Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Our Lady of the Rosary, NOLA
Back when Jesus was still traveling around the countryside with his disciples, he promised them that he would one day go to Jerusalem and there he would be betrayed, put on trial, tortured, and killed. He kept that promise. He promised that after he was killed, he would go into the ground for three days and then on the third day rise again. He kept that promise. After he had risen from the tomb, he spent several weeks appearing to the disciples, and during these visits he promised that he would ascend to the Father. He kept that promise, ascending to sit at the Father's right hand right in front of his friends. But before he ascended, he promised that as soon as he arrived at his Father's right hand, he would send to his friends a consoler, a teacher, an advocate – the Holy Spirit. His fulfillment of that promise is recorded in our reading from Acts this evening. The coming of the Holy Spirit upon that frightened group of men and women in the Upper Room had a purpose and an consequence, an eternal purpose and a lasting consequence. The Holy Spirit comes us to still to strengthen our purpose and to renew the consequence of His arrival that first Pentecost.
Why does the Lord send his Holy Spirit upon us? The Lord's reason for sending the Holy Spirit now is the same as it was on that First Pentecost – to imbue His people with the Law of Love, a law that requires no stone tablets, no wild man prophets, no animal sacrifices. He sent and sends His Holy Spirit upon His people to create out of those people a holy nation of priests, prophets, and kings; priests, prophets, and kings who need no temples, no hereditary priesthood, no special license to gain access through prayer to the Father. He sent and sends His Holy Spirit upon His people so that the truth and goodness and beauty of the living God might abide with them always, live in and with them always. Not in a single building in just one town in some foreign country. But always, everywhere, whenever His people call upon His name and invoke the memory of His great deeds. The Lord sends His Holy Spirit upon us now – in 2016 – for all these reasons and to strengthen us for the mission we have been given, the mission we have vowed to carry out – to go into all the world and bear witness to the mercy of God, the mercy He offers to every sinner.
That's why He sends His Holy Spirit upon. So, what is the consequence, the result of the Spirit's arrival? We can see what effect the Spirit's arrival had on the scared witless disciples. They run into the streets, preaching in every known language, shouting out the Good News of Jesus Christ. We know from Acts that the Spirit-filled disciples continued to preach and teach in Jerusalem, drawing to themselves thousands of men and women who received the Father's freely offered mercy and joined the body of the Church. We know that the apostles were arrested, jailed, beaten, and eventually martyred for carrying out the mission they had received. But with them at every moment, with every word and gesture, with them stood the Holy Spirit, filling them with the Truth, the Truth who's name is Christ Jesus. They endured persecution and torture b/c the Law of Love was indelibly written on their hearts. They could not NOT preach and teach the Truth they so intimately knew. The consequence of that First Pentecost and the living-out of the apostolic mission those first few decades was the establishment of the Church – the living, breathing Body of Christ that thrives to this day and will continue to thrive until Christ comes again.
For you and me, right now, the result of the Spirit's presence in us and among us is the same as it was back then. We are strengthen and emboldened to carry out the mission we have received. This world's opposition to the Good News has not ceased. It hasn't let up even a little since that first day. I could rattle off examples, but you know all too well what that opposition looks like. The names have changed. The faces have changed. But the spirit that motivates that ancient hatred of God and His love for us never changes. His tactics never change. His temptations never change. He is a one-note loser who knows he's lost, and that makes him angry. Watch when a follower of Christ speaks the truth to those who will not hear it. Anger. Bitter, all-consuming anger. Our mission is not to fight anger with anger. We don't go out and proclaim God's mercy and then confront opposition with threats and violence. We confront opposition with the words of Christ himself, “Peace be with you.” Our moment of anger, bitterness, disappointment, and fear ended in the Upper Room on that First Pentecost. The Spirit that animates our mission is the Holy Spirit of God Himself – the very essence of promises-kept. If we are to be faithful missionaries of the Good News, then we must first be missionaries of Christ's peace.
Notice the condition of the apostles. Scared to death, abandoned, cornered in a single room, waiting for the authorities to come kill them. And into all of that heated anxiety steps Christ, and he says to them all, “Peace be with you.” And he breaths the Holy Spirit upon them. He gives them Peace. That peace is not simply a calm, relaxing feeling. We're not talking about the tranquility that a sturdy rocking-chair offers. Or the mere absence of conflict or violence. Christ's peace is an assurance of strength, a guarantee of support. Christ is doing more here than just calming these worry-warts down. He's investing them with the power bind and loose from sin, the power to set men and women free from the snares of that ancient hatred that has dogged mankind for centuries. What worldly power can stand up to that?! None! So, be at peace with the Holy Spirit. Be at peace with your mission. Be at peace with the opposition to your mission. Go out and bear witness to the freely offered mercy of God to sinners. Meet anger, bitterness, disappointment, and fear with the abiding Spirit of Christ. Pray: “Peace be with you!”
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