The Meaning of Pentecost in the Life of a Christian

Fr. James Chelich, 1992

Pentecost is more than an event that inaugurated the life of the Church long ago. Pentecost is a moment waiting to happen in the life of every Christian. A moment that can and perhaps needs to happen many times in the life of a Christian. For the meaning of Pentecost we must turn to the Scriptures: “In the time after His suffering He showed them in many convincing ways that He was alive, appearing to them over the course of forty days and speaking to them about the reign of God. On one occasion when He met with them, He told them not to leave Jerusalem: ‘Wait, rather, for the fulfilment of my Father’s promise, of which you have heard me speak. John baptized with water, but within a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit…You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes down on you; then you are to be my witnesses…’ They returned to Jerusalem…Entering the city, they went to the upstairs room where they were staying…Together they devoted themselves to constant prayer.” Acts 1:3-14 Why did Jesus ask them to stay? What where they praying about for those nine days in the upper room? To gain answers to these questions we have to think about the change that had just taken place in their lives. Their beloved Jesus, with whom they had walked the roads of Galilee and the streets of Jerusalem and to whom they had turned in every situation and with every need, was no longer physically present with them in the manner upon which they had grown to depend. In Jesus the disciples had found a whole human being, fully alive and in perfect communion with God. He was, as Saint Paul says, “the image of the invisible God”; but he was also the image of all God had created and intended a human being to be. In every way he had proved to be a complete human being of life-giving character. They wanted Him back with them the way he had been before. Jesus couldn’t be with them as he had been before. For as long as he remained with them in that way their desire would never have matured, and it had to mature to the “wanting” of something more.

Holy Desire “Blest are they who hunger and thirst for holiness; they shall have their fill.”

In the upper room the disciples faced the pain of the loss of Jesus’ familiar presence. Yet despite this they refused to let go of his promise that he would remain with them always. (Jn 14:18-21; Mt 28:20) In the tension of this context the power of God was at work in them and upon them. A new and profound awareness of his presence with them was awakened, and with it a new desire was formed. It was a desire to be what they had so clearly seen in Jesus: a desire to be a man or woman of authentic moral character, fully alive, whole and healed, and capable of bringing healing to others. In the nine days between Jesus’ ascension and Pentecost their desire matured. It was no longer a co-dependant “wanting” Jesus around to be the person they were not, to supply the virtue missing in their own character and to face the brunt of life’s joys and pains for them. It had now become a mature “wanting” of Jesus to be present with them and in them, enabling them to be the whole person they now believed they could be “through Him, with Him and in Him.” This transformation of desire was the work of the Holy Spirit. It made them capable of know-ing the presence of Jesus and communion with him. It was accomplished in the crucible of sustained prayer.

Holy Desire is Not Complete Until It Has a Direct Object

With the right “wanting” a person can pierce heaven. This “right wanting” is a wanting to be the new human creation we see in Jesus. (Rm 6:3-4; 2 Cor 5:17; Eph 4:20-24) But it is also something more. Holiness is not an end in itself. When it becomes so, it becomes self-righteousness. We begin to use our virtue as a point of comparison with the people around us. Toward those who fall short of our virtue we grow contemptuous and judgmental. Toward those who excel us in virtue we become resentful and envious. An incomplete “holy desire” ends in disaster. True Holiness, a character cut in the image of Jesus, is not an end in itself. It must have a direct object. I must want to be the person I see in Christ for someone! For whom? First and foremost, for God! Then, from the stability gained from this primary ground, my desire to be the person I see in Christ becomes my gift to others: to my husband, to my wife, to my children, to my neighbors, my employees, my fellow human beings. When a man or woman hones a “holy desire” to be the person they see in Jesus Christfor God and as a gift to the people around them, this desire pierces heaven and draws down upon them the power of God in the Person of the Holy Spirit. This is what happened on Pentecost day and this is the universal truth of Pentecost.

Honing a Holy Desire

We “want” Jesus to be with us for a multitude of things: we want Him to take care of this and that, to protect and watch over friends and loved ones, to further along a number of personal projects, to open up new prospects and to ensure a number of personal investments. Yet the simple truth is: the more a single desire to be the whole human being we see in Jesus for God and as a gift to others fractures into a multitude of “wants”, the more we dissipate the power of our faith and become frustrated, impatient and angry with God and others for not accomplishing our agenda. Our spiritual lives become impotent. If we wish to sustain the power of our faith, honing our “wants” (even the religious ones) into the single “holy desire” will be an art we need to learn and practice again and again. Collapsing the items on our personal agenda takes careful effort. It requires retreat (withdrawal physically and emotionally from the press of the world). It requires re-reading the Gospel and responding with a fresh personal offering of ourselves to Jesus. It is done through a focused meditation that identifies and names our fractured “wants”. Finally, it is done by an effort of sustained prayer that allows the Holy Spirit to collaps these “wants”, one by one, into a single “holy desire” to be the person we see in Jesus for God and as a gift to the people around us. The result is a living awareness of Jesus, communion with God and others, personal empowerment, true human freedom, and happiness. The result is a woman or man fully alive! Can a human being pierce Heaven and draw down the fire of God? Yes! The right desire, honed by sustained prayer in the heart of a woman or man can draw down fire from Heaven. Pentecost is always wanting to happen.