The Feast of Pentecost
This day is the day in which the Church was born, in which a small band of disciples became the Body of Christ. This is the day in which that small band grew very suddenly from five hundred to thirty five hundred only to continue growing. Men who, just a few weeks earlier, had argued over who would be the greatest, who had hidden in fear, who briefly had doubted Christ’s resurrection until seeing Him face to face, stood tall and unafraid as leaders and as fishers of men. St. Peter, who only a few weeks before had denied the Lord for fear of his life, now rose up as fearless as any hero that ever inspired the writing of songs. Through these men the very same miracles that Christ had wrought, and greater in number than He had done, gave proof of His Gospel; the lame walked, the blind saw, the dead were restored to life, demons were driven out of the afflicted and possessed. What gave such power and courage to these same men who, in the four Gospels, never had come across as being impressive?
The answer is simple, but it is so hidden to the eyes of those who cannot believe that it may as well be very complicated. The simple answer is, they were filled with the Holy Ghost.
The very first thing that becomes evident is the sound of them preaching the truth of Christ in foreign languages that they had not learned. We would expect them to speak Aramaic, and to speak and read Hebrew. We would expect that they could address these same people in the Lingua Franca, or the "English" of their day, that international language, Greek. But, they spoke directly to men’s hearts in the local languages of their various homelands, the apparent mastery of the tongues themselves serving as a sign, a miraculous sign that the Logos, the Word who had been made flesh, is the Master, as in the Lord, of all communication. His word is for all people, for every kindred and tongue, people and nation. As man, in his sinfulness, was divided by the sentence of God at Babel, so the scattered peoples of the earth are gathered as one in Christ, who speaks to all in their own tongues.
When we look at the reading from the Gospel of John, we learn that the Church never was designed to function without the Holy Ghost. He is the Comforter, which is Paraclete in Greek; that is He comes to our side, pleads for us and gives us aid. “Comfort,” in the mind of the readers of the King James Bible when it was translated, did not speak of a cushion that helps us to relax and go to sleep. The meaning of the word is found, really, in the second syllable, in fort, as in fortify- to strengthen. We see that fortification in St. Peter, who, knowing the sentence of death that only weeks earlier had been passed on Christ, nonetheless had the courage to rise to his feet, to preach and to take his role of leadership as the shepherd of Christ’s flock. We hear, in his spontaneous sermon, wisdom from God, as he opened and explained the meaning of the Scriptures, unraveling the mysteries of the ancient prophecies with ease and conviction. This simple fisherman had the power to persuade men’s hearts as if it were a learned and mastered skill; just as he had, years before, thrown out his dragnet and hauled in large catches of fish, so now he is a fisher of men, converting three thousand people with a single short homily. In St. Peter’s sermon we see, as in every other utterance of the Holy Ghost through the apostles, the clear and straightforward doctrine of Christ exactly as we know it to this day, as we say it in our creeds, as we pray it in the whole of our liturgy, as it is found on every page of scripture, and as it is especially clear in the New Testament. This, that we believe today, is the same Gospel that was preached on that day.
And, beginning that very day, the Church began to live in a way that had order and understanding. It was there from the very first. It had, as the rest of the chapter tells us, organization as if everything had been planned. This is because it was ordered and organized, not by twelve men who somehow could keep up with over thirty five hundred people growing in number daily, but because the Lord was among them, ordering and organizing His body, doing so in the Person of the Holy Ghost. They followed the teaching of the apostles, and set about worshipping God, and spreading their new Christ centered life to their neighbors. But, this was not because the twelve had any ability or time to micro-manage the Church. It is because the Church was alive, and it quickly heeded and absorbed their teaching, allowing them to be Christ’s representatives to the world, and to a city whose rulers were hostile.
The only plan God ever gave to the Church was for it to be ordered and organized in this way until Christ returns. As I said, it is not designed to function without the Holy Ghost. This brings us to another title by which Christ calls the Holy Ghost in the Gospel reading. He calls Him the Spirit of Truth. He is said to be the One who teaches the Church. A very simple principle for Christians is that no authority is higher than the truth. The Truth is Christ, and without Him nothing can be known that saves us and leads us to God. Without Him God is unknown and unknowable. But, the scriptures warn of another christ and a different spirit; St. Paul in his second Epistle to the Corinthian church warned of false teachers who preach another christ, another gospel, and who have a different spirit. St. Peter warned that these false teachers will be believed by many because they scratch itching ears. What they say feels good to hear; that is, it feels good and provides comfort, the wrong kind, the cushion kind of comfort, to that sinful fallen man within each of us.
But, the Holy Ghost, the Spirit of Truth comes to us to speak to us of Christ. In so doing the Holy Ghost is the Lord within the Church; He is God among us and within us. He guides into all truth; He cannot contradict Himself; He cannot change His mind. He guides the Church into all truth never by introducing new ideas, and never by keeping up with the spirit of the age. The world around us, that same world that did not know Christ, that received Him not, does not know the Holy Ghost, and receives Him not. But, a different spirit is easily received, either through flattering the mind of man by fashioning a god agreeable to him, or through enticing all of his lusts by proclaiming another gospel that urges no repentance, no resistance to sin.
St. Paul also told the Corinthian Christians that the Lord within the Church is the Holy Ghost, and that through Him we know God “whose service is perfect freedom (to quote the Prayer Book).” He said to them “Now the Lord is that Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty (II Cor. 4: 17).” The different spirits, the spirit of the age who tempts us to “keep in step with the times” and accept ourselves as we are at our sinful worst; the spirit of heresy that cannot humbly accept the truth about God’s transcendence and our own limitation as creatures who will never fully comprehend Him, and many other different spirits with their different doctrines, do all they can to insist that their way is the way of liberty. But, only the Holy Ghost leads into the way of liberty, for liberty can come only through self-denial and obedience to the commandments of God, by which we escape the corruption of worldly lusts, and become partakers of the Divine nature. Without immortality, which comes only by the risen Christ, freedom is an illusion; but the different spirits, the many different spirits, promote only sin and death.
We must learn to depend upon the Holy Ghost for all of our strength; He gives us power. Not the power that the world gives, but the power to do the will of God. The same power that does, in fact, work miracles- for as catholic people we know better than to believe any strange doctrines that God has ceased to work miracles. He never changes; He is still the Creator, bringing light out of darkness, and life from death. We must depend on the same power by which Christ rose from the dead; He made Himself helpless and gave Himself over to death for our sins. The power that He trusted in, to make of His dead body a new immortal body that would make Him the first born from the dead, was no earthly power. That is the power we trust for our own eternal life; but also this is the same power by which we may do the will of God here and now in this life. For everything we are called to do is impossible by any lesser power. The Church cannot be the Church without the Lord of the Church, the Holy Ghost. It can be a club, it can be an organization, it can be respectable- indeed very respectable by the standards of the spirit of the age. But, to be the body of Christ, with the words of knowledge and words of wisdom, with diversities of administration but one Lord, with miracles and healing, with prophecy and the interpretations of tongues, which has martyrs and saints, and which can do and does every other impossible thing that man cannot do, the Church needs the Lord, the Holy Ghost alive and powerful in the midst of it
We have seen what a faithless group of men, a branch broken off of the church, can do. It can lose the sacraments by rejecting the God who makes sacraments. It can throw away the truth by rejecting the Spirit of Truth, and by forgetting everything He has taught since the beginning. It can use His name, and blame all of its sinful innovations on the Holy Spirit, giving Him credit (or blame) for doctrines He has never taught, which He abominates and of which He has expressly warned us through the prophets and apostles. It can, as a result, become an anti-Church with an anti-Christ.
We need the Holy Ghost, the Spirit of God to be the Lord in the midst of us, mighty and who will save, who gives rest in His love, and joys over us with singing (Zeph. 3:17); we need Him to raise the standard against the enemy of our souls, to do what cannot be done by might or by power, to come down as the former and the latter rain, to bring forth within us the fruits of good character with faith, hope and charity, to make His sacraments by his power as Creator, to overcome death itself. Therefore, we must be faithful to all that He taught our fathers in the ages past. He has been guiding the Church, as Christ promised, into all truth. Among the gifts we are given, the gifts among you and in you by the sacrament of Confirmation, is the unction or anointing by which we know all things. The reason why you recoil from false teaching, from ideas that are foreign to the Tradition of the Catholic Faith, is because the Spirit of Truth is teaching you. The ones who have taught themselves not to heed His voice, and who have joined the ranks of the world that neither sees Him nor knows Him, just as they do not receive Christ, may congratulate themselves and suppose that they have liberated themselves. And they may press on with a sense of religious mission, never considering that they now have become the servants of a different spirit and another christ.
But, to have the Holy one of Israel in the midst of us, to have Christ’s Spirit living within us, we must embrace and contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 3), knowing certainly that the same Spirit of Truth that has been speaking to the Church from the beginning never changes His mind. He is a far better friend, and more powerful ally, than the spirit of the age, or any of the different spirits that are called, falsely, by His Name.
And now unto God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost be ascribed, as is most justly due, all might, majesty, power, glory and dominion, now and forever. Amen.