As we approach the end of the Easter season, we start preparing for Pentecost as a Church. Consequently, the readings for the last few weeks of Easter begin to address the fundamental role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the individual Christian as well as the life of the Church as an institution. Today is the sixth Sunday of the Easter season; consequently, we find several significant references to the Holy Spirit among our three readings.
Pentecost was marked by an abundant release of the gift of the Holy Spirit. The first major consequence of this outpouring is that it initiates a radically new relationship between the individual and God. God’s love for us is so real and personal that He desires to come and dwell within us. Jesus refers to this great mystery in our Gospel today. Our Lord says to His disciples, “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.” The divine indwelling is made possible by the Holy Spirit which is poured into our hearts through faith. We are made temples of the Holy Spirit at our baptism when we are anointed with the Holy Chrism and filled with the Holy Spirit. Love desires intimacy and God’s love for us leads Him to choose to make a home for Himself in the hearts of His children.
A second major consequence of the coming of the Holy Spirit is the transformation of our lives. Knowing and experiencing that God is near, we are greatly strengthened and filled with His peace, even in the face of life’s many challenges. Immediately after speaking of the coming of the Holy Spirit in Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you . … Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.” The lives of the saints bear witness to a marvelous strength that enabled them to endure enormous crosses and face tremendous persecutions with unexplainable peace and courage. St. Clare’s ability to stand strong in the face of a band of Saracens at the door of the monastery comes to mind as an example of peace and courage in the face of great physical danger.
A third major consequence of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is guaranteed guidance. Christ’s teaching was a critical part of His saving work. “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Jesus established the Church for a variety of reasons, one of which was to preserve, protect, and defend the truths necessary for our salvation as well as apply them to new cultures and future realities down through the ages, like advances in science and medicine. The Church needs clear guidance for this part of Her mission. The Holy Spirit, poured out upon the Church, is the guarantee of that guidance. Jesus refers to this role of the Spirit when He says to His disciples: “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.”
This promise of God’s guidance to the Church is a tremendous grace for the Christian. It only makes sense that God would have a plan for preserving and handing on the great deposit of truth that He bestowed upon the world when He sent His only begotten Son among us. It is a comfort to know that the Church was given the grace of the Holy Spirit to teach infallibly on matters of faith and morals for all of history. So many of the saints have given up their lives and countless others have endured persecution because they were willing to stand up for the true faith. St. Athanasius is one example that comes to mind. He spent great time and energy in the fourth century as a bishop defending the divinity of Christ against the growing heresy of Arius. He refused to tolerate the supporters of this heresy and spent seventeen of his forty-six years in the episcopate in exile.
As we approach the end of this beautiful Easter season, it is fitting to ponder anew the many graces and fruits of the Holy Spirit. We do so in order to deepen our faith in this vital gift that was the culmination of Jesus saving work. We do so also to stir into flame the fire of the Holy Spirit that has been given to each of us in baptism (and confirmation), that is renewed every time we receive holy Communion, and that sends us into the world to be living witnesses of the Risen Lord.