Powerful and peaceful transformation! That is one sentence that captures the Pentecost event. Pentecost Sunday’s readings show us that this event radically transformed the scared disciples into courageous witnesses to the murderous Jews. St. John places emphasis on the Holy Spirit’s gift of peace to the disciples in Jesus’ words: “Peace be with you.” How can we as Christians become so powerfully transformed that we become transforming witnesses to others and abide in Christ’s own peace? How can we have this powerful transforming experience?
On a recent visit to my native country of Nigeria I came across a church sign that read, “Come and experience God in our Church.” I did a double-take and thought, “What? At last, a place where we are guaranteed an experience of God just as if God can be turned on and off like a water faucet!” Pardon the sarcasm but can we really generate an authentic experience of God? Is it not a frightful form of pride to think that a human being can guarantee us an experience of God? Can we manipulate God to manifest Himself to us?
God is master of His gifts and He gives and takes as He wills. Jesus Himself teaches us that “The Spirit blows where He wills.” Today’s solemnity of Pentecost show us the suddenness and unpredictability of the Spirit’s descent on the Apostles gathered in the Upper Room: “Suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind and it filled the entire house in which they were.” The evangelist Luke depicts the Pentecost experience as an event unexpected and not as the disciples had thought it possible. Such an experience of God is not something that we can generate or fabricate. Neither is it something that we can force God to produce but it is something that we can only dispose ourselves to receive by the grace of God.
Imagine that you want to listen to a particular radio station and the radio waves from the radio station are already present in the air loud and clear. In addition to a functioning radio set with a reliable source of power, you must know the number of the radio station and you must be able to tune into the station if you are going to listen to the desired station without interference from other stations. Without this ability tune in, the radio set, the loud and clear radio signals, and the proximity of the radio station are useless to you.
This is an analogy of the Spirit in our lives. In a similar way, God’s Spirit is with us from the moment of baptism with the same power that we see in the Pentecost event. But why aren’t we transformed like the disciples on Pentecost? Why aren’t we on fire with the Holy Spirit? The Holy Spirit is with us but we cannot experience His power until we learn how to dispose ourselves properly and tune-in to His frequency. Today’s readings show us ways of tuning-in to the Holy Spirit.
The first way of tuning-in to the Spirit is by constant prayer. The disciples gathered to pray for the gift of the Holy Spirit. Though the gift of the Holy Spirit was promised to them, prayer remains necessary. Prayer opens our hearts to the presence and action of the Holy Spirit. Jesus even promised that the Holy Spirit is the guaranteed answer to every prayer: “How much more will my Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask?” We must pray always and everywhere in the ways that we find helpful like the Holy Rosary, pray with the scriptures, pray at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, etc. We close ourselves to the Spirit the moment we give up prayer.
But prayer alone is not enough! The second way of tuning-in is to live in peace, unity and love with others as best as we can. The disciples “were all in one place together” despite their previous conflicts with each other and their diverse experiences during the passion of Christ. Here there was no more bickering as they used to do before about who was the greatest among them or who was following Jesus or not. The Holy Spirit descended on hearts that had resolved to live together in peace and unity. We invite the Holy Spirit into our hearts when we too strive to live in peace and unity with others. The Holy Spirit will not completely manifest Himself in hearts that are constantly fighting, insulting, bearing grudges or quarreling with others.