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Bible Reflections View Comments

Trusting the Movement of the Spirit
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, May 19, 2013
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In the story of Pentecost in the Acts of the Apostles, we hear about the small group of Jesus’s closest friends hiding in the upper room, trying to make sense of the hatred that had led to his death, the astonishing mystery of his resurrection and his final departure to return to his Father and the heavenly kingdom. It’s no coincidence that they were spending that time in prayer.

As Jesus had promised, the Holy Spirit comes to them in the form of a strong, driving wind and as tongues of fire. The Spirit fills them with courage, sending them forth to preach—and to live—the Gospel. It didn’t mean that their struggles were over. But it was an undeniable assurance that God was with them.

The gift of the Spirit was about overcoming fear and hiding, shame and regret. It was about opening up the community to the power of the Gospel message. When Blessed John XXIII talked about the Second Vatican Council, he referred to it as opening windows long closed and letting in the Spirit to renew the Church. Like spring cleaning, this is something that needs to be done on a regular basis.

As we celebrate Pentecost this year, we’re more aware than ever of the need for the Spirit’s continued presence in our midst—guiding, inspiring, protecting the Gospel and all that is truly holy from the fear and the secrecy and the mistakes of the past.

Wind and fire are frequent images in the Scriptures for the presence and power of God. As we know all too well from the natural world, fire and wind can be both blessing and curse, can lead to life and death.

The prophets speak of fire as burning away the impurities of metal, or burning that chaff that’s been separated from the wheat. Things that obscure the truth need to be burned away. The fire of the Spirit is able to do that without burning or destroying what is still good and beautiful and true in our faith, in our Church, in our own lives.

Even as we watch events unfolding in the universal Church, we ourselves experience upheavals in our smaller communities—parishes, workplaces, families—and in our own lives. Whenever we’re struggling to break through some obstacle, illness, or misunderstanding, we can call on the fire of the Spirit to strengthen and encourage us.

Pentecost is a new beginning, a fresh start. Taking a new approach is rarely easy. The response of the crowd to the preaching of the apostles on the morning of Pentecost was that surely they must have been drinking. Several times they were thrown into prison for going against the authorities. But they were convinced that the Spirit was leading them in the right direction.

We know from our own lives that attempts to overcome mistakes in our past can haunt us long after the reality is something entirely new and different. The Spirit can help us persist in working against these prejudices and give us the courage to continue to speak out for genuine change.

We go forth not because we’re strong, capable, and sure of ourselves, but because we know that God is with us when we truly do his work. Pentecost reminds us that Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, is in fact still in charge of the Church that he established among his first followers.


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Philip Neri: Philip Neri was a sign of contradiction, combining popularity with piety against the background of a corrupt Rome and a disinterested clergy, the whole post-Renaissance malaise. 
<p>At an early age, he abandoned the chance to become a businessman, moved to Rome from Florence and devoted his life and individuality to God. After three years of philosophy and theology studies, he gave up any thought of ordination. The next 13 years were spent in a vocation unusual at the time—that of a layperson actively engaged in prayer and the apostolate. </p><p>As the Council of Trent (1545-63) was reforming the Church on a doctrinal level, Philip’s appealing personality was winning him friends from all levels of society, from beggars to cardinals. He rapidly gathered around himself a group of laypersons won over by his audacious spirituality. Initially they met as an informal prayer and discussion group, and also served poor people in Rome. </p><p>At the urging of his confessor, he was ordained a priest and soon became an outstanding confessor, gifted with the knack of piercing the pretenses and illusions of others, though always in a charitable manner and often with a joke. He arranged talks, discussions and prayers for his penitents in a room above the church. He sometimes led “excursions” to other churches, often with music and a picnic on the way. </p><p>Some of his followers became priests and lived together in community. This was the beginning of the Oratory, the religious institute he founded. A feature of their life was a daily afternoon service of four informal talks, with vernacular hymns and prayers. Giovanni Palestrina was one of Philip’s followers, and composed music for the services. </p><p>The Oratory was finally approved after suffering through a period of accusations of being an assembly of heretics, where laypersons preached and sang vernacular hymns! (Cardinal Newman founded the first English-speaking house of the Oratory three centuries later.) </p><p>Philip’s advice was sought by many of the prominent figures of his day. He is one of the influential figures of the Counter-Reformation, mainly for converting to personal holiness many of the influential people within the Church itself. His characteristic virtues were humility and gaiety.</p> American Catholic Blog When we suffer, we don’t just come to understand the pain of Christ’s cross more, we come to understand the depth of God’s love for us: that he would endure such pain for us—in our place. We have a God who endured death so we would never have to do so.

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