Saint Thomas of Canterbury, Bolton

Stay with us, Lord, on our journey

Lent and Easter




Come Holy Spirit

In the Acts of the Apostles St. Luke tells us that the risen Lord "had shown himself alive to them after his passion by many demonstrations". By his appearances Jesus had slowly assured his apostles that it was himself, that he had truly conquered death and passed into a new life of glory. "For forty days he had continued to appear to them" says Luke. Remember that figure "forty". First it recalls the forty days Jesus had spent in the desert, preparing for his public ministry. Then it takes us back even further, to the forty years in the desert during which God prepared His People of old to enter the Promised Land. Luke is drawing our attention to another beginning: now God is preparing the beginnings of the new People of God, the Christian community.

Jesus had instructed them to wait for the promise of the Father when, "not many days from now, you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit". He went on to promise that "you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and then you will be my witnesses ... to the ends of the earth". After saying this Jesus was taken from their sight, hidden by a cloud of divine presence. The time had come for him to return to his Father. He would not be seen any more walking the roads of Galilee, teaching the crowds, healing the sick and the lame, bringing forgiveness to sinners. And yet, Luke tells us in his Gospel account, "they went back to Jerusalem full of joy". When they assembled this time in the Upper Room it was no longer in fear as at the time of his death. Now they came together with confidence and "joined in continuous prayer" with other disciples, including Mary, the Mother of Jesus.

Perhaps the Evangelist John can give us some insight into the nature of their prayer, for it is he who tells us how, during the Last Supper, Jesus had promised the gift of the Holy Spirit. He had told them that he was going away, but promised that he would not leave them orphans, for "the Father will give you another Advocate to be with you for ever, the Spirit of truth". When he does come, said Jesus, "the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything". "He will be my witness", said Jesus, "and you too will be witnesses" for the Spirit "will lead you to the complete truth ... and will tell you of things to come". Indeed, he had gone on to say, on that night before he died, "It is for your own good that I am going because unless I go the Advocate will not come to you; but if I do go I will send him to you".

And so they clung to his promise that "not many days from now you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit", and they remembered his earlier promises, and they waited and they prayed. And on the day of Pentecost they were all gathered in one room "when suddenly they heard what sounded like a powerful wind from heaven ... and something appeared to them that seemed like tongues of fire ... they were all filled with the Holy Spirit". The breath of divine life was given to them; the fire of divine love burned within them. Jesus was no longer simply with them. By the gift of his Spirit he was within them. He was closer to them now than he had been when they had walked through the villages of Palestine together. He held them together in unity now in a new way, no longer by being simply there amongst them, but from within, making each of them one with himself and all of them one in him.

In this great Pentecost event, with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, a new community had come into being, the Church was born. It is the community of those who share the risen life of Jesus, the community of those who have received the gift of his Spirit. St. Paul speaks of the Church as the Body of Christ. Notice, he does not say the Church is the body of believers in Christ, but the Body of Christ himself. The Church is not just a society or an organisation of people who share the same interests and beliefs; it is the living Body of the risen Christ; the Holy Spirit is its breath of life and we are its members. By the gift of his Spirit, Christ makes us one with himself. He shares with us his own life as Son and invites us to join him in calling God our Father. He shares with us his love for the whole world and invites us to continue his mission of proclaiming to the world the Good News of the Kingdom of God.

All of this is expressed quite beautifully for us in the Third Eucharistic Prayer where we are reminded that "All life, all holiness comes from you (Father) through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, by the working of the Holy Spirit". We sometimes forget that all our life, all our goodness, indeed everything about us that is good, comes through the working of the Holy Spirit. It is through the gift of the Spirit that we belong to the Church and share new life; because of the Spirit within us that we have faith and can pray; by the power of the same Spirit that we can grow into the likeness of Christ and continue his work. This is what we remember in the Fourth Eucharistic Prayer when we say: "that we might live no longer for ourselves but for him, he (Christ) sent the Holy Spirit from you, Father, as his first gift to those who believe, to complete his work on earth and bring us the fullness of grace". The Holy Spirit is the life, the light, the power of this Spirit-filled community we call Church and of all its members.

As we approach the Feast of the Ascension of our Lord, it is opportune for us to reflect anew on the place of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Between this Feast and the Feast of Pentecost we would do well, as a parish, to be "joined in continuous prayer" with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, with the apostles and the other disciples, asking God for a fresh outpouring of his Holy Spirit on the whole Church, on our parish community and in our own individual lives.

God our Father,
let the Spirit you sent on your Church
to begin the teaching of the gospel
continue to work in the world
through the hearts of all who believe.