When the spirit comes as a breath it gives life and spiritual gifts. When it comes as a wind it empowers the recipient.

Our first reading today is the account from The Acts of the Apostles in which St. Peter explained to the crowd on Pentecost Sunday how it came about that the wonderful message of the Apostles could be understood by people who spoke other  languages. He said it came about because they had received the Holy Spirit.

People who have listened to me must be weary of my coming back to the subject of the Spirit. My excuse is that I once had a parish where an active Charismatic group made life uncomfortable for those of us who did not share their enthusiasms. That group without leaving our parish, joined up with a Protestant group who were also “Spirit filled.” Together they built a little church on the edge of town, making those of us who would not join them feel that we were only half-Christian.

That difficulty motivated me to look deeply into just what the Scriptures had to say about receiving the Spirit. From the beginning  I came upon the source of much confusion. It was this: the Bible word for spirit, Ruah, was also its word for a breath and a wind. So when the Bible spoke of God’s Ruah, the scholars were forced to decide whether to translate it as spirit, breath or wind. But, after pondering the matter, they began seeing that the circumstances told them which it was.

In Chapter One of Genesis the mighty Ruah blowing over the abyss was obviously a wind. In Chapter Two of Genesis the Ruah by which God gave life to Adam had to be a breath.

From that, as they proceeded through the Old Testament they begin to see a clear pattern developing. When the Ruah came as a breath it gave life and interior spiritual qualities to the one God breathed on.  When the Ruah came as a wind, or whirlwind, it gave its recipient dramatic powers without making him or her a better person.

In the Book of the Prophet Isaiah the Ruah came twice, once as a breath, once as a wind. Chapter Eleven prophesied that the Ruah would give the Messiah the interior gifts of wisdom, understanding, council, fortitude, knowledge and fear of the Lord. In Chapter Sixty-One the wind-like Ruah would make him out-going, empowering him  to heal and to liberate prisoners.  

On Easter night Christ breathed on the Apostles, bringing them inwardly alive (with the gift of Sanctifying Grace) but it did not visibly empowering them. On Pentecost he sent the Ruah as a mighty wind, empowering them with boldness and the gift of tongues.

Our first reading today concludes with Peter explaining how the Apostles came by their newfound powers. He said that Jesus, triumphant in death, was raised to the right side of the Father in heaven. As his reward for giving himself completely “He received the promise of the Holy Spirit from the Father and poured him forth, as you see and hear.”

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