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The Age of the Holy Spirit

English Spanish Fr. Eduardo Barrios, SJ Profile

The Church celebrated the glorious feast of Pentecost yesterday, May 15. This Easter event marks the dawning of the Age of the Holy Spirit.

There is no way that the term can be understood in the heterodox sense given by Gioacchino da Fiore (1135-1202), a monk. He divided sacred history into three stages: the Age of the Father, corresponding to the Old Testament; the Age of the Son, beginning with the Incarnation of the Son of God, or New Testament; and the Age of the Holy Spirit, beginning in the XIII century, which would set up a world so idyllic and in direct communication with God, that the Church would be rendered superfluous. He stated that this age would begin in the year 1260; he obtained the date from a subjective exegesis of Revelation 11:3 and 12:6. His predictions were censured by Pope Alexander IV (+1254).

We call the Age of the Holy Spirit the time encompassing the history of salvation, between the moment when Jesus finishes his historic mission and his Parousia or glorious return, meaning the time of the Church.

The role of the Holy Spirit gains strength when "the fullness of time" (Gal 4:4) comes. The Incarnation of the Word is achieved by the grace of the third divine person: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (Lk 1:35a.). The third evangelist is the one who most emphasizes the work of the Holy Spirit in the public life of Jesus, especially with the scenes of the baptism and the temptations in the desert. He also points to the action of the Holy Spirit in Jesus' prayer: "At that very moment he rejoiced (in) the Holy Spirit and said, ‘I give you praise, Father...'" (Luke 10:21.).

But the full outpouring of the Holy Spirit would have to wait for Jesus to rise again. On one occasion Jesus said, “Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink" (Jn 7:37). The evangelist explains that invitation with these words: "He said this in reference to the Spirit that those who came to believe in him were to receive. There was, of course, no Spirit yet, because Jesus had not yet been glorified" (Jn 7:39).

St. Luke, author of the Acts of the Apostles, dates the coming of the Holy Spirit 50 days after the Resurrection. Pentecost is a word that is derived from the number 50. The first reading of yesterday’s Mass narrates the mystery that closes the Easter season, Acts 2:1-11.

But St. John, always inclined to unify the glorious mysteries, places the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of the Resurrection. By declaring that the sacrament for the forgiveness of sins is the fruit of his redemptive work, Jesus tells his apostles: "Receive the Holy Spirit" (Jn 20:22). Some biblical scholars come to think that St. John refers to the Holy Spirit as an immediate result of the death of Jesus. The phrase, "and bowing his head, he handed over his spirit" (Jn 19:30) allows two interpretations. The most obvious is that Jesus died, but it could also be read as "handed over his Spirit" with a capital letter, referring to the Holy Spirit.

The truth is that the Pentecostal experience turned the apostles and other disciples into new creatures. We can say that the Church was fully born from this third glorious mystery. The spectacular growth of the new People of God cannot be attributed to either the shrewdness or the eloquence of the first preachers, but to the action of the Holy Spirit.

The Acts of the Apostles, the inspired document that could be considered the history of the early Church, could well be called “Gospel of the Holy Spirit” – such is the role of the Spirit in all apostolic missions developed by those apostles, deacons and faithful of the first days of Christianity.

How is it that so many Jews and gentiles became Christians when there were no printing press, radio, TV, internet or as many communication resources as we have today? Because docility to the promptings of the Holy Spirit prevailed. People did not act simply on the basis of human criteria. To stress the leadership of the Holy Spirit, the author of the Acts of the Apostles dramatizes the story by making the Holy Spirit speak. "While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them’” (13:2).

The diligence of the Holy Spirit in the time of the Church develops discreetly. Let's say the Holy Spirit keeps a low profile. A theologian has called the Holy Spirit "Divine Humility." It happens that the Holy Spirit does not have its own magisterium, nor seeks to focus attention on itself. Its action is third and last in the Economic Trinity. God, in himself, is known as "Immanent Trinity," but His performance in the creative and redemptive work reveals the Economic Trinity. The initiative of salvation comes from the Father who sends the Son, who says that He teaches what the Father has entrusted Him to convey. "The Father who sent me commanded me what to say and speak” (Jn 12:49). In turn, the Holy Spirit embraces the teachings of Jesus: "The Advocate, the Holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name — he will teach you everything and remind you of all that (I) told you" (Jn 14:26).

For today’s Christians to fulfill the apostolic mission received, we need the action of the Holy Spirit. We need to remain open to its inspirations and responsive to its charisms.

The annual celebration of Pentecost invites us to pray so the Holy Spirit can inundate us with its seven gifts of wisdom, understanding, counsel, strength, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord (cf. Is 11:1-2.).

How can we know that we really are living as temples of the Holy Spirit? A phrase of Jesus comes up: "By their fruits you will know them." (Mt 7:16)

So, the fruits of spiritual people, that is, those guided by the divine Paraclete, are "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control " (Cf. Gal 5:22-23).

Fr. Eduardo Barrios, SJ
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Comments from readers

Rafael Bezos - 05/18/2016 09:56 PM
9798 Very didactic. Easy to understand. Thanks
Mariam - 05/16/2016 02:00 PM
Fabuloso! Como Siempre este Padre, Muy intelectual y investigativo con Un articulo simplemente espectacular ! Gracias Padre, Dios lo bendiga !!!

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