The Christian faith is based on the truths Jesus taught and transmitted through the ages by successions of believers called the Church. In order for these truths to be authentically of God rather than of man, they need to be the same truth as handed down by the Son of God. Jesus was wary of man-made religion. For example he quotes Isaiah, “people honour me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. In vain they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men”. [Mark 7;6] St. Paul emphasizes the same warning to Greek converts at Thessalonica telling them to avoid human concoctions, “Brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught”. [2 Thessalonians 2;15] The passing on of these truths embodied in the sacred apostolic tradition is the prime duty of the Church and everyone within it. For this Jesus promises the protection and assurance of the Holy Spirit. This is so important that the best teachers say the goal of each individual Christian is “the acquisition of the Holy Spirit”, reinforcing the words of Our Lord “when the Spirit of truth has come, He will guide you into all truth”. [John 16;13]
Unfortunately within the membership of the Church the Holy Spirit is the least understood member of the Holy Trinity, and the crucial function the Spirit provides in protecting the sacred tradition is missing. Then people lose their way, turning to ideas lifted from the present chaotic age. Rejection of the Church today is sometimes because of the pettiness and frailties of so many of its leaders; it is not the institutional church, but the truth of Jesus Christ that is the object of our faith. The Church is only its true self when it lives by the Holy Spirit and is the temple in which the Holy Spirit dwells.
On Pentecost Sunday Christians rediscover again why the acquisition of the Holy Spirit is so important.
The whole season covering five months is a time of Christian self reflection and understanding, ending on All Saints Day when we see the saints as the true expressions of being a Church empowered by the Spirit. The Holy Spirit who with the Son proceeds from the Father, overshadows the birth of and baptism of Jesus, overshadows the Blessed Virgin and St John the Baptist, overshadows too every individual in Christ’s Church. In the book of Acts, the very last words of Jesus to his Apostles were “you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit”. This promise was dramatically manifested at the time of the Jewish feast of Pentecost which celebrates the first harvest of the liberated Hebrews in the Promised Land. The Church looked forward to a greater spiritual harvest of souls in God’s Kingdom.
Unable to see how this could be done the frightened Apostles are overwhelmed by a strengthening wind and fire descending on them individually and with the result that they are changed into co-workers in the harvesting of souls. The first Christian Pentecost is followed other Pentecost events. Acts 8;17 describes the conversion of Samaritans and Acts 10;47 of Gentiles who likewise receive baptism and the laying on of hands by which they too receive the Holy Spirit. This pattern still continues because the apostolic Church takes seriously the promises of Jesus speaking about the Spirit, those believing in him would receive to assist and preserve the continuation of his truth. ”He who believes in me,… out of his heart will flow rivers of living water”. [John 7;38-39]. The English hymn writer Charles Wesley expresses this relationship of the individual with God the Son and God the Holy Spirit:
Heavenly Adam the life divine,
change my nature into thine,
move and spread throughout my soul
activate and fill the whole.
Holy Spirit no more delay
come and in this temple stay.
Spring of life thyself impart
rise eternal in my heart.
Fr. Geoffrey Neal