The catechism on which many of us were brought up has just one reference to the Holy Spirit: ‘ the Holy Spirit is the third person of the Blessed Trinity’. Nothing on the presence and action of the Spirit in our lives or in the life of the Church! The Holy Spirit is the life of the Church. It is through the power of the Spirit that the followers of Jesus are brought into unity and given life as the Body of Christ. Every act of the Church, as Church, is done in, with and through the Holy Spirit.
When we think of the giving of the Spirit to the community of Jesus’ disciples we usually think of Pentecost, Luke’s account in Acts. Here, the Spirit’s coming is described in powerful metaphors of wind and fire. There is also the image of ‘tongues’, and the disciples go out and preach. The great wind and fire act on the whole community but then the fire is ‘distributed’ among them and a flame rests on each. They are all filled with the same Spirit, but perhaps not in the same way. I imagine each flame is unique according to the call and ministry of each: Andrew’s is not the same as Peter’s or John’s; Salome’s is not the same as Mary Magdalen’s or Joanna’s. There is always a variety of gifts in the same Spirit.
The gospel reading today gives us John’s account of the giving of the Spirit – not after fifty days waiting, but on Easter Sunday itself. Here too the disciples are gathered when the Risen Jesus comes to them. Some of them have lamentably and repeatedly failed him but he says, and repeats, ‘ Peace be with you’. Then he missions them to go and continue his own mission of revealing the Father: ‘As the Father sent me, so I am sending you’. They are to represent him as he represented the Father. For this, they must have the Spirit so ‘he breathed on them and said “receive the Holy Spirit” ‘. Here, the breath/wind comes gently – in a mere whisper, as it were – but no less powerfully. We are surely reminded of creation when God breathed into what was a lifeless lump of clay and it became a breathing living human being. There is a similar interior transformation in the disciples. They now live with the very life of God and can do the work of God. That work – given to all of us – is above all love, compassion, reconciliation. They/we are not merely to preach Jesus but in the power of the Spirit to bring him to life in the world.
Sr. Genevieve Mooney OP