Have you ever held an acorn in your hand? In that seed all the potentiality of a towering oak tree is present. Have you ever held a newborn infant? In that newly born child is all the potentiality of an adult human being whose very life will affect countless other people and maybe even the course of human history itself. It has been said that growth is the only sure indicator of life but growth has to begin somewhere, from some kernel of life.
In today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 2:1-11) we hear that the disciples and some women were gathered together when the Holy Spirit came upon them in the sound of a strong driving wind and in the appearance of tongues of fire – this smallest of groups. They began to speak in different languages so that the people outside heard them speaking in their own language.
An unknown African writer of the sixth century offers these thoughts in regards to this miraculous event:
The disciples spoke in the language of every nation. At Pentecost God chose this means to indicate the presence of the Holy Spirit: whoever had received the Spirit spoke in every kind of tongue. We must realize, dear brothers, that this is the same Holy Spirit by whom love is poured out in our hearts. It was love that was to bring the Church of God together all over the world. And as individual men who received the Holy Spirit in those days could speak in all kinds of tongues, so today the Church, united by the Holy Spirit, speaks in the language of every people.
On that first Pentecost we find all the potentiality present of what the Church was and still is to become. We find the kernel of the beginning of the Church Universal – a Church present in every land, every culture, every class and ministering in every human condition.
The author knows that it is the love “poured out” out into hearts that allows for and sustains this life and growth. This love is nothing other than the presence of the Holy Spirit. This is not the “love” so often touted in our world today – a love that is often really just a reflection of our own ego. The love that is the Holy Spirit does not originate from us and our concerns rather it is “poured out” upon us. It is the love of the Father and Son which is given on Pentecost and which continues to enliven the Church throughout history.
Paul reminds us that no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit. It is only the Spirit who enables us to turn those mere words into a true profession of faith, rooted in lives which are continually being transformed and transfigured by the light of Christ.
In some sense looking back is also worth noting. For the most part, I do not today look anything like I did when I was first born. I’ve gotten taller, I weigh more, I grew hair and I have begun to lose hair, I have learned much more but, even though I may look very different from that newborn infant born forty-seven years ago, I am still the same person just more fully so. The Catholic Church today may not look exactly like that first gathering of disciples on Pentecost – there is two thousand years of history, institutions and roles have developed and continue to do so – but it is the same church just more fully so. The Holy Spirit enables this growth in truth.
Our Lord told us that the Spirit will guide us into all truth. We know this. We have been living it now for two thousand years as Church and continue to do so even today. The love which enables all this to happen does not originate from us. It is poured out upon us. It is the love of the Father and the Son, the very Holy Spirit of God.
Holy Spirit, continue to come upon us, continue to guide us into all truth, into who we are meant to be as your Church!