Living life in the Spirit

Moving on in the season of Eastertide, we will soon celebrate the Ascension. The Apostles had to experience the physical absence of Jesus and hence, a sense of loss. Yet there is also the promise of His abiding presence.

May 03, 2024

As I was contemplating - Fr Gerard Steve Theraviam

Moving on in the season of Eastertide, we will soon celebrate the Ascension. The Apostles had to experience the physical absence of Jesus and hence, a sense of loss. Yet there is also the promise of His abiding presence. And look, I am with you always; yes, to the end of time. (Matt. 28:20). That surely is a great assurance as we are also reminded that we are not left orphans, but are gifted with the Holy Spirit, even at our baptisms. I shall ask the Father, and He will give you another Paraclete to be with you for ever (John 14:16)

In fact, the nine days between Ascension and Pentecost were the first original Novena. Jesus had told the Apostles not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for what the Father had promised (Acts 1:4). And so they did just that, waiting and praying in anticipation, probably not knowing what to expect. After all the recent happenings, they were probably afraid as well.

The Holy Spirit descended upon them spectacularly — with the sound of violent wind and the tongues of fire. It was indeed a life-changing experience. The Pentecost event inaugurated the age of the Spirit, as the fledgling community of Jewish disciples slowly exploded into a dynamic growing crowd of people who spoke a myriad of languages, whose linguistic ability meant that foreigners could understand them and were brought to faith. No longer afraid, Peter and the others went out boldly preaching the Good News of salvation, and winning disciples, much to the dismay of the Jewish authorities who tried to stop them and soon unleashed persecution upon them in retaliation.

You will receive the power of the Holy Spirit which will come on you, and then you will be My witnesses, not only in Jerusalem but throughout Judaea and Samaria, and indeed to earth’s remotest ends. (Acts 1:8) What was a localised experience was soon to be exported to other lands as the early disciples had to flee their homelands and move to new locations to escape persecution, which brought the opportunity of sharing faith with the people they came into contact with. Indeed, the Acts of the Apostles records how the faith was shared with people in the region and beyond, thanks to the missionary efforts of Paul and his companions. Soon the Jewish component of the adherents of the faith were outnumbered by the Gentiles that were converted, not without the problems that ensued due to the insecurity among the former, who insisted on Jewish practices such as food laws and circumcision. Today the Good News has been proclaimed virtually in every country, even as new adherents to the faith respond positively to missionary activity.

So, what does Pentecost mean for us today? Most of us receive the Sacrament of Confirmation as teens and sadly, some see it as a sort of ‘graduation’ from Catechism (and sadly, even church attendance). Yet, the truth is that it is a completion of our initiation as Christians and being sent out on mission in the power of the Holy Spirit.

We are given the Holy Spirit not just for mere personal sanctification. Yet this is in itself important! All who are guided by the Spirit of God are sons of God; … for what you received was not the spirit of slavery to bring you back into fear; you received the Spirit of adoption, enabling us to cry out, ‘Abba, Father!’ The Spirit himself joins with our spirit to bear witness that we are children of God. (Romans 8:14-16) The Holy Spirit helps us to walk away from our fear and rediscover our identity as daughters and sons of God. It is this intimacy with God that must be owned and built upon – for that is the foundation of our relationship with God, it is what gives us the confidence and trust as we encounter uncertainty in our journey. The Holy Spirit helps us to pray in our weakness even when we don’t know how to. (Romans 8:26) We are also led by the Spirit to discover the truth, whether it be about ourselves or beyond. (John 16:13)

Nevertheless, personal sanctification is not all it is about – we are ultimately given the Holy Spirit that we may be empowered for mission! When the Paraclete comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who issues from the Father, He will be My witness.

And you too will be witnesses, because you have been with Me from the beginning. (John 15:26-27) What that mission might be requires discernment, but often people think that mission is about going elsewhere to preach. Our mission starts where we are right now, where we are, as we authentically proclaim the presence of God in our lives in the way we live.

For instance, are the fruits of the Holy Spirit evident in my life that it might lead others to ask questions about what makes me tick and discover God in my life? Am I an authentic witness by the way that I live that I am ‘salt and light’ to people around me? The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self-control… (Galatians 5:22-23) Are people able to see good fruit in me and hence, come to discover God or is rotten fruit all they see? This is certainly more important than being able to boast about other more spectacular charismatic gifts of the Spirit, such as prophecy or tongues and their interpretation. We shouldn’t doubt the gift but if the fruits are missing, then one would want to ask questions about the authenticity and provenance of those gifts.

The Holy Spirit is possibly the least known Person in the Trinity. Perhaps if you would like to experience the Holy Spirit in your life, consider a programme like the Life in the Spirit Seminar or even the Alpha course. Above all, pray for the Spirit to envelope your life and empower you for mission. Let us be led into the fullness of Life!

Come, Holy Spirit,
fill the hearts of your faithful
and kindle in them the fire of your love.
Send forth your Spirit
and they shall be created,
and you shall renew the face of the earth.

(Fr Gerard Theraviam is the parish priest of the Cathedral of St John the Evangelist in Kuala Lumpur, as well as the Spiritual Director to the World Community for Christian Meditation, Malaysia.)

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