A noise like a strong driving wind filled the entire house.
Then tongues of fire parted and came to rest on each one of them.
And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.
(Acts 2: 2-4)
The Old and New Testaments mysteriously refer to the Holy Spirit by various metaphors, typically as wind, breath or fire. At Pentecost, the Spirit first lets his presence be known through “a noise like a strong driving wind.”
Just imagine the fearful faithful huddled together in that upper room. They had been there before the arrest, when their beloved Master was still with them, comforting them, assuring them that they had nothing to fear. But Jesus also insisted on the need to leave them so that the Spirit, Comforter and Counselor, could continue the work of their salvation. This part was far from comforting.
They wanted to cling to their teacher, just as Mary Magdalene did when He spoke to her outside the tomb. They still had much to learn, to understand. How could they persuade others of the truth of Jesus’ person and mission when they themselves did not fully understand these mysteries? They worshiped, but they doubted. (Matthew 28:17) They needed to develop the spiritual “muscle” to act without a net, without the ready presence of their leader, relying instead on the very Spirit of God, living but invisible and intangible.
Well might they mistrust their own paltry abilities. These could never be enough – which is why they needed the Divine Advocate. I will not leave you orphans, he told them. The Advocate, the holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name—he will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you. (John 14:26)
The driving wind of the Spirit would now become the wind in their sails, would draw them out of their shabby selves to reach out in newfound strength to a hungry world.
The Spirit did not come as one huge conflagration. Nor was this the gentle dove that settled over the sacred head of the Anointed One, confirming his divine origin and earthly mission. Now the Spirit came as individual tongues of fire, resting over each of the disciples, each different from the other, distinguished by the unique gifts given to each one, all with the one purpose of building up in unity the Mystical Body of Christ.
The diversity of gifts was not to lead to a splintering of faith into factions, but was to provide the needed and varying functions that would draw all together under the single mantle of love. The Spirit was now a fire that would fill the disciples with a burning zeal to speak persuasively of Jesus the Christ, to teach immediately and everywhere his Gospel of love and service.
This great solemnity, Pentecost, is considered the birthday of the Church. Now, which church would this be? Would it be the church that St. Paul envisioned as consisting of persons (laity, because all were laity then) with various charisms? [The word “charism,” by the way, is defined by various online dictionaries as an extraordinary power (as of healing) given a Christian by the Holy Spirit for the good of the church.] Let us note that Paul refers to differences in talents and “forms of service” (1 Corinthians 12) but certainly not to differences of opinion.
Differences of opinion can only occur where specific “beliefs” or doctrines or rules are concerned. If the Gospel of Jesus Christ chiefly focuses on LOVE, then the Church’s main purpose is to teach that Gospel of Love. In that case, how can there be differences of opinion? If we are called to love one another, how many opportunities are there for disagreement? Love is care. Love is help. Love is forgiveness. Love is dedication. Love does not divide; it unites.
Is there a question as to whom to love? Who is deserving of love? Jesus didn’t really specify who ought to be loved and who not.
This should make life quite simple for us: just love and serve everybody! What, the criminals too? The terrorists? People who look, believe or act unlike us? Please find the part in the Gospel where Jesus tells us not to love certain people based on their career field or level of sinfulness. Even the sinners – no, especially sinners – are to be loved. (At least I hope so, being one of them!) If you love those who love you, what good is that? Even the pagans do that!
Our purpose as Church is to pass on to the whole world the teachings of Christ as recorded in the Gospels. If there are any distinctions as to the recipients of Christ’s teachings, it might be that where the need is greater, our service must also be greater.
When we receive Communion, we receive not only the true Body and Blood of Christ; we receive Christ in his Mystical Body. We take into our heart all the others participating in that Mass. We accept them. If there is any disdain in our hearts for those with whom we share Communion, we have violated and rejected the loving presence of Jesus himself. Viewed from this perspective, how can we possibly judge or look down on anyone?
So what is my purpose as a member of the Church? It is to teach by example, by clear demonstration, the all-embracing love of Christ as he showered it upon us all.
It’s customary at a birthday celebration to have candles aflame on a cake and to make a wish as we blow them out. As we keep the Holy Spirit’s tongues of fire alive and burning in us, let our Pentecost wish be for unity in our diversity, and love over all.