Role of the Holy Spirit
What is the role of the Holy Spirit in the work of evangelization?
By Fr. Antonio Elfeghali
September 29, 2006
To evangelize is to proclaim the Good News, the Living Christ to the whole world. The purpose of evangelization is the inner conversion of peoples’ hearts. Jesus entrusted this sublime work to His Church who “exists in order to evangelize” (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 14) and “evangelizes when she seeks to convert” (On Evangelization in the Modern World, 18).
However, according to Pope Paul VI, “Evangelization will never be possible without the action of the Holy Spirit, … Even the most refined preparation of the evangelizer, cannot work without him.” (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 75). Therefore, Pope John Paul II invited us to “gain a renewed appreciation of the Spirit as the One who builds the Kingdom of God within the course of history and prepares its full manifestation in Jesus Christ, stirring people’s hearts and quickening in our world the seeds of the full salvation which will come at the end of time.” (Tertio Millennio Adveniente, 45).
What is the relationship between the Holy Spirit and Evangelization? Why does the Holy Spirit seem to be important in the work of evangelization? What was the role of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the following evangelizers: Mary, Jesus, the Apostles, and the holy men and women of today? The Holy Spirit, who changed the lives of many people, can have a great role in the work of evangelization for many reasons.
1. The Holy Spirit anoints the evangelizer:
The Holy Spirit anointed Mary, the mother of evangelization. At the Annunciation, the angel said 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 called holy, the Son of God.” (Lk 1:34). Mary responded generously saying, “Be it done unto me according to your word.” (Lk 1:38). At that holy moment, “the Word became flesh.” (Jn1:14). The “bush” was set on fire.
The Holy Spirit anointed Jesus, the Messiah, which means the anointed One. At His baptism, “the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form, as a dove.” (Lk 3:21-22).
The Holy Sprit anointed the Apostles. At Pentecost, “they were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 2:4). The early Church “experienced the divine breath of the Spirit who opens her for the evangelization of the world.” (John Paul II, 3 June 2001).
Today, the Holy Spirit continues to anoint thousands of men and women, who say “Yes” to the Lord.
2. The Holy Spirit calls the evangelizer to proclaim the Good News:
The Holy Spirit called Mary, who was conceived with Christ, to proclaim the Good News to her cousin Elizabeth. “Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.” (Luke 1:39-40).
The Holy Spirit drove Jesus to proclaim the Good News. “The Spirit of the Lord God [was] upon [Jesus], because the Lord has anointed [Him] to bring good tidings to the afflicted; he has sent [Him] to bind up the brokenhearted to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.” (Luke 4:18-19).
The Holy Spirit drove the Apostles to proclaim the Living Christ. After Pentecost, “The Spirit transformed [the apostles] into courageous witnesses to Christ and enlightened heralds of his word. It was the Spirit himself who guided them along the difficult and new paths of mission.” (Redemptoris Missio 87). Despite threats and imprisonment the Apostles had to face, the Holy Spirit came to their help and they “continued to speak the word of God with boldness.” (Acts 4:31).
Today, the Holy Spirit continues to call thousands of men and women to proclaim the Living Christ to all people with the power of the Holy Spirit. They help their brothers and sisters to get out of darkness and regain sight, to walk without stumbling, to be purified and forgiven, to receive the Word, to be delivered from the voices of lies, to have a meaning for life, and to hear the Good News.
3. The Holy Spirit fills the hearts of those who hear the evangelizer:
The Holy Spirit filled the heart of Elizabeth after she heard Mary’s greeting. “When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, ‘Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?’” (Luke 1:41-45).
The Holy Spirit transformed the lives of those who heard Jesus. After his Baptism, Jesus began to proclaim the Kingdom of God with the power of the Holy Spirit. The “blind [regained] their sight, the lame [walked], lepers [were] cleansed, the deaf [heard], the dead [were] raised, the poor [had] the good news proclaimed to them.” (Luke 7:22). All this work of evangelization was done with the power of the Holy Spirit.
After His Resurrection, “Jesus breathed on his disciples, and said to them, “‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” (Jn 20:22).
The Holy Spirit transformed the lives of those who heard the Apostles. After Pentecost, thousands of people listened to St. Peter’s speech. “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand persons were added that day.” (Acts 2:41). The Holy Spirit led the sinners to repentance and baptism. He built the Church. He bestowed His gifts on those who accepted the message.
Today, the Holy Spirit continues to transform the lives of those who hear the Good News from the mouths of evangelizers. «[He] prepares men, precedes them with his grace to pull them towards Christ. He manifests to them the Risen Lord, he reminds them His word, opens their Spirit to the intelligence of his death and resurrection. He renders them present in the mystery of Christ, especially in the Eucharist, with the aim to reconcile them and to put them in communion with God so that they will bring much fruit» (CCC 737).
4. The Holy Spirit prepares new evangelizers:
With the visitation of Mary-the evangelizer- to Elizabeth, the Holy Spirit prepared John the Baptist- who was filled with the Holy Spirit in his mother’s womb at hearing Mary’s greeting- to become “a voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.’” (Matthew 3:3). He became an evangelizer, proclaiming the coming of the Kingdom of God.
With the life of Jesus Christ on earth, the Holy Spirit prepared the disciples to proclaim the one whom they have heard, have seen with their eyes, looked upon and touched with their hands. Jesus, Himself, gave them the Holy Spirit and sent them saying, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Mt 28:19).
Today, with the life of thousands of holy men and women, the Holy Spirit prepares a new generation of evangelizers. The Holy Spirit “distributes special graces among the faithful of every rank. By these gifts He makes them fit and ready to undertake the various tasks and offices which contribute toward the renewal and building up of the Church.” (Lumen Gentium, 12).
The Holy Spirit is the fire that Jesus set on earth: “I have come to set the earth on fire and how I wish it were already blazing!” (Luke 12:49).
The story of this fire began at the Annunciation with the Yes of Mary and started to blaze at Pentecost with the Yes of the Apostles. Since then, the fire of the Holy Spirit has been on the move. He has filled peoples’ hearts with His power, sent them to proclaim the Good News, led men and women to conversion, and prepared new evangelizers to be the heralds of the Good News. This huge work of evangelization has never been stopped.
The process of preparing men and women to be evangelized and to evangelize shows us the importance of the role of the Holy Spirit in the work of evangelization.
Paul VI said, “It is [the Holy Spirit] who, today like at the beginning of the Church, operates in every evangelization and which allows being taken and led to Him... He acts, mostly in the evangelization mission: it is not by chance that the great beginning of the evangelization came the morning of Pentecost, under the breath of the Spirit. We can say that the Holy Spirit is the principle evangelizing agent, it is he who pushes and announces the Gospel and in the intimacy of the conscience welcomes and makes it possible to understand the words of salvation.” (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 75).