The Apostles, cowering in fear, locked in the Upper Room, were waiting until the threat to their lives had subsided. While they hid, Jesus appeared to them, gave them his peace, and explained the Scriptures to them. We have all had moments where we felt overwhelmed and, just as he did with the Apostles, Jesus desires to break into these periods of fear and difficulty, strengthen us and give us a mission.
This past Sunday we received the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the Church by celebrating the Solemnity of Pentecost, recalling his action throughout history. When he created the world, God the Father breathed his Spirit over the waters of the earth and created life. Then, after he ascended into heaven, he sent his Holy Spirit to us in a new and powerful way at Pentecost, giving the Church “power from on high” (Lk. 24:49).
That same promise of power, in the form of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, is meant for each of us today. The Apostles received the gift of being able to speak in other languages, accompanied by the visible sign of a flame over them. Their words, like the Prophet Elijah’s, “burned like a torch” (Sir. 48:1) and brought many to the faith.
The Solemnity of Pentecost and the sending forth of the Apostles in power is closely tied to a theme Pope Francis writes about in his recent apostolic exhortation, Gaudete et Exsultate (Rejoice and be Glad), the theme of “Your Mission in Christ.”
Given the richness of the Pope’s document and its importance for living out the faith, I am writing about it this week and in my next column, when I will touch on two other key sections: “In Constant Prayer” and “Combat and Vigilance.”
In Gaudete et Exsultate, Pope Francis dedicates the “Your Mission in Christ” section to examine how each person, like St. Peter, has a purpose in life: to become a saint. “That mission,” the Pope explains, “has its fullest meaning in Christ, and can only be understood through him. At its core, holiness is experiencing, in union with Christ, the mysteries of his life” (GE, 20).
After the Apostles received the Holy Spirit and glorified God in many languages, Peter stood up, boldly proclaimed what God was doing and called on the thousands of people gathered to repent and be baptized. In doing so, Peter was fulfilling the unique mission that God had given him. As we know from the Scriptures, Peter continued to follow his unique path to sanctity as the first Pope, eventually giving his life for the faith.
Your journey in holiness will have different features, just as every saint is unique in his or her relationship with the Lord. It could range from small things like comforting a sick child, to sharing with others the joy of the Gospel, or accompanying someone who is dying. But you can be sure that no matter the path, you will experience both Christ’s death and resurrection in a unique and personal way. Walking in the footsteps of the Lord, means allowing your heart to become more like his. You experience “the various aspects of Jesus’ earthly life: his hidden life, his life in community, his closeness to the outcast, his poverty and other ways in which he showed his self-sacrificing love” (GE, 20).
This journey underscores that each of our lives conveys a word from God to the world. “Every saint is a message which the Holy Spirit takes from the riches of Jesus Christ and gives to his people,” (GE, 21) the Holy Father teaches. During his earthly life, the heart of Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit, who moved him and inspired him. After his Ascension into heaven, he poured out the very same Spirit on us. The Spirit does in us what he did in Jesus Christ. If we let him, the Holy Spirit will bring forth the virtues of Christ in our hearts and we will become living images of Christ.
While this might seem impossible, Pope Francis counsels us to focus on each saint’s entire journey of growth in holiness,” rather than getting caught up in details, where we might also encounter “mistakes and failures” (GE, 22). This is an important point for our carefully crafted social media age that promotes facades of perfection. Real life is messy, and the strength of the Gospel is the truth that Jesus loves and redeems us despite knowing our sins. One can see this in the lives of the saints in their journeys of following Jesus.
Our lost and confused world needs the word that God desires to speak through each of our lives. Open your hearts to the Holy Spirit and pray for a receptive docile heart, hear the Lord speak to your heart, “…for God all things are possible” (MT 19:26). I join Pope Francis in praying, “May you come to realize what that word is, the message of Jesus that God wants to speak to the world by your life. Let yourself be transformed. Let yourself be renewed by the Spirit…” (GE, 24).