I THOUGHT YOU SHOULD KNOW | The Holy Spirit energizes us for evangelization

This is one of the most shocking, yet joy-filled passages of the Bible. The disciples have locked themselves in the upper room in fear of their lives. Just three days before, in this room, they ate the Last Supper with the Master, then abandoned him. They've been confused and deeply distressed since.

Their confusion and distress stems from choices they made in abandoning their Master. They're overcome by fear, grief and shame. They want to reconnect with that last warm memory of Christ's hospitality at the Last Supper, so they pray.

Into the midst of this darkness and gloom, the risen Jesus appears, bearing the marks of His crucifixion. The Apostles might have expected a severe, blistering scolding from Jesus for abandoning Him in His agony and crucifixion.

Instead, Jesus twice says, "Peace be with you." Imagine the self-hatred, self-loathing and shame that was instantaneously lifted from their hearts. They had thought that they would have to live with their self-condemnation for the rest of their lives.

Jesus forgave them without asking questions, and now with their shame and guilt lifted, they may share that mercy and forgiveness with the world.

The Gospel tells us that Jesus "breathed on them and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.'"

In the Book of Genesis, "God formed man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul." Here, Jesus breathes upon them the Holy Spirit, which His Father shares with Him.

The disciples experience a marvelous transformation. They thought their worth to Jesus was over, but now it's just getting started. Before this, they occupied themselves with food and drink to keep their bodies alive; now they're catapulted into a whole new spiritual world.

As the Holy Spirit penetrates this new inner spiritual world day by day, they grow more deeply in their incredible joy. The more joyous they become, the more energized their message of merciful forgiveness.

"As the Father has sent me, so I send you." Just as the Father didn't withhold His only begotten Son but gave Him over for our salvation, the Son, in turn, didn't withhold Himself but gave Himself on Calvary that our sins might be forgiven. The Father's charity flowing through the Son flows into the disciples in the Upper Room. That charity will never cease to flow. The love and forgiveness we receive, we're to pass along to others.

In the first reading, we have a description of the Holy Spirit descending upon the larger Church 50 days after Easter. No longer restricted to the upper room, the disciples gather in one place, and the Holy Spirit comes upon them all, accompanied by a mighty wind and tongues of fire. "They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim."

Naturally, the large crowds of Jews gathered from every nation were amazed and confused because "each one heard them speaking in his own language. They were astounded, and asked, 'Are not all these people who are speaking Galileans? Then how does each of us hear them in his native language?'"

At that point, the newly transformed Peter witnesses to the death and the resurrection of Jesus, and to the forgiveness of sins. Peter's first teaching converts 3,000 people. Energized by the Holy Spirit, the Good News of salvation travels rapidly throughout Judea, Galilee and surrounding countries. God is so alive in the hearts of the new converts that they willingly suffer great torture, just to share the Good News.

The greatest joy is the total removal of shame and guilt due to sin. They feel free and hopeful, and loved by God.

Today, many Catholics have experienced this in what is known as "The Baptism of the Holy Spirit." This isn't a sacrament, but rather an experience of being totally loved by God and filled with His joy and His peace. On Pentecost Sunday in 2008, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said, "Let us rediscover, dear brothers and sisters, the beauty of being baptized in the Holy Spirit ..."

The Holy Spirit desires to transform us. All He needs is our permission. There are many ways to surrender your heart to the Holy Spirit. For instance, offer the following prayer daily:

"Holy Spirit, I give you full permission to seek and search out those areas inside of me about which I am ashamed. Come with your love. Come with your mercy. Help me to embrace that mercy in such a way that I will come into a new freedom and never again be bothered by this shame that I need to conceal. Holy Spirit, right now I give you that permission. Give me the grace to say 'yes' in the depths of my being to all that you wish to do. For that, in advance, I thank you, no matter how painful it may be. I want to come into the life and freedom of Jesus Christ. Amen."

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