To understand the impact of Pentecost Sunday's three readings, describing the power and force of the Holy Spirit, we must hear them as they were originally written: independent of one another.

Each author reflects on the effect of Jesus' Spirit in his own community. He's not telling us what we should expect the Spirit to do; he's narrating what has already happened.

After Jesus' death and resurrection, His followers made a life-changing discovery: The risen Jesus in their midst was guiding them along paths they had never imagined themselves taking.

On their own

Quickly, the disciples began to understand that it's one thing to follow behind someone as He takes step after step, eventually arriving at His destination. It's a totally different thing to be out on the point alone, no longer securely looking at someone's back and simply following in His footprints.

Which turn do they make? How far do they go in one direction? When are they to stop?

Though it's clear from Scripture that some disciples took no steps beyond the place where the historical Jesus left them, the majority began to explore areas He hadn't during His earthly ministry.

When they ventured forth, two topics especially created problems: Gentiles and Jesus' delayed Parousia (Second Coming). Only the Spirit could provide the answers.

The latter question had a big influence on the former. As long as Christians expected Jesus to return quickly and take them triumphantly into heaven with Him, they didn't have to worry about Gentiles. But the longer His return was delayed, the more they had to deal with the possible conversion of these non-Jews.

Could they become Christians, or did they first have to convert to Judaism? Having to deal with such questions seems to be why John includes Jesus' well-known statement about the Spirit in Sunday's Gospel (John 15:26-27;16:12-15): "I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when He comes, the Spirit of truth, He will guide you to all truth...and will declare to you the things that are coming."

The Spirit is the force that pushes us through doors we rarely notice exist. It's precisely because some in those early Christian communities refused to acknowledge those doors that Luke deliberately describes the Spirit's Pentecost arrival as being accompanied by three disturbing phenomena: wind, fire and noise (Acts 2:1-11).

The Spirit never comes peacefully. We old-timers remember the answer Pope John XXIII always gave when asked why he was calling an ecumenical council. He'd simply walk over to the nearest window, open it and say, "To let in a little fresh air."

Some contemporary Church observers thoughtfully remarked, "If that window's been shut for hundreds of years, a five-mile-an-hour breeze must seem like a hurricane!"

Force of Spirit

Though our first Christian authors experienced a "ruffling" whenever the Spirit appeared, they also experienced a unifying force in the community that only the Spirit could bring. Luke mentions the gift of tongues that unified the diverse Jerusalem crowd on Pentecost Sunday. And Paul reminds the Corinthians of the "different kinds of spiritual gifts" each Christian possesses (I Corinthians 12:3b-7,12-13).

Yet, no matter how unique and disturbing the gift, "to each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit." In the long run, following the Spirit always unites the community.

Perhaps, like our sacred authors, we modern Christians should spend more time reflecting on the signs of the Spirit's presence than trying to ignore or avoid the Spirit-engendered wind, fire and noise all around us.