by Father Mike Stubbs
Before the Second Vatican Council, those wishing to join the Catholic Church would attend instructions.
These were classes supplying information about the church and its teachings, its beliefs and practices.
We might suppose that is also what Jesus is doing for the apostles during the 40 day period from his resurrection to his ascension. Sunday’s first reading tells us: “I dealt with all that Jesus did and taught until the day he was taken up, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen” (Acts 1:1-11).
After all, the apostles constitute the very first members of the church. They number 12, the same as the tribes of Israel, since Jesus plans to lay the foundations for the new people of God.
Significantly, though, the word translated as “instructions” means “commands” or “orders.” It does not mean information or knowledge but, rather, orders for what the apostles are supposed to do. The reading goes on to provide an example: “While meeting with them, he enjoined them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for ‘the promise of the Father about which you have heard me speak; for John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.'”
The apostles wait nine days in prayer for the coming of the Holy Spirit, the first novena. In doing that, they have carried out the aforementioned command. But now, they look forward to fulfilling an even more difficult assignment: “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
The instructions that Jesus gives the apostles details how they are to exercise their role as his witnesses. To help them accomplish this, they “will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.”
Significantly, the same Spirit that will empower them also was involved in their receiving instructions from Jesus earlier on. The text says: “giving instructions through the Holy Spirit.”
Somehow, the Holy Spirit is at work in the process of Jesus giving the apostles these instructions. Perhaps the Holy Spirit is the force driving Jesus in giving the instructions, the authority which backs the instructions and compels them to be obeyed.
We might remember the importance of the Holy Spirit at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry: “Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days, to be tempted by the devil” (Lk 4:1-2a).
The Holy Spirit, which played such an important role at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, will likewise play a major part at the beginning of the apostles’ ministry. Once again, the Holy Spirit will be the driving force, the one giving instructions.