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Since 1732, the Redemptorists — a congregation of missionary priests and brothers — have followed in Jesus’ footsteps, preaching the Word and serving the poor and most abandoned.
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A Pentecost reflection

By Father Kevin O’Neil, C.Ss.R.

PentecostHow do you envision the Holy Spirit? How has he been presented to us? You might think of a dove, a flame of fire, maybe a breath or wind.

I remember hearing a theologian speak of the Holy Spirit as the Cinderella of the Trinity because the Holy Spirit is doing all the work, but the Father and the Son get all the attention!

While these descriptions might well be helpful and give us imaginative ways to think about the Spirit, they do not go to the heart of the matter. When St. Thomas Aquinas reflected on whether the Holy Spirit is a gift, he concluded that the Spirit is indeed a gift. But he said that whenever a true gift is given, the gift is really the second thing the person receives.

The first thing we receive is the love of the giver, which moves someone to give in the first place. This is also true with the gift of the Holy Spirit, the gift of love itself.

In today’s Gospel from St. John, we see Jesus give this gift to the disciples in his first appearance after his resurrection. He breathes on them and gives them the Holy Spirit—in particular to empower them to forgive.

Today’s reading from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians suggests that the gift of the Spirit is not like a knickknack we are to put on a shelf as a nice reminder of our baptism or confirmation. It’s a gift for the good of others, for the good of the community.

Paul says that to each individual the “manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit,” for the good of others.

Father Herbert McCabe once wrote that “[T]he gift of God comes to us as a power: the ‘power of the Holy Spirit.’ And it is the power to love each other with the love that God has for us. . . .”

It might be tempting for us to think of the Holy Spirit as outside of us. The images I mentioned suggest that: a dove, or a flame hovering over the heads of the disciples on that first Pentecost. But the Holy Spirit is not a God who is distant, who is away from us, who is outside us: the Spirit as the Lord and giver of life is within us.

The Spirit comes, as McCabe suggests, as a power to do the things of God. The Spirit is a power working in us to be life giving as God is life-giving, to be healing as God is healing, to be forgiving as God is forgiving, to be loving as God is loving.

The Spirit of God moves us to unity and to peace. In the Eucharistic prayers of the Mass we pray in one way or another for unity through the power of the Holy Spirit. The third Eucharistic prayer says: “Grant that we, who are nourished by the body and blood of your Son and filled with his Holy Spirit, may become one body, one spirit in Christ.”

Ultimately Pentecost invites us to let the Spirit loose in our lives, to let the power of the Spirit loose to transform us and to transform the world.

May our celebration of Pentecost, of the outpouring of the Spirit, be not a celebration of an event that occurred more than 2,000 years ago in the life of the disciples but one that happens now, each time we let the Spirit work through us, to make us instruments of love, forgiveness and reconciliation, unity, and peace.