The Gospel of the Holy Spirit
Throughout his ministry, Jesus made clear that the Holy Spirit is essential to the life of the people of God, as individuals and collectively. Indeed, the Spirit has been at work from the beginning, albeit in a mysterious way. Obviously the voice of God that came to Abram and Moses was the movement of the Spirit. Later the Spirit would speak through the prophets, including the messianic prophecies of Isaiah, in which we are told of the gifts of the Spirit (11:2-3). Later, God reveals his plan to make a New Covenant and pour out his Spirit upon his people (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Joel 3:1-5; Ezekiel 36:25-28).
Likewise, Jesus said he would not leave us orphans – he would continue to teach us and be with us always, until the end of the age (Matthew 28:20; John 14:15-26, 15:26-27, 16:13-14). This would happen through the extraordinary gift of the Holy Spirit, which gives us the power to be Christ’s witnesses to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).
That outpouring of the Spirit, we read in the Acts of the Apostles, happened in a dramatic and visible way on Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4). By virtue of this anointing by the Spirit, the Church was born and the mission of Jesus became the mission of the Church. Immediately, Peter goes out and proclaims salvation in the Crucified and Risen Christ (Acts 2:14-41).
Through all the action and drama in Acts, these missionary disciples draw their strength from the Spirit. What was implicit in the Old Testament is made clear in this book about Christianity’s early years, which guides us today. Saint Luke shows that the Spirit speaks through the Apostles and directs their movements. The Holy Spirit gives them words, courage and zeal for evangelization. So pervasive is this divine character in the drama of Acts that the book has been called “the Gospel of the Holy Spirit.”
Spiritual writers since Saint Augustine have spoken of the Holy Spirit as the “soul” of the Church, which animates and builds up the Body of Christ. The Spirit inspired the human writers of the Gospels and letters of the New Testament, just as he did the authors of the Old Testament. Likewise, the Spirit has guided and protected the Church throughout history in her teachings.
From these small beginnings in Galilee and Judea, disciples set off in all directions to spread the Good News, and they managed to conquer the world for Christ. This was no easy feat. As Jesus said they would, they encountered much opposition and persecution. Acts relates the martyrdom of Stephen and James and many more would offer up this ultimate witness along the way. But the Holy Spirit – who is the principal agent of evangelization – provides Christ’s people the grace of fortitude to persevere, as well as helping them in what to say and how to say it to those they encounter.
The book of Acts is remarkable in that it has no real ending. The narrative simply stops with Paul in Rome. The rest of the story is up to us. As we conclude our reflections on Acts, it is my prayer that we all rejoice in the Holy Spirit and then take that joy to the world.
Now it is our turn. This is a challenge in the midst of our secular culture, which is more and more coming to resemble the first century of Rome. But the Holy Spirit is stronger than all the vices and evils of the world. With the fire of the Spirit enkindled in our hearts, as it was in the disciples we encounter in Acts, we can be bold and joyous heralds of hope to a world that has great need for witnesses of Christ’s saving love.