“When the Most High descended and confused tongues,” states a Byzantine hymn, “he scattered the people; but when he distributed the tongues of fire, he called all men to unity.” Another hymn speaks of the fisherman “filled with wisdom” who, having been empowered by the Holy Spirit, is carrying out the work of catching the whole world in Christ’s net.
The Holy Spirit is continually connected with acts of salvation. The Holy Spirit descends, fills, empowers, unites, works, gives, comforts, emboldens, transforms, purifies and more. And his many names reflect this: Advocate, Comforter, the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of adoption, the Spirit of grace.
The coming of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples is described in Acts 2 as “a noise like a strong driving wind” and his presence as “tongues as of fire.” The language is elusive, even poetic: the Holy Spirit is not a driving wind, but is like such a wind; he is not a tongue of fire, but appears as one. The paradox of the Holy Spirit is that he is both elusive and immediate; invisible and yet active: in the world, the Church, and the hearts and minds of men.
In his book, “The Splendor of Pentecost” (Helicon Press, 1961), Dom E. Flicoteaux, OSB, points out that “Pentecost … is the solemnity of Easter come to its end without losing aught of its brilliance. If Easter is the beginning of grace, Pentecost is its crown.” The two feasts are as closely connected as the Son and the Holy Spirit are connected, and they both reveal the glorious nature of the Father’s merciful plan of salvation. And so the power of Pentecost is not frozen in the past, for “the great mystery of Pentecost … will never cease to develop and to extend until the end of time.”
The Holy Spirit, in other words, is alive and well, and he works in ways we sometimes miss or even ignore. He prods and encourages us to grow in holiness, to more fully live as children of God. In the beautiful words of Blessed John Paul II, the Holy Spirit “heals even the deepest wounds of human existence; he changes the interior dryness of souls, transforming them into the fertile fields of grace and holiness” (Dominum et Vivificantem, No. 67). As Pope Leo XIII wrote in his encyclical on the Third Person of the Trinity, “For whatever we are, that we are by the divine goodness; and this goodness is specially attributed to the Holy Ghost” (Divinum Illud Munis, No. 10).
The sin committed by mankind at the Tower of Babel was that of pride. At Babel, mankind sought unity and dominion through human power and ingenuity by constructing a great city and tower (Gn 11:1-9). But at Pentecost, unity and peace is established by and through the Holy Spirit, revealing to the world himself and his household, “the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of truth” (1 Tm 3:15).
This birth of the Church is one of three births associated with the Holy Spirit. The first was the birth of the cosmos and the world, when “the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters” (Gn 1:2). The second was the conception of the God-man, Jesus Christ. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God” (Lk 1:35). And the third birth, or creation, took place at Pentecost.
The Holy Spirit continues to fill, empower, unite, work, transform and purify.
Carl E. Olson is the editor of Catholic World Report.