There are few things more frustrating than being told to do something but knowing, deep down, that you aren’t adequately prepared. Things we long to accomplish can be left undone and untried because of a lack of confidence, training, experience, courage, skills or intelligence. Occasionally, strength of will or holy obedience can help us initiate action toward an important or commissioned goal, but we are reminded about all that we lack, causing discouragement and stagnation to replace energy and hope.
We know that making disciples is intrinsic to the Church’s deepest identity. We know our baptism has grafted us into the body of Christ and therefore made us responsible to help fulfill his mission to seek and save the lost. We know that Jesus’ death and resurrection have won the war over sin and death, and the good news of the Gospel has the power to transform hearts and lead people from darkness to light.
And yet, knowledge and belief are not enough.
We need power.
‘The Promise of the Father’
Think about the first disciples. These men and women experienced the best catechesis, faith formation and liturgical prep in the history of the Church. Their pastor, DRE, director of evangelization and head liturgist was Jesus Christ. He taught, fed, served, astounded, confounded, inspired and ultimately commissioned them to go and do likewise.
Even having received and experienced so much, these disciples were given a task beyond their capacity. Therefore, Jesus instructed them “not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for ‘the promise of the Fatherabout which you have heard me speak; for John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ … But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you,and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:4-5,8)
Jesus didn’t calm the apostles by promising them a packet of evangelization materials; instead, he essentially said, “You will receive divine power and then you’ll do it.” He trusted in the training, the grace and the experience of the previous three years of walking with him. He was excited to send the Spirit and get them moving. Jesus fully understood that the challenge was greater than the apostles could handle; yet he confidently predicted they would accomplish their mission by being clothed with power from on high.
Wait with Intention — Then Ask for More
Imagine the upper room a few moments before the fire of the Spirit descended upon the disciples. The first two chapters of Acts describe the scene: The men were gathered in one place doing exactly what Jesus had asked of them — waiting and praying. While the disciples are often depicted as huddling fearfully in the upper room, Scripture doesn’t tell us whether they were scared. (Though fear, anxiety, nervousness and impatience undoubtedly filled many of their hearts.)
Presumably, many of us have already experienced the waiting portion of this story. As we wait upon the Lord to reveal himself in various aspects of our lives, sometimes he asks us to pause a little longer, and sometimes he asks us to adjust how we wait. Remember that as we anticipate the promise of the Spirit, we need to wait intentionally, not passively. We need to consciously open our hearts, ask for more and then accept him when he comes.
There is a time for waiting and a time for doing, and it’s remarkable how quickly things changed for the first disciples. One moment they were devoting themselves to prayer; the next moment, they were filled with the power of the Spirit, speaking new tongues, glorifying God and going out to fulfill the great commission. Similarly, our efforts toward evangelization must be preceded by a posture that is wide open, full of faith and peacefully and patiently asking for more of the Spirit.
Our baptism and Confirmation ensure that the same Spirit that fell on those first disciples lives in us. All the grace, insight and power necessary for revival lie hidden in the hearts of the children of God. The question is not whether the Holy Spirit is with us, but whether we cooperate with him.
The Spirit in Action
In the apostolic exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi, Pope St. Paul VI bluntly states that the role of the Holy Spirit is the work of mission. He writes, “Evangelization will never be possible without the action of the Holy Spirit.”Talk about a provocative and challenging statement from the vicar of Christ! Paul VI clearly insists that the faithful rely on the action of the Holy Spirit because evangelization is pointless and fruitless without the Spirit.Ignoring or minimizing the Holy Spirit’s role in the new evangelization is like setting out to make fresh bread by gathering all the ingredients and preheating the oven — but ignoring the yeast and wondering why the bread won’t rise.
After the Pentecost explosion, Acts of the Apostles reveals the ongoing and sustaining power the Holy Spirit provides the Church. The next time you read through Acts, take note of how often the Holy Spirit is mentioned. Spoiler alert — it’s a lot! Peter on Pentecost, Stephen before his martyrdom, Peter before the Sanhedrin, Philip with the Ethiopian, Peter with Cornelius, Paul confronting the magician and Paul converting the Ephesians are just a few examples of the disciples allowing themselves to be led and empowered by the Holy Spirit.
The Church would not have grown — and will not continue to grow — without her individual members cooperating with the power of their baptism and Confirmation. We cannot withstand persecution (first three centuries of the Church), rebuke false teachings (St. Athanasius against the Arians), convict hearts (St. Thérèse of Lisieux), innovate mission (St. Francis Xavier), unpack truth (St. Thomas Aquinas), oppose corruption (St. Catherine of Siena) and demonstrate power (St. Vincent Ferrer) without the Holy Spirit. As throughout the whole history of the Church, still today Jesus pours out his Spirit on those who ask, and this freely offered gift transforms the world.