“The true aim of our Christian life consists in the acquisition of the Holy Spirit of God.” ~ Saint Seraphim of Sarov
We see the full circle effect of the Holy Spirit’s awesome power in the readings chosen for the Solemnity of Pentecost, this seminal moment in our Church of which noted American author Robert Baer said“Bethlehem was God with us, Calvary was God for us, and Pentecost is God in us.”
At the Vigil Mass we revisited the ill-conceived and ill-fated construction of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9), a blatant act of pride.and hubris that culminated in the very result that those who partook of it sought to avoid. Much like Adam and Eve, the builders of this monument to folly did not want to receive from God. They instead opted to obtain things on their own. They sought to construct a tower “with its top in the heavens,” thereby making a name for themselves, lest they be “scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.” To ascend to the lofty heights of God’s level would, in their mind, make them self-sufficient and therefore fully able to establish unity on their own terms. God responded by confusing their language and scattering them. The lesson of Babel is crystal clear: it is human pride that has produced confusion and divisiveness in the world.
Fast forward to our 1st Reading (Acts 2:1-11) as proclaimed on the Sunday of Pentecost, where we find ourselves back in the upper room with Mary and the Apostles. It is here that we read of the sudden and strong, driving wind that rapidly filled the entire house as well as the tongues of fire which appeared over the heads of those on hand. And then, as they were being filled with the Holy Spirit, a fascinating thing happened. Despite the fact that those on hand spoke a multitude of languages, everyone could interpret and understand each other. It was as though the Holy Spirit had reunited what had previously been irreconcilably separated while bringing to fruition the fulfillment of the Holy Trinity. Pentecost seeks to gather, “re-gather” really, that which Babel scattered. Redeemed by the Word, man can now speak intelligibly about God and about himself. And because he can communicate the truth to others, this intelligibility leads to unity.
Pentecost is not only the celebration of the descent of the Holy Spirit, but also the birth of the Church through this imagery of divine wind and fire. For Catholics today, it is within the storms and the wreckage of life that grace is encountered and new paths are revealed.. But in reality, this has always been the way. As Saint Gregory Palamas said, "If from one burning lamp someone lights another, then another from that one, and so on in succession, he has light continuously. In the same way, through the Apostles ordaining their successors, and these successors ordaining others, and so on, the grace of the Holy Spirit is handed down through all generations and enlightens all who obey their shepherds and teachers.”
Through the powerful gift of the Eucharist, we the faithful, as our Priests proclaim during the celebration of the Mass, are “gathered into one by the Holy Spirit.” This is one of the many reasons why the Holy Mass is never a private devotion and should never be approached as such. As Pope Francis is so fond of saying, “The Holy Spirit loves to shape unity from the most beautiful and harmonious diversity.”
Through our Baptism and then later through the Sacrament of Confirmation, we are sealed and claimed as members of this harmonious and diverse mystical body. Saint Paul delves into this teaching in the latter portion of today’s 2nd Reading (1 Corinthians 12:3-7) when he concludes “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jew or Greek, slave or free person, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.”
When we drink of and therefore possess the Holy Spirit in great abundance, we have all that is needed to be all that God desires us to be. The same Holy Spirit who implants faith within our life implants the boldness to verbalize that faith. It is a healing spirit, a sanctifying spirit. A transformative spirit. When it is present, anything is possible. The Holy Spirit is indeed one with Heaven.
“Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle within them the fire of your love.”