Last week, Christians throughout the world celebrated the feast of Pentecost.
Jesus had asked his disciples to wait for the pouring of the Holy Spirit before his ascension into heaven. It was the Holy Person, the third person of the Blessed Trinity, who would come and give the followers of Christ the strength they needed to face the difficulties that were waiting for the followers of Christ. Thus, after his ascension, the disciples gathered in the upper room in prayer awaiting the coming of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit then came on Pentecost day, which was a day the Jews celebrated the giving of the law on Mount Sinai.
If one examines the great persecutions that the early church went through, he would appreciate the role the Holy Spirit plays in the survival of the church then and now. The quotation that opens this discourse, taken from Geoffrey Hanks in his book 70 Great Christians: The Story of the Christian Church is an eye opener into what the Christian had to go through.
Hanks says although Jesus was put to death by the Romans, it was Jewish authorities – who rejected the claim that he was the Messiah and mounted the first attacks upon the church. Beginning in Jerusalem, followers of the way were imprisoned and beaten, while others such as Stephen and James were executed. The Roman authorities later on declared Christianity to be a religio illicita – a religion not recognized by the state- and Christians became outlaws. One could only imagine the cruel sufferings that were metted to the outlaws when they were caught practising their religion. When Bishop Polycarp of Symrna (69-156), was caught and asked to deny Christ and live, he retorted “Eighty-six years I have served him, and he has done me no wrong- how can I blaspheme my king who saved me.”
The Christian knows that the force behind the endurance he has is the Holy Spirit whom Christ had promised he would send to come and lead the church. Before his ascension, he fully realized that it would not be easy with his disciples- the world would hate them and would try to do all it can to make evangelism impossible. In John 16:1-2 he says, “I have told you all this so that you may not fall away. They will expel you from the synagogues, and indeed the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is doing a holy service to god.”
True to the words of Christ, the Christians were persecuted and killed on the ground that they were atheists because they refused to worship man made gods that were worshipped by the Romans. This is one of the ways that the prophecies of Jesus Christ were fulfilled.
The actualization of the prophecies of Jesus is a clear indication that he was God, and the Holy Spirit whom he has sent will certainly lead us to heaven if we dispose ourselves for him to use us… One thing that intrigues me which also makes my faith stronger in Christ is the prophecy he made in John 12:13—“When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.”
In the physical world, dead people have no influence on the lives of people, but it is the contrary in the life of the Spirit. For instance, no matter how influential someone is, people are inclined to forget such a person after death. During funeral services, friends and acquaintances may promise to take care of the family of an influential deceased member of the community, but then once he is lowered down the grave, the same people hardly remember their promises. But in the spiritual realm, the prophecy made by Jesus that he would draw all people to himself after his death has been actualized. With each passing minute, someone converts and joins the Christianfold.
Jesus knew that it would not be easy with those who would like to continue with his work, that is why he promised to send the third person of the Blessed Trinity to come and live with such people to guide, direct, strengthen and comfort them. Thus the age we are in is the age that is guided by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit inspired the uneducated apostles to preach the message fearlessly and do other great work for Christ amidst myriads of problems. The fact that Christ chose those uneducated people illustrates the point that it is not through our power that we can do great things in the church for the glory of God, but through the power of the Holy Spirit.
In today’s era, killing the followers of the way may not be obtainable in most places. But then a lot of hurdles are put on the way to discredit Christians so that the influence of Christianity may be refused. The devil feels that by swaying people away from the teaching of the church, he may win the battle, but the Holy Spirit will keep on protecting his church.
I was fortunate to interview a bishop in North Africa during the heydays of the sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in respect of the future of the church and he told me that in the over 2,000 years of the church’s existence, it has gone through a lot of trials but it has survived, that is a proof that the church is divine. Thus in the era too, the times may be trying, but the church still has a better future.
As we celebrate this feast, let us open ourselves to the Holy Spirit so that she can use us for the glory of God’s name. Christ has made it known that if we allow the Holy Spirit to work in our lives, he can do great things in us, greater than those he did while on earth so that the world will believe in the God that sent him.
Fr Indyer, CSSp, is the principal of Holy Ghost College, Sankera, Benue State (email@example.com)