Chapter ten of the Acts of the Apostles reports a contentious debate which ends with the Holy Spirit “falling upon” all there and an eventual agreement between the parties. In contrast to the earlier incidents with tongues of fire and a descending dove, there’s nothing visible to the eye in this divine appearance. If we had been there, what might have been our experience of the Holy Spirit’s descent? What would have been happening in and around us?
A clue comes in the debate’s outcome. The two factions, Jew and Gentile, come to understand each other in light of a larger picture. What ingredient expanded their outlooks so that they could now stand together inside that wider horizon?
Might it be called an infusion of big-heartedness, a stretching of minds and hearts, an opening toward the greater good – or, in the testimony of Acts, the nearness of the Holy Spirit. This was God’s loving and active presence permeating the scene, exactly who the Holy Spirit is. It is poured out by The Lord Jesus who both communicates this love and has also performed the ultimate loving act, sacrifice for the good of others, a total life in the service of the sister and brother.
When we meet love in our lives, we are experiencing The Spirit. The force that overcame the split between Jews and Gentiles was none other than The Father’s very Self appearing in His Spirit. Whenever today we witness generosity, we too are in the territory of Spirit, God’s love coming into us and flowing around us. This is what the Spirit’s “falling upon” indicates, the emergence of large heartedness, sacrifice, forgiveness and truthfulness. God’s Holy Spirit empowers those things; meeting them, we encounter that Spirit.
We might for instance think of a mother’s love for her child – self-forgetful, tender and caring, lasting a lifetime, always wanting the best. Coming upon these is to experience Jesus Christ alive in His Spirit. St. Louise de Marillac, a mother herself, touched on just this when counseling hope to one of her Daughters of Charity, “How good it is to trust God, to turn to Him often then, as children in need turn to their father and mother.”
When we strive to live out Jesus’ core command to love, whether it be one to another, or race to race, or rich to poor, or even enemy to enemy, we are intermingling with the divine Presence in the here and now.
Finally, this same passage in the Acts highlights one especially privileged setting in which believers experience The Spirit’s descent. “When Peter was still speaking these things, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who were listening to the word.” (Acts 10:44). Whenever we gather and open ourselves to that same Word, may we too know the touch of that healing presence.