My dear People of God,
Greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ who promised and sent the Holy Spirit! As we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit to the apostles and disciples of Jesus Christ, I present to you the working of the Holy Spirit in our Church. Many people who call themselves Christians misunderstand and even exploit the idea of the Holy Spirit and abuse His presence and actions in the lives of believers and in the Church. It is necessary for authentic Christians and genuine People of God to understand properly the actions of the Holy Spirit and to live sincerely with Christ Jesus, our Lord and Saviour in the light and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus Christ, anointed by the Holy Spirit after his baptism by John (see Matthew 3:16), was aware that human beings could not live in a Christ-like manner on their own. Human being, tainted with sinful desires – disordered bodily desires, disordered desires of the eyes, pride in possession (see 1 John 2:16), cannot live in imitation of Jesus Christ. In fact, human beings of merely natural character cannot understand the mysteries of Christ and the Way of Christ, the Way, the Truth and the Life (see John 14:6). When Jesus Christ taught about the Eucharist, for example, many people said, “This is intolerable language. How could anyone accept it?” (John 6:60). Even the apostles were not able to understand the mystery of Jesus Christ. It is true that Simon professed that Jesus was “Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16), but he could not understand it when Jesus told them that he would suffer and die and rise again after the third day. Indeed, Simon Peter rebuked him for saying that (see Matthew 16:21-23). No wonder Jesus Christ to send the Holy Spirit to help them: “II shall ask the Father and he will give you another Paraclete to be with you for ever, the Spirit of truth...but the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all I have said to you” (John 14:16,26).
The Holy Spirit would be a witness to Christ: “When the Paraclete comes, whom I shall send you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who issues from the Father, he will be my witness. And you too will be witnesses, because you have been with me from the beginning” (John 15:26-27). The Paraclete who would come when Jesus Christ had gone would show the world how wrong the world was, “about sin, and about who was in the right, and about judgement ... However, when the Spirit of truth comes he will lead you to the complete truth since he will not be speaking of his own accord, but will only say what he has been told; and he will reveal to you the things to come. He will glorify me, since all he reveals to you will be taken from what is mine” (John 16:7, 13-14). These promises of Jesus Christ to the apostles and disciples showed the important position of the Holy Spirit in the Church. Indeed, Jesus told the apostles that he would send “what the Father promised. Stay in the city, then, until you are clothed with the power from on high” (Luke 24:49). The power from on high is surely the Holy Spirit whom Jesus promised to send to them: “but you will receive the power of the Holy Spirit which will come on you, and then you will be my witnesses not only in Jerusalem but throughout Judaea and Samaria, and indeed to earth’s remotest end” (Acts 1:8).
The promise of Jesus Christ was fulfilled on Pentecost day. Pentecost was a Jewish feast. Dr. Ray Pritchard wrote,” If you go back and read the Old Testament, you will discover that Pentecost was one of the Jewish feast days. Only they didn't call it Pentecost. That's the Greek name. The Jews called it the Feast of Harvest or the Feast of Weeks. It is mentioned five places in the first five books—in Exodus 23, Exodus 24, Leviticus 16, Numbers 28, and Deuteronomy 16. It was the celebration of the beginning of the early weeks of harvest. In Palestine there were two harvests each year. The early harvest came during the months of May and June; the final harvest came in the Fall. Pentecost was the celebration of the beginning of the early wheat harvest, which meant that Pentecost always fell sometime during the middle of the month of May or sometimes in early June.” Pentecost is the Greek version of the name. According to WIKIPEDIA “Since Shavuot occurs 49 days after the first day of Passover (i.e. the 50th day, including Passover itself), Hellenistic Jews gave it the name Pentecost (πεντηκοστή, "fiftieth day"). According to Jewish tradition, Pentecost commemorates God's giving of the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai, 49 days after the Exodus”. It was on this Jewish feast day that the Holy Spirit came down on the apostles and disciples of Jesus Christ.
On Pentecost day, as the apostles and disciples of Jesus Christ were together, “there came from heaven a sound as of a violent wind, which filled the entire house in which they were sitting; and there appeared to them tongues as of fire; these separated and came to rest on the head of each of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak different languages as the Spirit gave them power to express themselves” (Acts 2:1-4). The coming of the Holy Spirit on the apostles and followers of Jesus Christ gave Pentecost which was a Jewish festival, a Christian dimension. Christian Pentecost has similar reason why Hellenists called the festival “Pentecost” – it is 50 days after Easter when Christians celebrate the resurrection and victory of Jesus Christ but which was also the celebration of the Passover, the liberation of Jews from Egypt by God who slaughtered the firstborns of Egyptians while the Jews ate the roasted lamb with bitter herbs and unleavened bread (see Exodus 11, 12 and 13). Pentecost is therefore now a Christian feast in which Christians celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit on the apostles and disciples of Jesus Christ. It is indeed a grand celebration because it is really the occasion for the takeoff of the Church founded by Jesus Christ on Simon Peter. Indeed, Simon Peter filled with the Holy Spirit launched the Church by preaching powerfully to the Jews who were assembled for the feast of Pentecost and converted 3000 persons!
The coming of the Holy Spirit really brought a lot of surprises to the people gathered for the celebration of the Feast of Harvest which Hellenist called the Feast of Pentecost. They were people from different parts of the then world – Partians, Medes, Elamites, people from Mesopotamia, Judaea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phyrgia, Pamphylia, Egypt, Lybia, Cyrene, Crete and Arabia. They were bewildered to hear the people speaking their various languages. They were amazed and astonished. Some of them thought that the apostles and disciples “have been drinking too much new wine” (see Acts 2:5-13). The many different languages which the men mainly from Galilee were speaking called tongues was one of the main marks of the coming of the Holy Spirit. The courage of the apostles to break out of the hiding place to preach to the people really touched the people and that was probably why some accused them of drunkenness! That made Simon Peter explain that they were not drunk but that they were displaying what the Prophet Joel was saying: “In the last day – the Lord declared – I shall pour out my Spirit on all humanity. Your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your young people shall see visions, your old people dream dreams. Even on the slaves, men and women, shall I pour out my Spirit. I will show portents in the sky above and signs on the earth below. The sun will be turned into darkness and the moon into blood before the day of the Lord comes, the great and terrible Day. And all who call on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Acts 2:17-21; Joel 3:1-5).
The Holy Spirit is the central subject of Christian Pentecost. In fact, the Holy Spirit is the heart and soul of the Church. The Catholic Church presents the Holy Spirit in His totality as the Divine Person “at work with the Father and the Son from the beginning to the completion of the plan for our salvation” (The Catechism of the Catholic Church –CCC, no. 686). This complete vision of the Holy Spirit by the Catholic Church is presented thus: “The Church, a communion living in the faith of the apostles which she transmits, is the place where we know the Holy Spirit: - in the Scriptures; - in the Tradition, to which the Church Fathers are always timely witnesses; - in the Church’s Magisterium, which he assists; - in the sacramental liturgy, through its words and symbols, in which the Holy Spirit puts us into communion with Christ; - in prayer, wherein he intercedes for us; - in the charisms and ministries by which the Church is built up; - in the signs of apostolic and missionary life; - in the witness of saints through whom he manifests his holiness and continues the work of salvation” (CCC, no. 688). The Holy Spirit is fully at work in all aspects of the Church and in the life of all genuine Christians.
Some groups of Christians emphasise only the external manifestations of the Spirit. They focus on miracles, prophecy, speaking in tongues and other external manifestations supposed to come from “anointing” of the Holy Spirit. Such Christian groups are usually connected with evangelism, pentecostalism and charismatism. For example, “It is important for us to realise that what was passed on in Pentecostal missions was not a doctrine, even a doctrine about an experience, it was the experience itself, passed on by the laying on of hands. The same excesses which Azusa Street gained from the Shakers via the Holiness Movement were passed on to centres world-wide. It was the spiritual power called ‘the anointing’ which was transmitted from one person to another which led to the international spread of Pentecostalism, not truth or ecclesiastical distinctiveness.” This view of Pentecostalism shows the limited and even restricted idea of the work of the Holy Spirit. This is externalism which is also evident in Charismatism where the emphasis is on the gifts of the Holy Spirit as presented in 1 Corinthians 12.
Catholics must be very cautious in the matter of Pentecost, Pentecostalism, Evangelism and Charismatism. Pentecost for Christians is the celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit. It is true that the circumstances and impact of the coming of the Holy Spirit on the apostles had external manifestations of power but that is not all that the Holy Spirit does in the world and in the Church. The Holy Spirit is the heart and soul of Christianity: “and if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead has made his home in you, then he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit living in you ... but if by the Spirit you put to death the habits originating in the body, you will have life” (Romans 8:11,13). The Holy Spirit is the source of life for the believers in Jesus Christ, the Way, the Truth and the Life (see John 14:6). It is not working of miracles, prophesying and having visions that make one a child of God.
People who allow themselves to be deceived by some “Christians” who shout “Lord, Lord” and claim to work miracles, prophesy in the name of Jesus and drive out demons in His name must also hear what Jesus said to such people, “I have never known you; away from me, all evil doers” (Matthew 7:23). Faithful Christians must beware of false “Christians”! Even the Devil works miracles through people and makes people false prophets. God used Moses and Aaron to work miracles and Pharaoh brought his magicians and sorcerers to do the same (see Exodus 7:8-13; 8:1-3). The Devil represented by beasts worked great miracles and was able to lead many people astray (see Revelation 13:11-14). Jesus Christ gave the warning: “for false Christs and false prophets will arise and provide great signs and portents, enough to deceive even the elect, if that were possible. Look! I have given you warning” (Matthew 24:24-25). Let us be careful about following those who claim to perform miracles and make prophecies in the name of Jesus Christ or by the “anointing of the Holy Spirit”! Many of them can lead people astray!
The Holy Spirit is here with us in the Church. He gives gifts but gifts that people should use for common good of the Church (see 1 Corinthians 12:7) and in an orderly way “for God is a God not of disorder but of peace” (1 Corinthians 14:33). The Catholic Church recognises the gifts of the Spirit called charisms and teaches: “Whether extraordinary or simple and humble, charisms are graces of the Holy Spirit which directly or indirectly benefit the Church, ordered as they are for her building up, to the good of men and to the needs of the world” (CCC, no. 799). St. Paul teaches us that there are higher gifts than the gifts of utterances expressing wisdom, gift of faith, gifts of healing, working of miracles, prophecy, gifts of tongues etc. These are gifts of faith, hope and love and the greatest of them all is love (see 1 Corinthians 12:31; 13). The Holy Spirit makes us sons and daughters of God and helps us to cry, ‘Abba, Father!’ The Spirit helps Christians in their weakness, especially in praying in accordance with the mind of God (see Romans 8:14-17, 26-27).
Let us avoid being deceived by those who exploit the name of the Holy Spirit but in fact are self-indulgent, using the Holy Spirit to win people who will “sow seeds” for them. Let us be guided by the Holy Spirit. The evidence is in producing the fruit of the Spirit rather than those of self-indulgence. The “results of self-indulgence are obvious: sexual vice, impurity, and sensuality, the worship of false gods and sorcery, antagonism and rivalry, jealousy, bad temper and quarrels, disagreements, factions and malice, drunkenness, orgies and all such things” (Galatians 5:19-21). Whether the person is a miracle worker or prophet, the important thing is the producing of the fruit of the Holy Spirit in the way of living and acting: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self-control. No law can touch such things as these. All who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified self with all its passions and its desires” (Galatians 5:22-24).
As we celebrate the Christian Pentecost, let our attitude and mindset be open to the Holy Spirit and not allow ourselves to be misled by people who exploit the Holy Spirit for material gains and for their private interests. Indeed, many Catholics are leaving the Catholic Church to follow those who claim fantastic powers of the Holy Spirit. With St. John I advise you: “Children, do not let anyone lead you astray” (1 John 3:7). The Catholic Church continues to present to us the full working of the Holy Spirit to ensure that authentic Christians live by the guidance of the Holy Spirit. In baptism, the person is born again with water and the Holy Spirit (see John 3:5). The Christian is strengthened in his faith by the Holy Spirit at Confirmation (see Acts 8:17). Through the Sacrament of Confirmation, Christians receive the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit for their sanctification. Christians are expected to be guided by the Holy Spirit in their lives: “Since we are living by the Spirit, let our behaviour be guided by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25-26). Let us all join the Catholic Church in living and working with the Holy Spirit: “The Church is the Temple of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is the soul, as it were, of the Mystical Body, the source of its life, of its unity, and of the riches of its gifts and charisms” (CCC, no. 809).
Most Rev. Hilary Paul Odili Okeke
Bishop of Nnewi