REFLECTION/HOMILY FOR PENTECOST SUNDAY, YEAR B

VISIBLE MANIFESTATIONS VS. INNER TRANSFORMATION: WHAT TRULY INDICATES THE HOLY SPIRIT’S PRESENCE?

First Reading: Acts 2:1-11
Responsorial Psalm: Ps. 103(104):1,24,29-31,34
Second reading: Galatians 5:16-25
Gospel Reading: John 15:26-27,16:12-15
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Our contemporary age is filled with individuals claiming to possess spiritual gifts within various branches of Christianity. These individuals are believed to work signs and wonders, speak in tongues during prayers and ministrations, prophesy, and see visions. Such phenomena typically attract large followers who believe that the Holy Spirit is the force behind these manifestations. This trend, “Pentecostal” in nature, even thrives in Catholicism, particularly in Nigeria and its environs, where an average Priest is expected to be a “wonder-working” (kabasher) Priest, to meet up with the interests of the people. A particular term, such as “Holy Ghost Father” (far from capturing the identity of a priest from a particular religious congregation), is used by the people of a particular region in the country to describe Priests who work signs and wonders. Sadly, we now look for these signs as the criteria for the presence of God while ignoring the essence—the fruits of the Spirit, such as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self-control. Today, many of us want to hear prophecies, prosperity prayers/preachings, healings, speaking in tongues (some even learn it), etc., while ignoring or refusing to hear how to live in love, gentleness, peace, patience, etc. This leads us to the fundamental question: “Do we really require tangible, visible signs to validate the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, or is the Spirit’s work primarily internal and unseen?” This question reflects itself through the halls of theological debate, challenging us to scrutinize our understanding of the Holy Spirit’s presence. The Greek term “πνεῦμα” (pneuma), meaning “spirit” or “breath,” invites us to consider both the tangible and intangible aspects of the Spirit’s manifestation. On this Pentecost Sunday, we are called to examine the balance between external manifestations and the quiet but effective work of the Spirit within.

Beginning with the First Reading, which presents to us the account of Pentecost (cf. Acts 2:1-11), we see a vivid scene where the Holy Spirit descends upon the apostles with visible signs of wind and tongues of fire, leading them to speak in different languages. This dramatic manifestation aligns with the Greek concept of “φανερός” (phaneros), meaning “visible” or “manifest,” reflecting the Holy Spirit’s tangible presence. The visible signs served as immediate validation of the Spirit’s power, enabling the apostles to proclaim the Gospel effectively.

Another dimension is seen in the Gospel Reading (cf. John 15:26-27, 16:12-15), where Jesus promises the coming of the “παράκλητος” (parakletos), the Advocate or Helper, who is the Spirit of Truth. This Spirit will guide the disciples into all truth and testify about Jesus. The emphasis here is on the internal guidance and revelation provided by the Holy Spirit, which may not always be accompanied by external, visible signs. The Spirit’s role as an internal guide reflects a more subdued yet deeper aspect of His presence. This reality is complemented by the Second Reading (cf. Galatians 5:16-25), where Paul contrasts the works of the flesh with the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The Greek term “καρπός” (karpos), meaning “fruit,” signifies the visible evidence of the Spirit’s internal work. These fruits are not as immediately dramatic as tongues of fire, yet they are tangible signs of the Spirit’s radical presence within Christians, emphasizing a life led by the Spirit.

In consonance, the Church’s magisterial documents provide a balanced perspective on this issue. Lumen Gentium emphasizes the diverse ways the Holy Spirit works within the Church, both visibly and invisibly. It states that the Spirit “dwells in the Church and in the hearts of the faithful, as in a temple” (cf. LG 4), highlighting the indwelling presence that does not always require dramatic external signs. This is why we can pray the “Come Holy Spirit” prayer, inviting Him to fill our hearts and kindle in us the fire of God’s love, which enables us to do God’s will. Furthermore, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) also addresses the varied manifestations of the Holy Spirit. Paragraph 688 acknowledges that the Holy Spirit is made known through the Scriptures, the Tradition, the Church’s Magisterium, the sacramental liturgy, prayer, the charisms and ministries, signs of apostolic and missionary life, and the witness of saints. This comprehensive view captures that while visible signs are significant, the Spirit’s work is multifaceted and often internal.

Unfortunately, in today’s context, there is often an excessive emphasis on miraculous signs as evidence of God’s presence. This can lead to a distorted understanding of spiritual gifts, where only visible and dramatic manifestations are valued. We seem to forget the teachings of St. Paul (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:4ff.) “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone, it is the same God at work. Now to each one, the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. This is complemented by Galatians 5:22-23 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things, there is no law.” Therefore, let us redirect our focus to the true evidence of the Spirit’s presence: the fruits of the Spirit. These fruits, such as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, are the authentic markers of a life influenced by the Holy Spirit. They reflect the reformation of character and the deepening of one’s relationship with God, which is the true essence of Christian spirituality.

When the pursuit of signs and wonders overshadows the cultivation of the fruits of the Spirit, the core message of the Gospel is lost. The quest for extraordinary experiences can divert our attention from the fundamental call to live out the virtues that Jesus exemplified. This imbalance can lead to a superficial faith that prioritizes spectacle over substance. While manifestations of spiritual gifts such as prophecy, healing, and speaking in tongues have their place within the Christian tradition, they should not be the sole criteria for discerning the presence of the Holy Spirit. This explains why a miracle-working religious leader may have issues with the love of neighbour, and even manifest unruly behaviour, a clear sign of not reflecting the fruits of the Holy Spirit. Thus, the true evidence of the Spirit’s work is found in the fruits of the Spirit, which cultivate a Christ-like character and promote genuine spiritual growth. As Christians, we are called to seek and nurture these fruits in our lives, reflecting the love, peace, and goodness of God to the world. By doing so, we can move beyond the superficial allure of signs and wonders and embrace the deeper, transformative power of the Holy Spirit.

Dear friends in Christ, the lessons are clear. The first step towards becoming productive and fruit-bearing Christians is to recognize and embrace the variety of the gifts of the Holy Spirit within us (and not only the charismatic ones) and how all these gifts come from the same Spirit, not merely for personal edification but for the benefit of the entire Church and the world. While the gifts of the Holy Spirit empower us, the fruits of the Spirit demonstrate the depth of our conversion. We should strive to cultivate love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control in our daily lives. These fruits are the evidence of a life led by the Spirit and are crucial for our witness to the world. Furthermore, we should learn to integrate the gifts and fruits of the Spirit in our daily lives, which involves intentional actions and attitudes. For instance, a preacher gifted in eloquence must also exhibit kindness and patience, ensuring that their message is not only powerful but also delivered in love. A visionary must ground their insights in gentleness and faithfulness, ensuring their revelations build up the community. We should also continuously seek the Holy Spirit’s renewal and guidance. This involves regular prayer, participation in the sacraments, and openness to the Spirit’s leading. By staying connected to the Holy Spirit, we ensure that our actions remain aligned with God’s will.

Above all, as we commemorate the Pentecost event in the lives of the Apostles, we should bear in mind that the Pentecost effect still remains in the life of the Church through the Sacraments, Prayer, reading/studying the Word, etc. Thus, on this Pentecost Sunday, let us commit to utilizing our gifts to bear fruit in our lives and communities. By doing so, we not only grow in our faith but also contribute to building a better world, reflecting the love, joy, and peace of the Holy Spirit to all.

“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.” Amen.

Shalom!
© Fr. Chinaka Justin Mbaeri, OSJ
Seminário Padre Pedro Magnone, São Paulo, Brazil
nozickcjoe@gmail.com / fadacjay@gmail.com

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Chinaka Justin Mbaeri

A staunch Roman Catholic and an Apologist of the Christian faith. More about him here.

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Eghe
Eghe
30 days ago

Amen. Thanks for this message. I still feel intimated a bit not able to experience it as the apostles did but I realize that I’ve not even displayed enough of the fruits of the holy Spirit while chasing the gifts.

Tochukwu
Tochukwu
30 days ago
Reply to  Eghe

St. Paul said we should desire the higher gifts. Love is the highest spiritual gift. Without it, the others are empty.

As long as you strive to love God and your neighbour with deeds, you are most precious in God’s eyes because you become more like Christ that way.

Adaeze
Adaeze
30 days ago

Spirit of the Living God,
Melt me
Mold me
Fill me
Use me. Amen

Lucy Mary Muokwe
Lucy Mary Muokwe
30 days ago

Holy Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me and on all of God’s people

Michael Umande
Michael Umande
30 days ago

While the gifts of the Holy Spirit empower us, the fruits of the Spirit demonstrate the depth of our conversion.

Thank you Padre for a beautiful homily

Sa'adatu Anne Akough
Sa'adatu Anne Akough
30 days ago

Amen. Thank you Rev fada Chinaka

Philomena
Philomena
30 days ago

Gifts of the Holy Spirit empower us, while its fruits demonstrates the depth of our conversion. The fruits we must portray in our daily lives because they are the evidence of a life led by the Spirit and are crucial for our witness to the world. This involves intentional actions and attitudes. Our gifts must bear fruit in our lives and our communities.
Thank you Fr.

Comfort Edewor
Comfort Edewor
29 days ago

Thank you For for this very down to earth explanation. It made a huge difference to me.

Emeka Odugu
Emeka Odugu
29 days ago

Thanks for the beautiful homily Padre.

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