Teaching The Culture of Pentecost

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John Paul II has spoken extensively about the culture of life and the culture of death. He also has coined the phrase “culture of Pentecost”

“In the final analysis, all your evangelizing activities tend to foster in the People of God constant growth in holiness. Indeed, holiness is the priority in every age, and therefore also in our own time. The Church and the world need saints, and we ourselves become holier the more we allow the Holy Spirit to configure us to Christ. This is the secret of the regenerating experience of the "outpouring of the Spirit", a typical experience that defines the process of growth proposed for the members of your groups and communities. With all my heart I hope that Renewal in the Spirit may be a true "gymnasium" in the Church for prayer, asceticism, virtue and holiness.

"In a special way continue to love and spread love for the prayer of praise, the form of prayer that recognizes more immediately that God is God; praises him for his own sake, gives him glory for who he is, long before thinking of what he does (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2639).

"In our time that is so hungry for hope, make the Holy Spirit known and loved. Help bring to life that "culture of Pentecost", that alone can make fruitful the civilization of love and friendly coexistence among peoples. With fervent insistence, never tire of praying "Come Holy Spirit! Come! Come!".  (ADDRESS OF JOHN PAUL II TO A DELEGATION OF MEMBERS OF THE RENEWAL IN THE HOLY SPIRIT MOVEMENT   Thursday, 14 March 2002

The dictionary identifies culture as “the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group” or “the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes a company or corporation.” We may say it is the milieu or environment in which a person lives which influences and forms the person.

So if a person grows up in an environment of negativity and pessimism, we can expect that will be the mind set of the person. On the other hand, if a person grows up in a culture of love, we can expect that person will reflect that experience.

The culture of Pentecost flows from the culture of life.

What has God revealed to us concerning the culture of Pentecost? To understand this we first must see the role of Pentecost in the total plan of the history of salvation.

The ultimate plan of God is capsulated in Ephesians 1:3-6

God, as a reflection of his love, created all things, including the creation of man and woman and said: It is very good. God, as a reflection of his love, shared his divine life of intimacy with man and woman, who were free to accept and respond to being one with God or reject and experience alienation from God.  We know what happened.

But God in his infinite mercy loved us and chose to become one like us in all things but sin. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us for God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that all who believe in him may not die but have eternal life. The Son so loved us that he gave his life, he took upon himself the sin of the world, so that we may be reconciled to God, sharing the divine life as his sons and daughters.

But the plan of God was not limited to salvation through the death of Jesus on the cross. God so loved us that he poured out his Holy Spirit upon us to sanctify us and to empower us.

The Paschal mystery includes the incarnation, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus as well as the coming of the Spirit upon us. In the plan of God thus reflected upon what two words stand out? Love and Life. What action is paramount in God’s plan? Mission.

The culture of Pentecost is defined by those three concepts and realities: love, life and mission. As such the culture of Pentecost is rooted in the trinitarian love, life and mission of God. It is the fulfillment of God’s plan.                                                   

“God the Father is never ending love, the eternal gratuitousness of Love. It is He who initiates in us all that we would be unable to initiate alone. In this manner God has made us capable of love: He was the first to love us and will never tire of loving us. When we are loved we begin to love. The Father is He who Loves eternally, who started to love from the very beginning and who provokes in us the history of love, contaminating us with His gratuitousness. If the Father is He who Loves eternally, the Son is He who is Loved eternally. He who has always allowed himself to be loved. The Son makes us understand that not only love is divine: allowing oneself to be loved is also divine, as is receiving love. It is not only gratuitousness that is divine, gratitude is also divine. God knows how to say thank you! The Son, He who is Loved, represents eternal reception, He is the one who has always answered yes to Love, the living obedience of Love. The Holy Spirit renders the Son present in us every time we are capable of saying thank you, meaning when we are capable of welcoming the love of others.  It is not enough to begin to love, one must allow oneself to be loved, one must be humble when faced with the love of others, leave space for life, welcome the other. This is how we become an icon of the Son in welcoming love. There where the other is not welcomed, especially those who are different, God is not welcomed, one is not the image of the eternal Son. Finally, in the relationship between He who Loves and He who is Loved there is also The Holy Spirit. In the contemplation of the mystery of the Third Divine Person there are two great theological traditions, the Eastern one and the Western one. In the Western traditionBfrom Augustine onwardsBthe Holy Spirit is contemplated as the bond of eternal Love, that unites He who Loves and He Who is Loved.  The Holy Spirit is peace, unity, the communion of divine Love. Therefore when the Holy Spirit enters us he unites us within ourselves, reconciling us, and uniting us with God and with all others.  The Holy Spirit bestows the language of communion, allows peace to exist, makes us capable of unity, because there is their personal love between He who Loves and He who is Loved, the bond of eternal charity, bestowed by One and received by the Other. Alongside this tradition there is the Eastern one, in which the Paraclete is called the Aecstasy of God@: according to the concept the Holy Spirit is He who breaks the circle of Love, and creates in God the truth that Alove does not mean gazing into each other=s eyes, but looking together towards the same goal@ (A. de Saint-Exupery). This is the way the Spirit works in God: Not only does He unite He who Loves and He who is Loved, but he enables God to Aexit@ from him, because this gift is a divine one, the Aecstasy@, the Aexisting outside@ God, Love=s exodus with no return.

"Each time God leaves himself, He does it in the Holy Spirit. It is so in the creation (The Spirit of God moved over the waters...@ Gene 1:2). It is so in the prophecies.  It is so in the Incarnation (Athe power of the Most High shall overshadow you@ Lk 1:35).  It is so in the Church, upon which the Holy Spirit is effused at Pentecost (Act 2:1-13). The Spirit is therefore the freedom of divine Love, the exodus and the gift of Love.

AWhen we will have allowed the Holy Spirit to reach out and transform us, we shall be unable to remain gazing into each other=s eyes, we will need to go out and take to others the gift of that love with which we have been loved. It is only there where there is this urgency to love that the fire of the Holy Spirit burns. A believer or a community that has welcomed the gift of the Holy Spirit, but that does not live this ecstacy of love, this uncontrollable need to bestow on others the gift of God in the testimony of words and the service of charity, would not have reached the fullness of love.  The Church would not be an Aicon of the Trinity." (Bruno Forte, God the Trinity)

Let’s look at those three realities: Love, life and mission. They are not separated from one another but interrelated and interdependent.

The undeniable fact and truth of revelation and experience is that God loves us unconditionally. He is the first initiator of love and the Other who is loved. He calls us into being without us knowing anything. We are made in his own image and likeness. Therefore, there is a self-goodness and self-worthiness and lovableness already inherent within us from the moment of our conception.

For most of us, we were born into a family of some faith in God, even if it was only minimal. This family, unbeknown to us, brought us to the font of baptism so that we may share God’s divine life as his son or daughter. God in his love immersed us in the mystery of Jesus’ death and resurrection. We became a new creation, the dwelling place of the Spirit.

Even though at some time or other we may have followed the path of alienation from God, God pursued us in love. At some point in our journey the reality of God’s love for us and his call to grow in holiness became so evident that we could no longer resist. This compelling love of God stirred a deep desire within us to respond. God was truly our Abba to whom we sought to be obedient. What we may have professed on our lips became a burning conviction in our hearts. Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior of our lives. Our yes to him became a growing desire to Yield everything to the Savior. The Spirit was no longer the unknown person in the Trinity but the personal, anointing and empowering presence within us, giving our life new meaning and purpose.

God’s word, though heard and read audibly many times before, became truly the internalized revelation of God to me personally. There was a new hunger in my heart. The celebration of the Eucharist was not an obligation to be fulfilled but a time to worship in spirit and truth the living God, who is both transcendent and immanent.

The gifts of the Spirit which I heard about at the time of Confirmation was no longer limited to the gifts of Sanctification: Wisdom, Knowledge, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Piety and Fear of the Lord. Rather, I became aware of and open to the multitude of charismatic gifts for the up building of the Body of Christ. Signs and wonders were no longer for the times of the past or for a few canonized saints to experience and manifest, but for anyone being led by the Spirit to exercise.

Prayer became not limited to formalized and memorized words and petitions but spontaneous and joyous expressions of praise, thanksgiving, adoration and worship before the Holy One.

Sharing with others what God had done in my life became a strong desire of my heart. Sharing with others who had similar experiences and desires to grow in their relationship with God became a way of life.

Maybe it is best to let the Word of God express this culture of Pentecost to us.

After being baptized with the Holy Spirit and fire in which they experienced the different spiritual manifestations,  the apostles on the Day of Pentecost did what Jesus commanded them to do. They witnessed to others the plan and promise of God–the very plan and promise that they were now experiencing. Their witnessed centered on the person of Jesus Christ who was both Lord and Messiah, crucified and risen.

The pre-culture of Pentecost begins with a basic question: “What must I to do to experience this plan and promise in my life? This pre-culture has left a void in my life and a hunger for something more.”

The culture of Pentecost begins when we affirm our baptismal graced-life by consciously and freely accepting and welcoming Jesus more fully into our lives; when we consciously and freely choose to turn away from sin and turn our lives over to the way of the Lord; when we desire and pray for the fuller release of the gifts of the Spirit with expectancy.

This initial response to grace creates a desire for the more that God has for us. This more is reflected in Acts and other parts of the New Testament. “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ instruction and the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and the prayers. A reverent fear overtook them all, for many wonders and signs were performed.” They went to the temple area together every day to worship. They witnessed and evangelized others.  “Day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:42-47) “The community of believers were of one heart and one mind.”(Acts 4:32)

The most frequent phrase used in the scriptures expressing this culture of Pentecost is a person was “filled with the Holy Spirit.” What does that look like?

There is a new desire to grow in holiness, not just to avoid serious sin, but to uproot habitual sins as fully as possible from one’s life. The words of Paul become a conviction: “lay aside your former way of life and the old self which deteriorates through illusion and desire and acquire a fresh, spiritual way of thinking. You must put on that new man created in God’s image, whose justice and holiness are born of truth.”(Eph 4:22-24)

As this desire grows to be purified of anything displeasing to God in our lives and to put on the attitude of Christ, we experience the transforming power of God. In the words of Paul, “All of us, gazing on the Lord’s glory with unveiled faces, are being transformed from glory to glory into his very image by the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Cor 3:18)

This transformation is reflected by the fact that love is the foundation of all that is done and the “way which surpasses all others.” (1 Cor 12: 31) For we become convicted that love is the only debt we owe each other.

Where at one time fear and concern what others may think of us blocked us from speaking about the marvels of God in our life, there is a new self-assurance that is based on the words of Peter. “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight for us to obey you rather than God. Surely we cannot help speaking of what we have heard and seen.” (Acts 3:19-20) Even when they were persecuted for their boldness in speaking the word of truth, they were “full of joy that they had been judged worthy of ill-treatment for the sake of the Name.” (Acts 5:41)

When the community was threatened internally with disagreements, what did they do? They prayed and discerned what was God’s plan and then proclaimed the truth: “It is the decision of the Holy Spirit, and ours too.”(Acts 15:28) Prophetic words were discerned and acted on when confirmed to be of the Lord.

The culture of Pentecost involves not only growing in love and living in the Spirit and not in the flesh. But it also involves mission, living out the mission of Jesus in our time and place. Jesus came in the power of the Spirit to proclaim the good news of God’s love with “miracles, wonders, and signs as his credentials.” (Acts 2:22). Having fulfilled the plan of the Father for him, on the day of Easter Jesus gave the Church it’s mission. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Then he breathed on them and said: “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (Jn 20, 21-22) What did Jesus send them to do? “Go and make disciples...baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Teach them to carry out everything I have commanded you. And know that I am with you always, until the end of the world.” (Mt 28:19-20)

The culture of Pentecost has as its mission witnessing and evangelizing in the power of the Spirit. This is what Peter and the twelve did on the day of Pentecost and 3,000 were baptized and filled with the Holy Spirit. This is what Peter and John did after the cure of the crippled man at the gate of the Temple. They witnessed and evangelized the crowd that were amazed at the healing. They witnessed with self-assurance to the Sanhedrin when called before them to testify by what power did they heal.

When threatened with punishment if they continued to witness about Jesus as Lord and Messiah, the Apostles rejoiced in the fact they suffered for the sake of the Name of Jesus. They gathered with the community of believers and prayed for a greater outpouring of the power of the Spirit in their lives. They continued to speak God’s word with confidence in the power of the Holy Spirit.

The call of evangelization is at the heart of the life in the Spirit.  You are to be my witnesses, you are to receive power from the Holy Spirit, you are to be my witnesses—these were the last words of Jesus to the apostles before the Day of Pentecost.

Paul VI “We wish to confirm once more that the task of evangelizing all people constitutes the essential mission of the Church."[36] It is a task and mission which the vast and profound changes of present-day society make all the more urgent. Evangelizing is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelize, that is to say, in order to preach and teach, to be the channel of the gift of grace, to reconcile sinners with God, and to perpetuate Christ's sacrifice in the Mass, which is the memorial of His death and glorious resurrection.” (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 14)

“The work of evangelization is not over.  Indeed, so much remains to be done that we can not forget, in the words of the Second Vatican Council, that missionary activity "for the Church is a supremely great and sacred task"(Ad Gentes, 29). the duty of carrying forward this work rests on the whole Church, and on every member of the Church.” (P.John Paul II, Sept. 14, 1987)

“Proclaiming Christ means above all giving witness to him with one's own life.  It is the simplest form of preaching the Gospel and the most effective way available to you....The world today has special need of believable witnesses.” (John Paul II 1991)

“New evangelization demands a witness of life which can lead to a renewal of charismatic fervor. It requires a profound renewal in proclamation and works, done in perfect ecclesial communion, in such a way as to make the new evangelization really ‘new’. The new evangelization today also urges adoption of that ‘enterprising apostolic character’ common to an authentic apostolic creativity and based precisely on the charisms of the Spirit, so that new methods might be brought about as well. In the first place, it calls for a commitment to live the Gospel which is preached and to incarnate it in one’s personal life and in the life of the comunity in such a way that the proclamations of the good news might be sustained by the very strength of a life of witness to the Gospel. The more (the evangelisers are such) by means of the dynamic and irresistible energy of the light and heat coming from the truth and charity of Christ, so much more will their lives witness to the Gospel they profess.” (John Paul II, On Consecrated life, # 42)

Living in the Spirit does not mean living in a perfect world. There is still persecution from others, both in the family, in the church and from outside. There is still misunderstanding and differences of approaches. There is still the human weaknesses and imperfections and sins. But now because of the gift of the Spirit we have been given a new way of dealing with these difficulties. Using the gifts of discernment and understanding, exercising the gift of praying in tongues, seeking the face of the Lord, surrendering ourselves totally to the will of God, we seek what God wants us to do. The apostles when confronted with the first major rift in the community over the difference of care of the widows of the Gentile converts and those of the Jewish believers, discerned that they were to pray and preach the word. They raised up the order of deacons to do the ministry of service to the community. When Paul was challenged over his insistence that Gentile converts were to be baptized not first be circumcised and were not subjected to the Mosaic dietary laws, the matter was brought to the elders of the community. These listened and discerned: “It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and ourselves.”

The culture of Pentecost involves submission to the authority of the Church and to discern the will of God.

I believe that the pastoral initiatives which the late John Paul II challenged the Church with at the beginning of this new millennium are consistent with the culture of Pentecost. The ten areas he focused on were: holiness, prayer, Sunday Eucharist, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the primacy of grace, listening to the Word of God, Proclaiming the Word, witnesses of love, the spirituality of communion, ecumenical commitments.

What does this mean to us who seek to inculcate a culture of Pentecost as the norm for all who are baptized and confirmed? Not only are we to grow personally in holiness but we must train others in the ways of holiness. In regards to prayer, the pope said: “our Christian communities must become genuine ‘schools’ of prayer, where the meeting with Christ is expressed not just in imploring help but also in thanksgiving, praise, adoration, contemplation, listening and ardent devotion, until the heart truly ‘falls in love’...It is therefore essential that education in prayer should become in some way a key-point of all pastoral planning.”

In a culture of Pentecost, one shares fully in the Sunday Eucharist and sets aside Sunday itself “as a special day of faith, the day of the Risen Lord and of the gift of the Spirit, the true weekly Easter.”

Regular reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation becomes important as people are called to a more radical turning away from sin and a deeper life of holiness.

In all things, those living in the culture of Pentecost recognize that our works are useless unless they are done in and through Christ. It is the primacy of grace which motivates and completes all initiatives. The works of Christ are clear: “With me you can do all things, apart from me you can do nothing.”

The culture of Pentecost sharpens one to listen to the Word of God with new antennas. In the words of John Paul II: “It is especially necessary that listening to the word of God should become a life-giving encounter, in the ancient and ever valid tradition of lectio divina, which draws from the biblical text the living word which questions, directs and shapes our lives.” Teaching this tradition is part of the on-going formation we should be providing those hungry for the Word of God.

Listening to the Word of God must also lead to proclaiming that message of life and love to others.  In the words of John Paul II “This passion will not fail to stir in the Church a new sense of mission, which cannot be left to a group of "specialists" but must involve the responsibility of all the members of the People of God. Those who have come into genuine contact with Christ cannot keep him for themselves, they must proclaim him.” This pastoral initiative also involves training people in the basic techniques of witnessing and evangelizing which respects the other who is evangelized.

The greatest witness we can give is the witness of love lived in the conscious awareness of our unity with the Triune persons of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and with one another as brothers and sisters in the Lord.

The culture of Pentecost is summed up in a paragraph from the document “Fanning the Flame” which I will adapt and expand slightly. The culture of Pentecost involves persons living in a faith community that worships in vibrant liturgy, is bonded together by the Holy Spirit, serves one another, is committed to ongoing conversion and growth, reaches out to the inactive, the unchurched and to the poor. Such Spirit-filled communities confront us with the gospel and evangelize our culture. In these communities, as in the Acts of the Apostles and the early church, the charisms of the Holy Spirit are identified, welcomed and exercised. In this way “the community of believers are of one heart and mind” while dealing with the daily personal and communal struggles in faith, hope and love of the Christ who saved them and in the power of the Holy Spirit who sanctifies, empowers and missions them.

To conclude let me return to the words of John Paul II: “In our time that is so hungry for hope, make the Holy Spirit known and loved. Help bring to life that ‘culture of Pentecost’, that alone can make fruitful the civilization of love and friendly coexistence among peoples. With fervent insistence, never tire of praying ‘Come Holy Spirit! Come! Come!’".

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