“Send forth your Spirit, O Lord, and renew the face of the earth.” The responsorial psalm for Pentecost Sunday resonates with the many Old Testament passages that place the Holy Spirit at the heart of creation. The Spirit is the Creator’s breath of life, breathed into our humanity, giving life to our relationships with God and each other. Without the Spirit our life is diminished, no more than the Prophet Ezekiel’s dry bones abandoned in the wilderness. This is the Spirit that changes hearts of stone into hearts of flesh, bringing us to life in the love of God.
The Acts of the Apostles describes the outpouring of the Spirit as the birth of the Church. The powerful wind and tongues of flame, so far removed from our mundane experience, describe a deeper reality that embraces the Church in every generation.
It was through the work of the Holy Spirit that the Apostles and the crowds flocking to Jerusalem became a single community of faith and understanding. Where sin had splintered and scattered, the Holy Spirit united in shared understanding. A broken world longs to understand and to be understood. Such a communion was the first work of the Spirit.
St Paul described the Holy Spirit as the enabler, our living communion with Christ. “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ unless he is under the influence of the Holy Spirit.” Throughout his life Paul had struggled with his own imperfections. He had feared that his own sinfulness would always have the last word, would always frustrate the communion with God for which he longed. At his conversion he came to realise that it is the grace of the Spirit working in our hearts that enables us to say, and mean, that Jesus is the Lord of our lives.
Wherever Paul looked, he saw the work of the Holy Spirit. The Churches that responded to the Gospel were alive in the Spirit. “There is a variety of gifts but always the same Spirit; there are all sorts of service to be done, but always the same Lord. The particular way in which the Spirit is given to each person is for a good purpose.”
Let us pray that we, like St Paul, might recognise the work of the Spirit in all we meet. All too often we identify ourselves by our differences. We are indeed different, but this very diversity bears witness to the abundance of the Spirit: it should never divide. Paul was well aware of the prejudices that divided his own world. Only in the Spirit could he reach beyond the labels that divide us. “In the one Spirit were we all baptised, Jews as well as Greeks, slaves as well as citizens, and one Spirit was given to us all to drink.” It is the Spirit who orders our differences into the one Body of Christ.
As the Father breathed life into humanity at the dawn of creation, so the Risen Lord breathed life into his Church. “He breathed on them and said: ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’ ”
The first gift of the Spirit is a peace that the world cannot give, a peace that is rooted in our communion with Father and Son. It is a communion that enables us, with the Son, to reach out to the World.
“As the Father sent me, so am I sending you.” The Spirit makes us, in the Son, the Father’s gift to the world.