In the Post Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Oceania, Pope John Paul II wrote: "Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the Church in Oceania is praying for a new Evangelisation of peoples who today hunger for Christ ... a new evangelisation is the priority for the Church in Oceania" (18).
The power of the Holy Spirit: how do we discern this? To do this we need to reflect back to the early beginnings of the Church.
The Church from one perspective is a visible human society. It is a living organism so to speak in which Christ would be present "until the end of time", and in which the Holy Spirit would always be powerfully present. The disciples had been told, "stay in the city until you are clothed with the power from on high" (Lk 24: 49).
So obediently they went back to Jerusalem to the upper room where they all "joined in continuous prayer". They had no way of knowing how this "power" was to come nor how long they would have to wait except for the words of Jesus, "You, not many days from now, will be baptised with the Holy Spirit" (Acts: 1:5).
The power to which Jesus referred arrived in "what sounded like a powerful wind from heaven" and "they were filled with the Holy Spirit." From that moment the disciples became so fully alive that in a short time the Jews referred to them as "the people who have turned the world upside down" (Acts 17:6).
The Spirit had truly brought them to life enabling them to fulfil Jesus' promise that they would "do all that he did, even more" (John 14:12).
This new Church, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, would develop and evolve to meet ever- changing needs and circumstances.
If we reflect upon the history of the Church we see clearly the truth of this reflected in the case of the sacraments, the hierarchy and the decrees of the Second Vatican Council.
The apostles passed on to their successors their authority to teach and to interpret divine revelation in a continuous transmission to the end of time. The Church guided by the Holy Spirit and under the authority and supervision of the bishops, transmits the truths of revelation from one generation to the next. The Vatican II document Dei Verbum reminds us, "The Church in her doctrine, life and worship, perpetuates and transmits to every generation all that she herself is, all that she believes" (8).
In the Acts of the Apostle we are told that the Holy Spirit gives many gifts. This "variety of gifts" includes healing, miracles and prophecy, and others, less spectacular but no less extraordinary, such as patience, wisdom, preaching and faith.
St Paul explains that although we have different responsibilities in the Church, it is the same Holy Spirit who inspires us all and draws us together as one body (1 Cor 12:3-7; 12- 13). All these gifts were given to those who were prepared to give up their own lives, those who, in a sense, were "helpless and powerless" like the apostles after the death of Jesus (Acts 2:1-11).
The importance of this truth cannot be exaggerated. Only when the bodily presence of Jesus had been removed from the apostles could His Spirit return so that He could be with them in a much more wonderful way.
Therefore in moments or days or years when our Lord seems to have removed Himself from our presence, we should remember this truth: provided we wait in faith He will send us His Holy Spirit to give us comfort and strength.
In his Encyclical on the Holy Spirit, Dominum et Vivificatum, John Paul II offers us the consoling thought that "In the midst of the problems, disappointments and hopes, desertions and returns of these times of ours, the Church remains faithful to the mystery of her birth. While it is an historical fact that the Church came forth from the Upper Room on the day of Pentecost, in a certain sense one can say that she has never left it.
"Spiritually the event of Pentecost does not belong only to the past: the Church is always in the Upper Room that she bears in her heart. The Church perseveres in prayer, like the Apostles together with Mary, the Mother of Christ, and with those who in Jerusalem were the first seed of the Christian community and who awaited in prayer the coming of the Holy Spirit."
Church in Australia
St Paul tells us that the "Spirit is given to each person" and that we share in the gifts of the Spirit (1 Cor 12:4-11) and we contribute to the life of the Church. Therefore each of us has a common labour with the Holy Spirit for the Church of Australia. As the Statement of Conclusions put it:
"This common labour is before all else a co-operation with the Grace of the Holy Spirit, each one praying for the wisdom always to give first consideration to the honour of God and the salvation of souls, and by begging for the strength needed for the task of building up the Body of Christ, so that all efforts may bear abundant fruit for the mission of the Church in Australia and beyond" (Statement of Conclusions, Synod of Bishops and Roman Curia, November 1998).
Fr Dennis W Byrnes is a recently retired parish priest of the Lismore Diocese, NSW. He currently resides in Port Macquarie, NSW, and has been a regular contributor to 'AD2000'.