The National Catholic Review

Is it too late for Pentecost? Too late for tongues of fire and the rush of wind? Never. These are the two major physical realities which are described in the Pentecost account in Acts 2:1-11:

When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled,
they were all in one place together.
And suddenly there came from the sky
a noise like a strong driving wind,
and it filled the entire house in which they were.
Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire,
which parted and came to rest on each one of them.

It is this experience, of fire which purifies and of wind which invigorates, which brings to them the reality of the Holy Spirit. One can see these physical realities in  the image of someone at the campfire, blowing on the embers which burst into flame, consuming, warming, and transforming the dry wood into a heat-giving, light-giving source, which offers life to all those gathered around it. It is the Holy Spirit, like fire and wind, which has come to them to make clear their new spiritual gifts, of speech, proclamation and unity, manifested in a unique way by each individual.

David Stanley, S.J., wrote of the descent of the Holy Spirit almost 50 years ago:

Perhaps the most surprising feature of the disciples’ new found attitude is their assurance that the Messianic era has been ushered in, not by the glorious parousia of the risen Lord, but by the spectacular, charismatic descent of the Holy Spirit.  It is noteworthy that the Messianic blessings which the apostles imparted from Pentecost onwards are spiritual blessings:  the remission of sins and the gift of the Spirit.  Moreover, they now asserted that by this gift of the Spirit Yahweh had fulfilled “the promise” (Acts 2:39) made to Abraham (Acts 3:25) and to Moses (Acts 7:17 ff.), renewed to David (Acts 13:23), and recalled incessantly by the prophets (Acts 10:43).  The complete novelty of this belief reveals the revolutionary nature of Pentecost.  Not only was the disciples’ view of Israel’s restored theocracy lifted to an infinitely higher plane; in addition, they recognized that the inauguration of the new theocracy was due to a mysterious Presence in their midst, which was neither that of the Lord Jesus, enthroned in heaven until “the time of the restoration of all things” (Acts 3:21), nor that of “the Father,” who by exalting His Son had fulfilled His Old Testament promises in this gift of the Spirit (Acts 2:33).

The disciples had already learned the divine nature of the Spirit from the Old Testament.  Did they recognize His new presence as that of a divine Person?  It would seem that certain qualities of their experience of the Spirit could not but remind them of Jesus’ promise to send “another advocate” (Jn 14:16), who should assist them in bearing witness to their Lord (Jn 15:26).  If in the beginning the Spirit made His coming felt as a mysterious divine force through various sensible manifestations, still it is clear that the apostles quickly learned to distinguish such external phenomena from His abiding, invisible activity in the hearts of the faithful, whose intimate and delicate character unmistakably postulated the presence of a divine Person (David M. Stanley, S.J., The Apostolic Church in the New Testament. The Newman Press, 1965, pp.51-52).

What a beautiful phrase Fr. Stanley uses to describe the reality of the Holy Spirit – the “intimate and delicate character unmistakably postulated the presence of a divine Person” – but it is this intimacy and delicacy which make the workings of the Holy Spirit so different for each person, not only in the gifts given themselves, but how they are worked out in each person. When I was younger and wished for “great gifts” – fame, fortune and power – I could not see them as counterfeit gifts and I did not believe when parents or relatives would describe things like friendship or hospitality or kindness or gentleness as gifts. Is it a working of the Holy Spirit itself to be able to see the intimate and delicate gifts which he has bestowed on each person? I think it is a sign of recognizing “His abiding, invisible activity in the hearts of the faithful.” These gifts work themselves out not only at Pentecost, but each day in the hearts and souls of the faithful through the littlest and greatest of things, intimately and delicately, not necessarily as wind and fire, but maybe like little glowing embers and gentle gusts of wind.

John W. Martens

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