Have you ever had a life-changing experience? Have you ever had an event take place in your life that was so dramatic that it changed the way you looked at the world and looked at yourself? Have you ever had something happen to you that shook you to the core of your being and made it impossible to continue living the way you had before?
The apostles had just such a life-changing experience. It was not when Jesus first called them along the banks of the Sea of Galilee. It was not when Jesus was crucified. It was not even when He was raised from the dead. We see clearly in the gospels that even after the Resurrection, the apostles were full of doubt and fear. Rather, the event that utterly transformed them was the feast that we celebrate today - Pentecost.
On the day of Pentecost, ten days after Jesus ascended to heaven, the Holy Spirit rushed down upon them as they gathered in prayer with the Blessed Virgin Mary. They were so filled with the Spirit that they could not stop praising God and declaring out loud what Jesus had done for them. In fact, they were making such a racket that a crowd began to gather. It was unmistakable to anyone who witnessed it that God was acting in a mighty way.
Up until that time, the apostles had been huddled in the room behind closed doors out of fear. Now, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, they lost their fear and proclaimed the praises of God and His Son, Jesus, to all those who had gathered to hear them. With the descent of the Holy Spirit upon them, they were transformed from men who were afraid, who doubted and who even deserted Jesus, to men who spoke out boldly about the love of God made manifest in His Son.
The lives of the apostles would never be the same. After Pentecost, Peter would eventually travel to Rome to found a church there and be crucified upside down by the Roman authorities. Saint John would travel to what is now modern day Turkey, start several churches and eventually be exiled to the island of Patmos where he would write the last book of the Bible, the book of Revelation. Saint James would remain in Jerusalem guiding the efforts of the first community of Christians, and he too would be martyred for his witness to the faith. Even Thomas who at first refused to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead, traveled all the way to India spreading the good news. He was also killed for preaching about the Risen Lord.
The coming of the Holy Spirit is a life-changing event for all those who receive Him. He draws us out of the darkness of error and ignorance into the light of truth. He leads us out of the dark night of sin into the dawn of grace. He lifts us out of the clutches of death and carries us into the hope of eternal life. Together with the Father and the Son, the Holy Spirit is God, the Lord and Giver of Life. It is the work of the Holy Spirit to enter the depths of our being, to fill our heart and to transform us from the inside out.
Many of us here today came to take our faith more seriously because of a dramatic event. It could have been losing a loved one, coming down with an illness or losing a job. It taught us how much we really need God in our lives. For many others, the miracle of children awakened a sense of the power and beauty of life and the God who created us. Because we want to share the beauty of our faith with our children, we began to take our own faith more seriously. Or it could be that, one day, because of something someone said or because of the example of a good person, it dawned on us just how much God loves us, and we could not help but want to turn our lives over to Him. We had a “born again” experience that made it impossible for us to think of living in any other way than for the glory of God.
The Holy Spirit uses all those experiences to alert us to the presence and action of God in our lives. However, most of the time, He is not working in a dramatic, palpable way. Rather, most often the Spirit is at work in us in quiet, gentle ways. Like our heart that beats without our having to think about it or our lungs which draw in breath even when we are asleep, the Spirit of God is moving our emotions to have compassion for the less fortunate, inspiring our thoughts to consider what is good and holy and touching our inner self with a desire for the things of God. As Saint Paul tells us in the second reading, the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness, holding us up as we pray, and gently transforming us through the gifts of faith, hope and love.
So while it is true that we can have dramatic, life-changing experiences of God’s presence, most often the Spirit is at work in us in more subtle ways that we can barely perceive. That is why it is so important for us to come to Mass every week and spend time in prayer every day. It is through those small habits of prayer and worship that the Holy Spirit leads us into deeper knowledge of and love for our Savior, Jesus Christ. It is through those ten minutes of Scripture reading that we commit to everyday that we come to recognize our sins and find strength to overcome temptation. It is through that Rosary that we pray before going to bed that we begin to understand and imitate God’s great love for us. And it is by going to confession regularly and receiving Jesus in the Eucharist frequently that we are transformed into women and men who radiate the joy of the Spirit of God.