Pentecost: The disciples proclaim ‘the mighty works of God’

Father John A. Kiley

Jesus left no doubt in the minds of his Apostles, nor should there be any doubt in the minds of later believers, that Jesus’ ministry would be brought to a joyous completion by the Holy Spirit.

The risen Christ bestowed the gift of the Spirit initially on Easter Sunday night when he challenged his disciples to administer his newly achieved ministry of reconciliation. “Who sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; whose sins you hold back, they are held back.”

Jesus understood his own work of redemption was not a solitary event, accomplishing the deliverance of mankind in a single stroke. Rather, he viewed the work of redemption, the ministry of reconciliation, to be spread out over time, lavished upon mankind through the power of the Spirit and the cooperation of the Church.

The work of Jesus and the Spirit, and the work of the Church would embrace all of history. The work of Jesus would affect salvation. The work of the Spirit would promote salvation. The work of the Church would dispense salvation. The same mystery accomplished on Good Friday and Easter Sunday would be infused into the minds and hearts of the Apostles on Pentecost and bestowed on the faithful in every successive generation. What Jesus began, the Spirit would foster and the Church would happily complete. Jesus, Spirit, Church — God’s three-fold machinery for drawing mankind back to himself.

In his Gospel, St. John makes especially clear the continuity from Christ through the Spirit to the Church. It is Jesus who will send the Spirit, St. John writes, and this Spirit will in turn testify to Jesus. Jesus observes that when the Spirit arrives, “He will not speak on his own . … He will glorify me, because he will take from what is mine and declare it to you.” So there is no new Gospel, no new Savior, no new redemption. Christ is the unique redeemer of mankind. Christ’s Gospel is comprehensive; there is nothing more to be revealed. The Spirit will simply extend Christ’s work of redemption. The Spirit will continue the work of Christ; he will not replace it.

The Spirit’s task is to glorify Christ, magnify Christ, share Christ with the entire world. In another similar passage from the Last Supper, St. John quotes Jesus saying the Holy Spirit will “bring to your minds all that I have spoken to you. Other translations, including the Latin, convey this same message with the interesting word, “suggest.”

St. John writes that the Spirit will suggest to believers all that Christ has spoken to mankind. What a gentle word, suggest. Surely the Spirit is powerful and effective and resolute. Yet, the Spirit is respectful of the believer’s dignity and freedom and autonomy. The Spirit will gently suggest to each believer the truth, the beauty, the goodness of Christ’s message, confident that the mere suggestion of the glory and splendor that is the Gospel will convince the believer to embrace Christ’s invitation to repentance and eternal life.

And then, St. John notes, the Church will “also testify” to Jesus and his work. “And you also will testify, because you have been with me from the beginning.” While the power, energy, and enthusiasm behind the spread of the Gospel derives uniquely from Christ and the Spirit, the task of cooperating with Christ and the Spirit falls to the Church.

It is the Church that must absorb the message of the Gospel, live it out resolutely in its daily occupations, and gently convince the world of the merits of Christ’s teachings.

The Church has borne manifold witness to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus down through the ages. The age of Roman martyrs spawned the era of missionaries who bore the Gospel to the lands of our ancestors.

Their success in the Mediterranean and European worlds gave rise to the monasteries which sheltered the faith through the Dark Ages and engendered the universities of the Middle Ages. These scholars were followed by the resolute mentors of the Catholic Reformation who guided the Church through the challenge of revolt and rejection. Again missionaries brought the faith to the New World and to this day they continue to share Christ’s teachings with the developing world.

So the trinity of evangelization mentioned at the beginning – Christ, the Spirit, the Church – still recall that eventful day of Pentecost when the message of Christ’s life, death and resurrection suddenly fell into place for the Apostles, who were then filled with power of the Spirit, and then courageously burst forth on the gathered crowds at Jerusalem, adding three thousand souls to the company of believers that very day.