POSSESSING OR BEING POSSESSED BY THE HOLY SPIRIT: WHAT HAPPENED ON THE DAY OF PENTECOST? HOMILY FOR THE FEAST OF PENTECOST (YEAR C) Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

Holy Spirit Descent

To possess something means to have or own the thing in question, for instance, to possess a mobile phone means that you have or own one as personal property. Another sense of the usage of the word “possess” refers to being under the influence, control, or enchantment of something, for instance, one could be under the control of one’s mobile phone, in this way, the possessor becomes the possessed. Let us keep this description in our minds as we proceed in the reflection.

The Personality and Mission of the Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit is a person, and at the same time, God. Confusing? Well, that confusion is not a new one. The one Godhead consists of three persons, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy. From the Book of Genesis, we learn about the action of the Holy Spirit over the face of the deep (Genesis 1:2b).

The Old Testament did not clearly define the personality of the Holy Spirit. We rather have such descriptions like the Spirit of God working temporarily through some individuals like Moses and the seventy elders (Numbers 11:25), Joshua (Numbers 27:18), Gideon (Judges 6:34), Ezekiel (Ezekiel 37:1),         Saul (I Samuel. 10:10), David (1 Samuel 16:13). David had so much contact with the Holy Spirit during his highly contentious rulership, and when he sinned, he begged God not to take the Holy Spirit away from him (Psalm 51:11).

The first reference to the Holy Spirit in the New Testament was when the angel Gabriel visited Mary and revealed God’s proposal for her of becoming the mother of the Savior, and she asked, “how can this happen since I am a virgin” (Luke 1:34). Responding the angel says to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore, the child to be born will be holy; he will be called the Son of God (Luke 1:35).

The Holy Spirit vitalized the entire ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ. At his baptism, the heavens opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in the form of a dove (Matt. 3:16). Afterwards, the Holy Spirit led him to the deserted where he fasted forty day and nights and was tempted by the devil at the end of the legendary spiritual exercise. During his sermon in the house of Cornelius, Peter mentions that God anointed Jesus with the Holy Ghost and power and he went about doing good, healing those that were oppressed by the devil because God was with him (Acts 10:38).

Before his passion and death, our Lord Jesus Christ took time to introduce the Holy Spirit to his disciples. He made the following promise, “And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate to be with you forever.” (John 14:16). Our  Lord further indicates that the Holy Spirit is a person that the world has not known, “This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive because it neither sees him nor knows Him, you know Him because He abides with you and He will be in you.” (John 14:17).

From our Lord’s introduction of the Holy Spirit, we understand the following important characteristics:

  • He is an advocate, that is one who intervenes and speaks for another. He would thus be intervening for the followers of our Lord and would speak for them, a reference we see in the Gospel of Luke (12:12). Note that our Lord is the first advocate intervening for us before God in heaven (1 John 2:1).
  • He would be with the disciples forever. This permanent residence of the Holy Spirit with us is the highpoint of the promise of our Lord Jesus Christ. In the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit comes on people and goes but with this promise we would always have Him.
  • Finally, the Holy Spirit is a person. Note from the references above that the reference is about “He, Him” not “it.”

We have further descriptions of the work of the Holy Spirit following our Lord’s introduction. He would teach and remind (John 14:26), He would convict (John 16:8), he would guide (John 16:13), He would empower (Acts 1:8), He would embolden (Acts 4:31), He would lead (Romans 8:14), He would help (Romans 8:26), He would sanctify, (2 Thess. 2:13), He would anoint (1 John 2:20, 27).

The Pentecost Encounter: Possessing the Possessors

The Pentecost is an annual festival among the Jews which comes fifty days that is seven weeks after the Passover (Deut. 16:9-12). The people also call it the feast of weeks and thanksgiving for the first fruits of the harvest. (Ex. 23:16; Numbers 28:26). So, we understand that the Pentecost is not the coming of the Holy Spirit but the apostles and some other disciples of the Lord, including the Virgin Mary, received the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost.

Now, we need to understand what happened when the risen Lord appeared to the apostles at the Upper room within the closed door and breathed on them saying, receive the Holy Spirit (John 20:22) and the event on the day of Pentecost where they experienced the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

In the opening section of this reflection, we pointed out the distinction between possessing a mobile phone and being possessed by one when we must respond to it whenever it rings or delivers a notification. Bringing that image to what happened on the day of Pentecost we understand that the apostles already possess the Holy Spirit and on that historic day, they allowed the Holy Spirit to possess them when they gathered together in one accord and prayer.

Moving Forward: Allowing the Holy Spirit to Have you!

Some time ago, someone asked me why we prepare and pray to receive the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Sunday since we were already baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit and also we received Him on the day of our confirmation when we received the sealing with the Holy Spirit.

My simple answer to that question was that we couldn’t have enough of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and though many of us have Him, we need to allow Him to have us. Put in another way; we need to allow whom we possess through the sacraments to possess every aspect of our lives.

It is thus possible to have the Holy Spirit without Him having us. St. Paul made his clearer in his letter to the Galatians (5:25) where he says if you live in the Spirit walk in the Spirit. Furthermore, in the letter to the Romans (8:14), Paul adds that those who are led by the Spirit are children of God. Being led by the Spirit means allowing the Holy Spirit to possess and direct your life in all circumstances.

As we celebrate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the apostles and all those present at the Upper Room, may we strive to make ourselves available for the awesome impartation of the gifts of the Holy Spirit so that we can bear His gracious fruits. Have a blessed day.

Fr. Bonnie.

One Comment on “POSSESSING OR BEING POSSESSED BY THE HOLY SPIRIT: WHAT HAPPENED ON THE DAY OF PENTECOST? HOMILY FOR THE FEAST OF PENTECOST (YEAR C) Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

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