Fr. Bryan Howard
Pentecost Sunday – 20 May 2018
Pentecost Sunday echoes the ancient Jewish feast of Pentecost, which also happened on this day, the 50thday after the feast of unleavened bread, which was the day of the Resurrection of the Lord. After His Resurrection, Jesus spent 40 days with His disciples, preparing them to begin the work of spreading the Gospel and forming the early Church. On the 40thday, He ascended into heaven, and during the 10 days between the Ascension and Pentecost, the disciples and Mary, the Mother of God, gathered in the upper room, where they’d had the Last Supper with Jesus. On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended upon them as tongues of fire. They all left the Upper Room, went out to the crowds gathered at the Temple for the feast of Pentecost, and began preaching about Jesus. The crowd was astounded, because they all heard them in the own, native languages. By the end of the day there were about 3000 converts, and Christianity didn’t even have a name yet, the just started calling it “The Way.”
The disciples spent those 10 days before Pentecost hiding. Even though they had seen Jesus risen from the dead, they were still afraid that they would be killed like He was. But after they received the Holy Spirit, their fear was gone and they were able to go out and publicly preach the Gospel. In the coming weeks and months, they would be threatened, arrested, and scourged, but they didn’t stop, and more and more people were converted. Eventually, the Roman Empire would get in on the act, and for over 250 years they would persecute the Church. It was worse in some times and places than others, but, in the end, thousands of Christians would be arrested, tortured, and killed in horrible ways. The most merciful death was how St. Paul died, by being beheaded, but many were crucified, or burned alive, or thrown to the lions and the bears. Some would deny Christ when threatened with these things, but many, perhaps most, didn’t. The first 32 popes, from Peter through Miltiades, were all martyred. Yet today the Roman Empire is long gone, but the leader of the Church on Earth, Pope Francis, who can trace His succession back to those same popes, lives near the very spot where St. Peter was crucified.
This is the power of the Holy Spirit, and this is the same Holy Spirit that each one of us received at our baptisms. The Holy Spirit wants to transform you like He transformed the disciples and the early Christians. Do you struggle with the same sins over and over again? Do you have doubts about God? Whether He exists or whether He’s working in your life? Do you just feel like you’re not a spiritual person? You already have what you need to start changing these things: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. These are the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which we all received at Baptism and which were strengthened in us in Confirmation. Wisdom helps us to love the things of God. Understanding helps us to comprehend the truths of the faith. Counsel gives us the prudence to choose wisely. Fortitude gives us the courage to overcome obstacles. Knowledge helps us know the best path to follow. Piety helps us to grow in respect and reverence for God. The fear of the Lord helps us flee from sin.
These are 7 powerful ways that the Holy Spirit guides and strengthens us, but, as in all things, God won’t force us to do anything. We all have free will. First, we need to ask for the help of the Holy Spirit. I would recommend asking specifically for help in the thing that you’re struggling with the most. By bringing your greatest weakness to God and asking for His help, you humble yourself before Him, and God always helps the humble and lowly. It’s when we think we’ve got everything together and don’t need anyone’s help that we really have a problem.
Prayer is necessary, but it also takes discipline and effort on our parts. So, have a plan. Come up with two or three things that you can do regularly, every day or every week, to help you grow in the area you’re struggling with. For example, if you want to work on patience, you could let someone in ahead of you at the grocery store, or in traffic. Unless you have a plan, you probably won’t do anything and you’ll end up staying where you are right now. These may seem like little things compared to what St. Peter and the apostles did, but ever little things can make a big difference in the lives of the people around us, because it’s usually our family and closest friends who are affected by the worst parts of our personality. And remember what Jesus said, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master's joy.”
Don’t give in to the temptation to fall into despair and loose hope. Christ promised to send the Holy Spirit to us, and the Holy Spirit is God Himself who is working in our souls, even if we don’t realize it, in order to bring us always closer to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.