of a transformation gifted by the giver of life, the Holy Spirit, who recreated the early Christians with a power that is as breathtakingly evident as it is mysteriously evasive.

The Gospel depicts the disciples, following the Resurrection, sitting in fear behind locked doors. They were closed off from the world, thinking only of their safety, of what they had lost and of the problems awaiting them. The disciples were fearful of “the Jews,” that is, the religious leaders who had persecuted Jesus. Suddenly, the perfect Jew (who had fulfilled every part of the Law), the risen Christ, was in their midst. The locks on the doors and on their hearts could not remain fastened in his presence, for he is peace and joy!

The Father had sent the Son, and the Son would likewise send the apostles. They would go forth filled and animated with the Spirit of God, given by the breath of the Incarnate Word. Just as God had breathed life into Adam and transformed mere dust into a creature in the divine likeness and image, the Son of God breathed divine life into fearful men and transformed them into sons of God. In addition, he granted divine authority — the power to forgive and retain sins. This is the ministry of mercy and forgiveness, and it shows how closely bound together are the missions of the Church and the Holy Spirit. In fact, they share the same mission: “From this hour onward, the mission of Christ and the Spirit becomes the mission of the Church” (CCC, No. 730).

Seven weeks later, the disciples were again in the upper room — not filled with fear, but with anticipation. Again, God came suddenly into their midst, this time with a noise like a strong wind and with what appeared to be “tongues of fire.” Long before, when leading the people of Israel out of Egypt, God appeared under the appearance of a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. On Pentecost, his presence was represented by wind and fire. Pentecost was the start of a pilgrimage of the Church, the new people of God. “By his coming,” states the catechism, “which never ceases, the Holy Spirit causes the world to enter into the ‘last days,’ the time of the Church, the Kingdom already inherited though not yet consummated” (CCC, No. 732).

St. Paul reiterated the intimate connection between the Holy Spirit and the Church. First, no one is able to declare that Jesus is Lord “except by the Holy Spirit.” And the Church, he further explained, is the body of Christ — and there is only “one body.” Secondly, there are many different forms of service and spiritual gifts in the Church, but there is only one Spirit, one Lord, one God. How does one enter into that body? Through baptism, for “whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons ... we were all given to drink of one Spirit.” This harkens back to what Jesus said to Nicodemus: “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit” (Jn 3:5).

“God created the world,” the Catechism notes, “for the sake of communion with his divine life,” a communion brought about by the Church. The Holy Spirit opens the doors so we can go into the world with the Gospel, with courage, peace and joy.

Carl Olson is the editor of Catholic World Report.