I am probably not alone when I say that many people, like me, when starting on a book will skip the Preface (or Introduction) and get straight to the first chapter. It is somewhat a habit that has formed in me. Until and unless someone points out something interesting, I will probably not look at it. Authors usually provide a preface that gives context to the first few chapters and sets the tone for the narrative… in a way, if well written, it lays out the stage for the reader to look forward to reading the remaining pages. One can either capture an audience with the preface or put the book to sleep forever.
The Pentecost event that we read in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 2:1-11) is similar to a preface of a book… it is the preface (prologue) to the life in the early Church. With the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles, Mary, and the first followers of Jesus, who were gathered together in the Upper Room, the life of the Church begins. It was an important event, a preface not to be missed when reflecting on the mission of the Church then and now. It is the “preface” that is now going to shape the life and mission of the Church to come.
As we celebrate this feast, it is interesting to note that the gifting of the Holy Spirit as narrated in the First Reading and the Gospel is quite “different”. In the Acts of the Apostles the coming of the Holy Spirit is more dramatic, the sign of tongues is a dramatic manifestation of the Holy Spirit’s presence at key times in the establishment of the Church. On the other hand, in John’s gospel, it is much less dramatic, where Jesus only breathed on His disciples. This simply goes to show that the Holy Spirit can manifest itself in a variety of ways and we cannot confine the Spirit of God to only one particular way.
For many of us, neither our baptism nor our confirmation, sacraments that are often associated explicitly with the Holy Spirit, was accompanied by dramatic or phenomenal experiences of some driving wind or tongues of fire, similar to the first Pentecost. One may not have had an out of the ordinary God experience but that does not mean that the Holy Spirit was not at work. I have often been asked by teenagers whether there will be a difference after the Sacrament of Confirmation. My answer would be the same always, “if you put your heart and mind to make the difference, it will be different… and if you make the effort, God’s grace will abound in you.” In the words of St Thomas Aquinas, grace perfects nature.
Each of us have been gifted with the Holy Spirit even though we see imperfections in ourselves. However, God gives us this gift not only for our personal sanctification but the variety of the gifts, roles and ministries that come from the Holy Spirit are for the good of the Church. This is only possible when there is a renewed appreciation of this great gift, however subtly we may have received it, must be at work in us for the glory of God.
Let us not be afraid to use the variety of gifts that the Holy Spirit brings to our lives and use them to continue the work of Christ in spreading the good news within our families, our Church, our communities and our world… to become true witnesses in His kingdom. Blessed Pentecost.