Vigil of Pentecost
By Fr. Victor Feltes
All plants and animals depend upon water to live. Water comes down to us freely from the sky. Though its appearance may vary (as rain, or hail, or snow, or dew) once it rests upon the earth it produces many different effects throughout creation. Water, while ever remaining itself, adapts to the need of every creature that receives it, growing apples on an apple tree, creating sweet sap in a maple tree, or generating many-kernelled cobs on a cornstalk. In this way, water is similar to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit descends as a free gift from heaven. He comes in different appearances (as fire, as a dove, as wind, or invisibly) while always remaining his same divine self. He is the Lord, the giver of life, and in each person who receives him through Christ he produces fruits through gifts which he imparts as he pleases.
On the last and greatest day of a Jewish feast, Jesus stood up and exclaimed, “Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink. As Scripture says, rivers of living water will flow from within him who believes in me!” John’s Gospel tells us “he said this in reference to the Spirit that those who came to believe in him were to receive,” adding, “There was, of course, no Spirit yet, because Jesus had not yet been glorified.” How are we to understand this verse which says, ‘There was no Spirit yet’?
Is it teaching that the Holy Spirit did not yet exist? No, the third Person of the Trinity is co-eternal with the Father and the Son. There was never a time when he was not.
Is the passage saying the Holy Spirit was not yet present and active in the world? No, Luke’s Gospel describes several actions of the Holy Spirit on earth long before Easter or Pentecost. He overshadowed Mary at Jesus’ conception and inspired Elizabeth at the Visitation. He enlightened Simeon and Anna to recognize the Christ Child at the Presentation in the Temple, and our Nicene Creed proclaims that he has spoken through the Old Testament prophets.
Is Pentecost of note because that is when the apostles received the Holy Spirit for the first time? No, for John’s Gospel records how Jesus appeared in the Upper Room on Easter Sunday evening and breathed on them saying, “Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” Seeing as how they had already received the Holy Spirit on Easter, what is special and new about the descent of the Holy Spirit fifty days later on Pentecost such that previous eras can be likened to there be “no Spirit yet“?
We remember and celebrate Pentecost because it is a broader and more manifest outpouring of the Holy Spirit than ever before. The Acts of the Apostles recounts how “there was a group of about 120 persons in the one place,” and “when the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. … Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them.”
He does not descend and rest upon a few of them, but on all of them, and the power he manifests through them is not subtle nor secret. They fearlessly go into the streets proclaiming Jesus Christ in languages they do not even know. The Holy Spirit would no longer to be an occasional, temporary visitor for a special select few, but the enduring animating Spirit of the Body of Christ, the Church in the world.
Surely, the Holy Spirit would like to do more among us, but we must be open to receiving more from him. How can we receive more of his gifts and inspirations? First, we should desire them, and ask for them, and praise and thank him for all the graces we have already received. Next, we should resolve to be open to him, choose to be available for him, and decide to be generous with him, trusting that God is good and wills our greatest good. Finally, we should practice daily prayer, pursue silence and peace in this noisy and anxious world, and be attentive to the subtle movements in our minds and hearts which are the Holy Spirit’s quiet words and gentle nudges. If we ask, are open, and then listen to him, we will receive more of the Holy Spirit’s good gifts and inspirations.
“Just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, giving seed to the one who sows and bread to the one who eats,” as the Prophet Isaiah wrote, so the Holy Spirit would come to us like water from heaven anew, more powerfully fruitful throughout our world today.