Genesis 11:1-9 or Exodus 19:3-8a, 16-20b or Ezekiel 37:1-14 or Joel 3:1-5
Psalm 104:1-2, 24+35, 27-28, 29b-30
Tonight is the vigil of Pentecost, the feast of the Holy Spirit. Tonight we are waiting expectantly to receive the Holy Spirit. How should we feel tonight? We ought to feel like children on Christmas Eve. Tomorrow we are going to receive the gift of God, the Holy Spirit. As a child who hopes to receive a new toy on Christmas might spend the night before planning how they will play with it the next day, so we should be planning now what we will do with the Holy Spirit. Tonight our minds should be filled with contemplating the gift we hope to receive.
To begin with, the Holy Spirit is so misunderstood. The greatest misunderstanding about the Holy Spirit is that he is a tool of God or a servant of God. We hear that Jesus is going to send the Holy Spirit, so we think that the Holy Spirit is like an angel, something God created to serve us Christians, but this is not true! The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Most Holy Trinity. He is equal to the Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son he is adored and glorified. The Holy Spirit is God. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit together are the one God. The Holy Spirit is in no way inferior to the Father or the Son.
The Holy Spirit is the gift of God, but the Holy Spirit is God. God is giving us himself. We call the Holy Spirit the gift of God, because he is the greatest gift of God to us. Truly, the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the dirt we stand on are all gifts from God. Yet, above all of these, God gives us himself. Really, all the rest is the wrapping. It is not unheard of that a child wants to play with the wrapping paper and boxes, rather than the gift, but we need to be mature. We can admire the beautiful paper, we can even have fun opening the package, but our focus needs to be on the gift of God, the Holy Spirit, God himself.
On Pentecost, the disciples were assisted in receiving the Holy Spirit by outward signs. The Holy Spirit worked great miracles to reveal his presence. Another general misunderstanding about the Holy Spirit is a confusion of the Holy Spirit with these signs. Jesus is not the healings that he accomplished. He is not the feeding of the 5000. He is not the walking on water or the calming the storm. He did all these things, but he is not these things. The same is true of the Holy Spirit. He is not the tongues of fire that appeared on the heads of the disciples. He is not the great wind that blew through the room. He is not the gift of speaking in tongues.
Jesus was not less present when he was walking down the street than when he was healing a blind man. So too, the Holy Spirit is not only present where we can see him working a miracle. He is not even more present when we see him working a miracle. He does not move from here to there, working magic tricks wherever he goes. It is not good to say, “The Holy Spirit is here right now”, as if he is not always everywhere.
The disciples were prepared to receive the Holy Spirit by the life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. St. John writes in the Gospel today, “There was, of course, no Spirit yet, because Jesus had not yet been glorified.” The Spirit absolutely existed. He had already made an appearance in John’s Gospel at the baptism of Jesus. St. John means that there was no reception of the Spirit yet, that the Spirit had not yet changed the lives of the disciples.
Tomorrow is not really a celebration of the sending of the Holy Spirit but of the reception of the Holy Spirit. God is omnipresent. He is everywhere, at all times. The Holy Spirit did not move from one place to another when he was sent; he was always present in the world. We see his actions all throughout the Old Testament. He has spoken through the prophets. If Adam and Eve had been ready to receive the Holy Spirit, they would have received him. The Holy Spirit was not holding back, rather, he was not welcomed.
So when we sing, “Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth”, we are asking for what we already have. The Spirit has been here all along. What we need is not a new sending of the Holy Spirit. What we need is a new reception of the Holy Spirit. We say, “Lord, send out your Spirit” but we mean “Lord, help me to receive your Spirit.” The Holy Spirit is right here, right now. He is not the one holding back, we are.
What we need is not a new sending of the Holy Spirit. We do not need to discover where his next appearance is going to be. What we need is a new reception of the Holy Spirit. Certainly, we received the Holy Spirit at Baptism. Without a doubt, we received the Holy Spirit at Confirmation. Nevertheless, let us receive the Holy Spirit all over again. Let us receive him tomorrow and every day.
We must not let anything prevent us from receiving the Holy Spirit. If there are any locks on the door of our hearts, let us unlock them. If our hearts are a mess, filthy with sin, if we are embarrassed to invite the Holy Spirit in, we should confess our sins and be forgiven. If our hearts are not big enough to accept the Holy Spirit, let us expand them with love. And who is the love that will expand our hearts? It is the Holy Spirit. And who will forgive us our sins? The Holy Spirit. And who is the key to our hearts? The Holy Spirit. We cannot even prepare to receive the Holy Spirit without the Holy Spirit.
How unusual this gift is! Usually a gift is made for a person, but, in this case, a person was made for a gift. God made each one of us because he wanted someone to give himself to. How unequal this exchange! God gives us himself and all he asks in exchange is that we give him ourselves. It is clear who is getting the better deal here. How foolish would we have to be to refuse to accept this gift!