Paralyzed with fear no longer
May 19, 2002

Al Cariño
Reproduced with Permission

Having returned to His Father with His Ascension which we celebrated last Sunday, Jesus could now give His Spirit to His disciples as He had promised. This is what we are celebrating today with the Feast of Pentecost.

The evangelist John situates the giving of the Spirit in the evening of the first Easter Sunday (20:19-23). The apostles were then in a big room but "the doors were locked." It was an assembly that fear had gathered together. "Fear of the Jews" had paralyzed them into inactivity. This had been their condition since Jesus was crucified the Friday before.

Then all of a sudden Jesus appeared in their midst. They rejoiced at seeing Him. After greeting them in peace, Jesus breathed on them and said, "Receive the holy Spirit." Notice that John used the symbolism of "breathing" when Jesus communicated the Spirit. For the Jews, the "breath-spirit of God" is the life-giving and animating principle of all creation. It was thus that God gave life to the first man and woman He formed from clay. Now we see Jesus breathing His Spirit into His disciples. In doing so, He was effecting a new creation in and through them. Thus as they engaged in mission, they pass the same Spirit on those who would come to believe in Jesus.

For his part, Luke situates the giving of the Spirit on the Jewish feast of Pentecost (Acts 2: 1-11). Pentecost was a very important feast for the Jews for it was then that God entered into a covenant with the Jews in effect making them His own people. Thus on Pentecost Jews from all over the known world gathered to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast.

Jesus' disciples were in Jerusalem, too. But after the events that led to His death on Good Friday, they were huddled in fear in a big room. Then all of a sudden, they heard a sound like the blowing of a violent wind coming from heaven. The Holy Spirit, in the form of tongues of fire, came to rest on each of them. Filled with the Spirit, they began to made bold proclamations as the Spirit prompted them.

Both in John and in Luke, the reception of the Spirit signaled the beginning of the engagement in mission of the disciples. Its effect on their person and character was immediate.

First, their fear gave way to courage. Filled with the Spirit, they went out into the streets to proclaim the Risen Lord even if they knew they could be persecuted or imprisoned for doing so. The early part of the Acts of the Apostles is replete with stories of their fearless proclamations. There was St. Stephen for example. Inspired and pushed by the Spirit, nothing -- not even death by stoning -- could stop him from proclaiming the Name of Jesus and the salvation He brought. He thus became the first martyr of the Church. In turn, his martyrdom became the occasion for the conversion of many of his listeners.

Second, they were given the gift of language. The Jews present in Jerusalem and coming from every nation each heard the apostles speaking in his own language. Astounded, they asked, "Are not all these people who are speaking Galileans? Then how does each of us hear them in his own native language?"

Third and finally, the Spirit being the Spirit of Love, effected love among the disciple. Thus the first Christians shared their goods and helped one another. Their common love for Jesus led them to love one another as Jesus commanded, thus allowing them to live in harmony and peace with one another. Seeing this, non-believers remarked, "See how they loved one another."

With Pentecost, the Holy Spirit is now in the world and within us. In His Spirit, Jesus will always be present among us. In His Spirit, Jesus is now closer to us than ever before. His Spirit continues to inspire and urge us to live out Jesus' teachings and to proclaim His message of salvation.

At our baptism, the Spirit of Jesus was also breathed into us. With this, we were tasked to do our share in the mission of Jesus.

Yet if we look into ourselves, what do we discover there? Do we see in ourselves the courage to proclaim the mighty works God has wrought in us and in the world? Do we stand up for our Christian beliefs and values in the midst of an unbelieving world? Does our lifestyle serve as a counter-sign to the world's worship of wealth, power and fame? Do we live with each other in love so that there will be greater understanding, harmony, justice and peace in our troubled and divided homes and communities? The Feast of Pentecost is a good occasion for us to review the extent we have carried out our share in the mission entrusted to us. If we can give a good account of ourselves, let us thank God for it. If not, then let us roll our sleeves and do what we have been tasked with when at our baptism the Spirit was breathed into us.