Spirit and Life: God’s Word and the Power of Pentecost

Dr Maria Heath of Northampton Diocese challenges us to respond to God’s calling this Pentecost through exploring three Biblical words: WAIT, GO and COME. She helps us to see how our gifts and openness to the Spirit can lead to dynamic discipleship in our church and mission today.

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The three Biblical words WAIT, GO and COME can be a light for our path as we journey towards Pentecost. They are words of spirit and life, words of Jesus which invite, inspire and instruct us.

WAIT

We know that before his ascension Jesus told his disciples to wait until they had been clothed with power from on high[1]. As disciples in the 21st century we too need to think about creating spaces where we can actively and expectantly wait to be filled anew with the power of the Holy Spirit.

Blessed Elena Guerra, at the turn of the last century, challenged the Church to rediscover life lived according to the Holy Spirit, to return to the Upper Room. She wrote that “the first well-spring of renewing action is prayer, which connects us with the Spirit of Christ, He who renews the face of the earth.” Because of her letters, Pope Leo XIII dedicated the 20th century to the Holy Spirit. Pope Leo XIII also issued the encyclical ‘On the Holy Spirit’[2] in 1887 which established the Novena to the Holy Spirit between Ascension Thursday and Pentecost.

In many ways, the Church is the perpetual Upper Room but sometimes we can lose the awareness of this reality because we are so busy. If this is the case then we need to ‘return to the Upper Room’ of prayer and expectant waiting. To remember that we can do nothing without the power of the Spirit.

The Pentecost Novena has sometimes been called the ‘original novena’ because it came at the beginning of the Church’s story. It’s seen something of a revival in recent years across the Church. A wonderful example is the Thy Kingdom Come[3] ecumenical campaign which has a range of useful resources.

GO!

We know that the Church gathered in the Upper Room becomes the Church that is sent and goes forth. From that place of waiting the disciples went out to share the Gospel.

The Vatican II document on missionary activity, Ad Gentes, paints a word picture of the “fountain-like love of God the Father”[4]. This captures the idea that God is missionary, God’s life is constantly flowing out to draw others in. The theology of Vatican II concluded that the Church is missionary by her very nature, because God is missionary. The Father sends the Son, the Father and Son send the Spirit and the Church, and the Church carries that life out into the world. This is exactly what we see at Pentecost: the life of God impelling the disciples to go. To go is the most natural thing for every Christian because the life we have within us is always seeking to flow outwards.

How do we go out and share the Gospel? One encounter at a time. There are no silver bullets or magic formulas. Resources may help us become missionary but in the end are simply tools. At the heart of all the various initiatives are the same realities, and it’s been the same since the day of Pentecost: the community of disciples sharing the Gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit.

The invitation is to “go”[5] using all of the gifts of the Spirit, both the ordinary and more extraordinary charisms[6]. All God’s gifts are given for mission, to be shared in love so that the life of God may flow out to others.

COME

Jesus called people, he said “come, follow me,”[7] imitate me, do what I do. So it’s personal and there is no substitute for this. Discipling people shouldn’t be just another ‘thing to do’. It should inform what we do and how we do it. For Jesus, all of his other activity was important, but he used all of it to make disciples. He taught them how to serve, how to perform miracles, how to teach, how to respond to people, how to ask the right questions and how to suffer (in the Garden of Gethsemane he brings three disciples to teach them how to face suffering).

Jesus shows us that the model for people growing in holiness is the model of discipleship; it involves accompanying, mentoring and apprenticeship. There’s an urgent need to prioritise discipleship. We should always be inspired  by intentionally discipling people, and create environments where people can grow in their prayer, understanding, gifts and in holiness. How many people have you or I intentionally discipled over this last year?

Unfortunately, we can sometimes be too busy to spend time discipling people. But for Jesus it was his priority. It’s not about a programme but about the transforming power of the Spirit, at work in us and our relationships, making us like the Master.

Cardinal Raniero Cantalamessa[8] reminds us that our lives as disciples need to be rooted in holiness and that ultimately we learn holiness through the cross. He observes that people who have charisms without lives characterised by the cross resemble a Christmas tree (an artificial one or real tree that has been cut down) with gifts around it. The gifts are wonderful, having landed around our tree at some point. But the tree doesn’t last and as soon as the gifts are opened the tree is discarded. Instead we should be like the tree in Psalm 1 bearing fruit in due season because it is planted by the living water of God’s Spirit.

Therefore we want to make disciples who ‘come and follow’ to the cross, who live holy and fruitful lives, rather than making ‘Christmas tree disciples’.

So, as we prepare for Pentecost 2021 let’s once more respond to God’s words…WAIT, GO and COME.


Dr Maria Heath is married with 5 children and works as a pastoral worker in a parish in Northampton. She is also the coordinator of the Charis National Service of Communion, which serves the Catholic Charismatic Renewal in England[9]. 

[1] Luke 24:49

[2] Divinum Illud Munus

[3]  https://www.thykingdomcome.global

[4] Ad Gentes 2, Vatican II

[5] Matthew 28:19, Mark 16:15

[6] Lumen Gentium 12, Vatican II

[7] Matthew 4:19, John 21:19

[8] Sober Intoxication of the Spirit, Raniero Cantalamessa, Servant Publications

[9] http://www.ccr.org.uk