We are coming up on Pentecost, one of the three biggest celebrations of our liturgical year.
We are told there is an inheritance waiting for us in heaven, but for now we have been given the Holy Spirit as a “first installment” (Ephesians 1:13-14; 2 Corinthians 5: 1-5). So what does it mean that we have been given the Holy Spirit?
I want to emphasize that the answer must not be primarily about feelings. I have heard many people who talk about “feeling close to God” as their primary test for their practice of the faith. This is dangerous. I would suggest our Scribe and Pharisee friends in the Gospels got into trouble when they confused feeling holy with being holy. Daniel Mattson in his book Why I Don’t Call Myself Gay shares a lesson his father taught him: “In the planetarium where he worked, I would often sit next to him as he gave presentations to visiting school children. My favorite part of every program was the moment when he made the star projector spin speedily, round and round, making it feel as if all of us in the auditorium were spinning. The dome of the planetarium filled our vision, and though we knew we were seated firmly in our chairs, it felt as if we were dizzily careening through space. As the gathered children enjoyed the experience, my father would use the moment to teach them about Nicolas Copernicus’ revolutionary discovery that the earth revolves around the sun, not the other way around, as most men had believed throughout history. ‘Feeling are important,’ he would say, ‘but they don’t always tell us the truth.’”
What should we look for as a sign that the Spirit is working in our lives? It is always a good thing to start with Jesus, who said, “So by their fruits you will know them (Matthew 7:20; see Luke 6:43-46).”
What are the fruits of the Holy Spirit? St. Paul teaches they are “love, joy peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23, and memorizing that list would not be a bad thing).” If the Holy Spirit is at work in us and if we are cooperating with that work, we should demonstrate an increase in those qualities. We all fall short, but we can be headed in the right direction.
However, it would be a grievous error to focus our faith life only on our personal development. I suggest that what Jesus said about fruit and harvesting has more to do with gathering people to Him as He has commanded us to do. If we read the following texts from that lens I think they will make the most sense: “At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is abundant but the laborer are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest (Matthew 9:36-37).’” “After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others whom he sent ahead of him in pairs to every town and place he intended to visit. He said to them, ‘The harvest in abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest. Go on your way; behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves (Luke 10:1-3).’” We see in John 4:35-36 Jesus talks about seeing the fields ripe for the harvest and that “one sows and another reaps.” In John 15: 1-17 He talks about us being branches on the vine and remaining on Him in order to bear fruit that will remain.
Acts of the Apostles has been called “The Gospel of the Holy Spirit.” We see the work of the Spirit most memorably in the story of Pentecost in Acts 2. The celebration of Pentecost in the Jewish calendar was the feast of first fruits. That will wait for a future article.