The Acts of the Apostles gives us a beautiful description of what happened to the Apostles and Mary as they gathered together in prayer. Jesus had promised he would send the Holy Spirit to them, the Spirit of truth, and the Spirit who would teach them everything and remind them of all the he had said to them. This is the first role of the Holy Spirit in its relationship to the church, to keep us faithful to the teachings of Jesus. Every church council, every church synod, every meeting of a religious community begins with the prayer, ‘Come Holy Spirit’ asking for guidance that we remain faithful to the teaching of Jesus, faithful to the vision of our founders.
Jesus first gave the Holy Spirit to the Apostles at his first appearance Easter evening when breathed on them and said, ’receive the Holy Spirit, whose sins you forgive they are forgiven, whose sins you retain they are retained.’ Today’s gift of the Spirit was more bombastic, the prayerful stillness in the room was shattered by the sound of a mighty and violent wind that filled the room. Strange tongues of fire settled over each of them. The Holy Spirit came to each of them with transforming power and boldness and they went out onto the streets to tell all who would listen that Jesus Christ was Lord. The gift of tongues empowered them to speak in many languages so that all could hear the good news they proclaimed.
The Christian community in Corinth was a very charismatic community with men and women gifted with different gifts of the Spirit. When St. Paul wrote that first letter to the Christians in Corinth, he was addressing a group turned on to the spiritual gifts but divided by a variety of factions and rivalries. Some were boasting that the catechist who brought them into the faith was more authoritative than the teachers of others. Some were maintaining that their ability to speak in tongues indicated their superiority over others. Paul took the occasion of this division to teach clearly that any spiritual gift—healing, tongues, wisdom, leadership—was given not for the promotion of self but for the service and building up of the community.
That is still true today. The gifts of the Spirit must be from the Church and for the Church. The Holy Spirit is alive and active in the church today, maybe not as bombastic as the Spirit was in earlier days but active none the less.
I like to think that the way the Spirit acts today is not so much as seizing us so much as by nudging us. The Spirit gives us hints as to what to say or do and it is up to us to be aware of such hints and nudges and try to act on them. Have you ever had a nudge to call someone in your family you haven’t heard from in a while? Have you been nudged to drop a note of sympathy or congratulations to a friend? Have you ever had the hint to apologize for something hurtful you may have said to someone? Have you ever been nudged to bite your tongue and refrain from passing on a bit of juicy gossip? Have you ever had second thoughts about retelling sexist or racist jokes or making racist or homophobic remarks? Have you ever thought of giving some of your spare time to some volunteer group such as meals on wheels or helping in a food bank? Have you been nudged by the Spirit to pray for people driven from their homes by civil strife? Have you ever had to thought of dropping into the church for a visit or to spend a few minutes in peace and quiet and prayer?
These may be the means by which the Holy Spirit is acting in our lives today.
Continuing to celebrate this great feast we pray for ourselves and for each other that we respond as best we can to any hint, and nudge and poke the Holy Spirit may send our way today and any day of our lives and work with the Spirit in renewing the face of the earth.