I wonder if you noticed that there is a problem in today’s readings. If you are looking for an answer to when the Holy Spirit first descends then there appears to be 2 differing stories flagged up in the readings. On the one hand it tells us that the Spirit came down on the Apostles on the Jewish feast of Pentecost, 50 days after the Passover and in the Gospel it tells us that on the day of the resurrection, Jesus breathed on them and gave them the Holy Spirit. Which is true? Does the Spirit come, is it poured out on the first Easter day or 50 days later?
Its clear if your read the new testament things are not seamless, things have got jagged edges and don’t stick together. There are varying stories of the miracles, the crucifixion, the resurrection , the ascension and also of the coming of the Holy Spirit, these stories are not seamless, they are not exact, the dates, the people, the events seem to move around like the shifting sands of the countryside they take place in . It’s as if those who tell the story tell it from different points of view, with different purposes and with different ends in mind. For some this brokenness makes it more convincing for others if there is not a clear narrative – how can it be believed? So what is it 50 days after the Passover to the first day of the resurrection?
What we can say is that the Christians of the new testament speaking of the coming of the Holy Spirit constantly speak of it in the same terms, as an experience of being empowered, of having an inner strength, that their life was transformed. They speak of the Spirit’s arrival in their life like a new birth, an awakening. The speak of it in figures of speech, like a raging wind that shakes them up, like fire that comes down from heaven. The Spirit gives them words that allow them to be eloquent and convincing and speak to the hearts of men and women of different cultures and languages. It is something transformative and life giving has happened to them. They were once scared men and now they come forth from the upper room with courage. There is transformation, power, courage. They see the effects of the fruits of the Spirit in their life, living with virtue and not vice.
The truth of course is that the spirit doesn’t arrive for the first time at Pentecost or Easter but the spirit is always present in the world. The answer to that question of when the Spirit first came is it Easter or Pentecost – the real answer is neither. The Spirit doesn’t first appear on these days, as if it hasn’t appeared before - at Easter and Pentecost these are simply new outpourings of the Spirit.
The bible tells us that the Spirit is always present. In the first times God’s Spirit hovers over creation and gives it life. God breathes his Spirit into human beings and gives them life. Mary conceives by the power of the Spirit. Jesus is baptised in the spirit, his miracles are done in the power of the spirit, he is raised in the power of the spirit. Everything is done in the power of the Spirit. The answer of course is that there is no single out pouring of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Sprit is always being poured out on creation. It is poured out on the first day of Easter and poured out at Pentecost and is it is being poured out again and again, since the beginning of time until the end of time. God is creating, recreating and giving life and purpose driving on, opening up new possibilities and giving life, pouring out his Spirit, continuing to create.
If at Easter and Pentecost it sounds as if the Apostles are the sole recipients of the Spirit, it is clearly not the case. The spirit is poured out on all creation, on all times and all peoples. The spirit blows where it wishes.
But at Pentecost and Easter it reminds us that the Spirit is aimed in the direction of the Apostles and those that would be like them thereafter.
Sadly the Church too often appears not to be spirit filled. It always seems fearful of new things and relies on old formulas and rules. Sometimes we seem lethargic, dragging or feet and having no drive. Its priests and Bishops and Popes must be spirit filled to move forward, to progress, to advance. All its people should be spirit filled. The spirit is the thing that makes us alive. The spirit can open doors that seem closed. The Spirit can give energy when we are weary. The spirit can give courage when we are fearful. The spirit can open our eyes when we seem blind. The spirit can give us answers to our questions. The spirit can give us life when we seem dead.
Without the Spirit we are dead wood. Without the Spirit we are like a boat becalmed on the seas. The spirit gives energy, life, purpose and direction. The spirit is the living principle of the Church, without it, it wouldn’t be the Church. It would be walls and roof, windows and furnishing, it would be an empty space with no life in it. The Church is made by and shaped by the spirit – without the spirit, there is no witness to God, no baptism, no sacrament, no priest, no bishop, no Mass, no prayer. Nothing is possible without the Spirit
The Holy Spirit that comes on the Apostles at Easter and Pentecost tells of an outpouring that will be aimed in our direction. Each day there is that outpouring in each of us that makes us alive with spirit. Wjho would want to be unaware of that?