Pentecost: Releasing the Power of the Holy Spirit

Our Lord, Jesus Christ, knew that His disciples would experience great sorrow — “Amen, amen, I say to you, that you shall weep and lament…” — when He ascended into heaven, leaving them behind to “Go into the whole world and preach the gospel to every creature.” This is why He promised to send the Holy Spirit to advocate for and console them following His Ascension. Our Lord stressed that the Holy Spirit’s arrival would be accompanied by miraculous events. These events would serve as signs of the far greater effects of grace, which He would produce in those souls who received Him. And what were the signs accompanying those who believed in Our Lord and preached His message? Note His words in the Gospel of Saint Mark (16, 14-20):

And these signs shall attend those who believe: in my name they shall cast out devils; they shall speak in new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands upon the sick and they shall get well. So then the Lord Jesus, after He had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God. But they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the preaching by the signs that followed.

The symbol of the Dove is representative of the Holy Spirit. The Dove, which appeared over Our Lord at His baptism, represents the gentleness or “mildness” of Our Savior (Galatians 5:22) Who brings peace, in and through the Holy Spirit, to mankind — His holiness, purity, and innocence are in the form of a Dove. This representation is markedly different than the Holy Spirit’s appearance to Our Lord’s disciples on the feast of Pentecost. It was on Pentecost that the Holy Spirit took the form of tongues of fire. Unlike the gentleness of the Dove, fire would represent power — a miraculous power, which was so intense and compelling that it profoundly changed the lives of Our Lord’s disciples and the lives of those to whom they preached His gospel. The intense and compelling power of the Holy Spirit is so blatantly evident, it cannot be denied by those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. The Acts of the Apostles (2, 1-11) present a most vivid description of the Holy Spirit’s appearance and the significant impact this had on Our Lord’s disciples. Imagine that you are a disciple to whom the Holy Spirit is manifesting Himself under the forms of wind and fire for the first time. Picture the volatility surrounding this event. Imagine how overwhelming, even frightening, this would be. Read the following account with this in mind:

When the days of Pentecost were drawing to a close, the disciples were all together in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a violent wind blowing, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them parted tongues of fire, which settled upon each of them. And they were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in foreign tongues, even as the Holy Spirit prompted them to speak. Now there were staying at Jerusalem devout Jews, from every nation under heaven. And when this sound was heard, the multitude gathered and were bewildered in mind, because each heard them speaking in his own language. But they were all amazed and marveled, saying, “Behold, are not these that are speaking Galileans? And how many have we heard each in his own language in which he was born? Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphilia, Egypt and the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and the visitors from Rome, Jews also and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians, we have heard them speaking in our own languages of the wonderful works of God.

Today more than ever, the power of the Holy Spirit and the Gifts that He brings to all of the faithful need to be reflected upon. Unfortunately, over the past five decades, our society has become increasingly more presumptuous, believing that we are better than we happen to be. It is true that we are a charitable nation, donating our resources and services to help the poor and disabled throughout the world. However, we have also sanctioned the murder of the unborn and permitted the body parts of these aborted fetuses to be dissected and sold for medical research and experimentation. Ignoring and defying Divine and Natural law are commonplace. Overestimating our “goodness” and underestimating our inclination to behave sinfully has led us further and further away from God and His Church. Yes! We have come to believe that we no longer need to worship Our Lord and obey His commandments. Mankind, through reason alone, can build a utopia — The City of Man — a paradise on earth.

For those who have eyes to hear and ears to see, the political upheaval, corruption, violence, and lack of civility, which is currently engulfing us, is more pronounced than at any other time in our history. Instead of prospering, the City of Man is being torn apart. Arrogance has replaced right thinking and the sin of presumption continues to remain unrecognized and unchecked. As a result, one errant view is piled on top of another. More poor judgment and bad choices are then bound to follow.

Where does the Holy Spirit enter into this situation you might ask? The Holy Spirit is the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity. It is the Holy Spirit Who brings us those Gifts — Fear of the Lord; Wisdom; Understanding; Counsel; Fortitude; Knowledge; and Piety (Isaias 11:2) — which can not only stop presumptuous thinking, but reverse this destructive course leading to our inevitable damnation. The reader will note that the first and foremost Gift of the Holy Spirit is the Fear of the Lord, a fear which is fast eroding and becoming lost in today’s world. God warned us that the failure to fear Him would have dire consequences. Note these words: “Unless thou hold thyself diligently in the FEAR OF THE LORD (my emphasis), thy house shall be quickly overthrown” (Eccles 27, 4). It is the FEAR OF THE LORD, which lays the foundation for the love of God and the reverence and adoration of Him. Again, note the following quote from the Book of Ecclesiasticus (25: 16): “The Fear of God is the beginning of His love: and the beginning of faith is to be fast joined unto it.”

Keep in mind that the Fear of the Lord is both filial and rational. It is a “healthy” or reasonable fear we might say. For example, the relationship between God and us is tantamount to that of a father to a son, a parent to a child. Our Lord has come to teach the truth to all men and to instruct us on what we must do to save our soul. The Gift of Fear, which the Holy Spirit offers us, is a warning sign. Like a yellow light; fear, when aroused or activated, warns us to proceed with caution, to avoid occasions of sin, and to make use of the other six Gifts as Our Lord intended.

Today we are being told only that God is all merciful and, forgetting about His justice, that He would never punish those who disobey His commandments by sending them to hell for eternity. However, both the Old and New Testaments tell us otherwise. For instance, the Book of Proverbs contains numerous admonitions warning us to be fearful of God. Some of these are as follows:

Proverbs (3:7:) The Fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Proverbs (1:29): Because they hated instruction and received not the Fear of the Lord (Description of “fools” also in Proverbs 1:7).

Proverbs (2:5): Then shall thou understand the Fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God.

Proverbs (3:7): Be not wise in thy own eyes: Fear the Lord and depart from evil.

Proverbs (9:10:) The Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is prudence.

Proverbs (14;27): The Fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, to decline from the ruin of death.

Proverbs (15: 33): The Fear of the Lord is the lesson of wisdom, and humility goes before glory.

Proverbs (16: 6): By mercy and truth iniquity is redeemed: and by the Fear of the Lord men depart from evil.

While the Old Testament contains numerous references on the importance of fearing Our Lord, the New Testament is filled with these as well. Because we are so presumptuous in our thinking, however, these passages are often ignored. Rather, we prefer to think of Our Lord Jesus as non-judgmental and that He loves us unconditionally with no strings attached. But let the words of Our Lord speak for themselves. Throughout the New Testament, Our Lord often spoke of everlasting punishment in the unquenchable fire of hell. For example, note Our Lord’s words on what He would say to those who violated His laws and now stood before Him to face the final judgment ): “Depart from Me you cursed, into the everlasting fire, which was prepared for the devil and his angels”(Matthew 25: 41. Jesus was also adamant in stressing that fear — Fear of the Lord — was the most realistic and important fear facing us in our life here on earth. Note His words in the Gospel of Saint Luke: “Be not afraid of them who kill the body and after that they have no more that they can do. But I will show you whom you shall fear. Fear him, who after he has killed, has the power to cast you into hell. Yea, I say to you: Fear him” (12: 4-5).

In conclusion, as we pass through the season of Pentecost, it is a time to reflect on the Holy Spirit and the Gifts He bestows upon us. While the Holy Spirit first appeared as a Dove, a symbol of peace, gentleness, and innocence, He took the form of tongues of fire on Pentecost. The Holy Spirit appeared to the Apostles accompanied by a mighty sound from heaven and a violent wind, which filled the “whole house” with “tongues of fire” settling upon each of them. Needless to say, the power of the Holy Spirit was reflected in this theophany. Who among us would not tremble in fear should we have been present with the Apostles at this time? Fear of the Lord, this most important Gift of the Holy Spirit, would certainly have been driven home if we had been there. And what did this Fear do to the Apostles? It cast out the fear of men giving them the Gift of Fortitude. The doors that had been closed for fear of the Jews were now opened.

Again, keep in mind that a “healthy” and filial fear of Almighty God is most reasonable. Our Lord did not create in our soul the passion of fear to frighten us into submission. Rather, fear is a natural safeguard and, when elevated supernaturally, it is salvific and purifying. It arouses us emotionally. It serves as a signal, warning us to avoid occasions of sin and to seek God’s grace to overcome the devil’s temptations. Remember, the devil is the author of those false narratives, which are designed to appeal to our fallen human nature. Pray to the Holy Spirit for the Gift of Wisdom so that you can discern between truth and fiction and not fall victim to the latter.

Note the power and passion reflected in this oft-repeated but underestimated and most wonderful little prayer: “Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth Your Spirit, and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth. Let us pray: Oh God, Who taught the hearts of the faithful by the light of the Holy Spirit, grant by the gift of the same Spirit, we may be always TRULY WISE (my emphasis), and ever rejoice in His consolation. Through Christ Our Lord. Amen.”