Pentecost: How the holy spirit helps us

Acts 2:1-11; Romans 8:8-17; John 14:15-16, 23b-26

All through Easter time we’ve been reading and listening to that great book, the Acts of the Apostles. While it’s about all the apostles of the infant Church, all the missionaries of God’s love at that time, it’s also about the love of God in person. I’m speaking, of course, about the Holy Spirit, who in the Book of Acts is both God’s love in person (Grace) and the chief apostle. Again. and again, the Holy Spirit speaks to people and their needs through other human beings. Again, and again, other human beings act as agents, instruments, and missionaries of the Spirit. That’s very significant, for it is still one of the main ways the Holy Spirit gets through to us – enlightening and healing us.

One of our biggest needs as human beings is to grow up and mature. Becoming mature-thinking and mature-acting people involves moving away from selfishness and self-centredness, reaching out to others with interest, care, concern, and compassion, and working with others to make that better world that is God’s Kingdom. We learn to do this through our association and contact with other human beings. What’s particularly useful, helpful, and important in our dealings with others, and especially with close family and friends, are our conversations. This is especially the case when our chatting to one another gets beyond the superficial, and has to do with what matters most. On both sides, the sharing which takes place is not just listening to the other’s words, but also responding. By sharing our insights with an open mind and an open heart, we help one another grow and develop as good, sensible, responsible, and warm-hearted people.

Again and again, if we are to make progress and change our ways of living, it may be necessary to hear and heed from those we talk to, things which are challenging, things which are perhaps even quite painful, but which turn out, at least in the long run, to set us free to become better people. In fact, through the journey of a whole lifetime, we may hear ourselves being called to face many challenges and make many changes.

There’s another dimension to all this. In fact, there’s a third party in all this. In the words of others, even unintended remarks and chance conversations, God’s word may be addressed to us, God’s word of truth, the truth that sets us free, delivers and encourages us.

The word of God as it comes to us from others in conversation can be painful. We need strength to reply to the call and challenge which God speaks to us through others. Perhaps what we hear from others stirs up certain fears. Can we, e.g., take the risk of listening to them, even when they are on our side? Isn’t there some danger that if we listen to them, our self-esteem may shrink? Isn’t there some danger that if we listen to the truth coming from another person, we may end up being psychologically dependent, even under that person’s spell?

Faced with such risks, it takes considerable courage to engage in the kind of conversations that will challenge us to become more mature, more responsible, more caring, and more generous people. We find the courage to face the truth only if the other addresses us sensitively, i.e., with respect, with care, and with love. Love is the only way that works. Were we to be brutally confronted with what may be in us, e.g., our anger and superficiality, our resentment and self-rejection, we might crumble to pieces? But the gift of the acceptance, encouragement, and support of the other person creates in us the strength we need – to listen, to know ourselves better, and to accept ourselves as we are, not only with our weaknesses but also with our strengths and possibilities. The gift of the other’s care and concern, the friendship and fellowship they offer us, creates in us a deep sense of freedom – freedom to become a better person, freedom to open up and share with others the love and care which has been given to us.

Faced with the risks involved, the freedom to take those risks and let ourselves enter into a life-giving conversation, and share with others, is experienced as both a power and a gift. It’s a gift, not something self-generated, a gift given to us by people who love us and care for us. Yet should we start to state what they have done for us and express our thanks, this would be too much. For typically, those significant others we talk to and support us, simply don’t realize just how much they mean to us. They may cut us short, or say something like ‘it was nothing,’ or ‘what are friends for?’ The strength and support which they communicate to us go beyond what they see themselves as giving. This takes us beyond them as God’s instruments to God’s self, the ultimate source of that understanding and support that another human being communicates to us.

So, in the conversations, friendship, love, and support, through which we grow and mature, the Holy Spirit of God, the ‘Spirit of truth’ (John 14:17), is also present as the deeper dimension of the meetings and conversations which change us for the better. This is so true that we can truly speak of certain people who support us and keep us going, as ‘Godsends.’

On this feast of Pentecost, then, let us give thanks to God for sending us the Holy Spirit, day after day, the Spirit who comes to us whenever a friend or family member or some significant other tells us what we need to hear, reaches out to us with support and friendship, and helps us live lives that are more meaningful, fulfilling, and fruitful!

Fr. Brian Gleeson CP is a Passionist priest and Doctor of Theology. From 1978 to to 2015, he has taught systematic theology in various theological schools in Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Melbourne, and Port Moresby. He continues to teach theology in less formal settings.