The Great and Glorious Feast of Pentecost
Sunday May 28, 2023
In our last blog, we celebrated the Feast of the Ascension of Jesus.
After Jesus left the disciples, he gave them and us, the commission to “make disciples of all nations”. And in today’s reading from Acts, we find them “together in one place”, and . . .
“[Then] suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind,
and it filled the entire house in which they were.
Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire which parted
and came to rest on each one of them.
And they were all filled with the holy Spirit
and began to speak in different tongues,
as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim (Acts 2:1-21.)
(We’re told the mother of Jesus was at the Pentecost event as well.) No longer afraid, they courageously preached the message that Jesus established a new order for people’s lives. They began gathering the church. The Acts of the Apostles is in effect the gospel of the Holy Spirit.
“In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss, while a mighty wind swept over the waters.”
“When the day of Pentecost came it found the brethren gathered in one place. Suddenly from up in the sky there was a noise like a strong driving wind.”
The Holy Spirit is associated with that wind. The wind that blows where it wills. The wind that stirs things up and gets people moving.
The word for “wind” in Hebrew is “Ruah” — the same as the word for “breath.”
Often at night as I’m sitting in my chair, or laying in bed, I’ll just pay attention to my breathing for a while. Sometimes I imagine that the Holy Spirit is the breath entering me, and when I exhale, I’m breathing out the Holy Spirit as well.
What a wonderful image is breath! Breath is life itself. No breath, no life in the body.
The mighty wind of Pentecost stirred things up and the church was born. The apostles and the others who were part of their company, including the women were given enthusiasm. The origin of the word comes from the Greek–en-theos–meaning–“in God”. So, the original sense of the word is that enthusiasm is a divine gift.
In the beginning of scripture, there’s a story about the tower of Babel–a story that tries to explain why there are so many different languages on the earth and why we cannot understand each other–why there’s so much discord, so much disharmony, so much hate.
The story has God confusing the languages of people at Babel (Gen. 11: 1-9) and from that day onward they were scattered.
On the day of Pentecost the opposite happened. People were gathered together. Parthians and Medes and Elamites; people from Cappodacia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia and Egypt — all heard the apostles speaking to them in their own languages.
On the day of my ordination, I was filled with enthusiasm. It was the day before Pentecost, May 24, 1969. (This year –I’m beginning my 54th year of priestly service.)
I was reminded of this prophecy of Joel back then . . . .
“I will pour out my spirit upon all humankind.
Your sons and daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams,
your young men shall see visions.
Even upon the servants and handmaids,
in those days, I will pour out my spirit.” Joel 2:28, 29)
Those were the days immediately following the Second Vatican Council. There was a lot of enthusiasm all over the Church. Those of us who were young, had wonderful opportunities to serve.
The enthusiasm that poured onto me and into me lasted the first full three years of my priesthood. The Spirit really touched my ministry, as he did with another priest who was ordained with me.
Nine years later, the opposite happened. My life crashed in upon me. And I was reminded of still another scripture about the Spirit — the prophecy of the dry bones.
“Dry Bones hear the word of the Lord: “See I will bring spirit into you that you may come to life again. Breathe into these slain, O Spirit, that they may come to life.” (Ezekiel 37: 1)
That’s what Pope Francis is trying to do. Breathe new life into the Church that the Holy Spirit will draw the church together in a new way.
There is still something else to note from the Pentecost story. Tongues of fire rested individually on the heads of each person as is visualized in the image above. The Spirit of God has a special relationship with each of us, just as the Father and the Son do. The Spirit will enliven us according to the gifts and talents that each of us possess.
So this Holy Spirit does wondrous things for us!
The Spirit is the source of inspiration for all who would design and create.
“There are different gifts but the same Spirit; there are different ministries, but the same Lord; there are different works but the same God who accomplishes all of them in every one. To each person the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.
In the seminary I learned to pray for the inspiration of the Holy Spirit before each class. And for me it was a powerful devotion. I realized that the work I produced was more than the sum of its parts. I realize that is still true some 60 years later. If we seek and cooperate with God’s grace, wonderful things can and will happen that are so far beyond what we ever imagine!
It is clear that I needed to bring the Holy Spirit to the foreground of my life again and again. I would like to have a vibrant and vital relationship with the Holy Spirit from moment to moment. In each instant, I hope that I will discern and still follow the Spirit’s lead.
And so, an important role of the Holy Spirit is to encourage gifts. To invite risk. To reach out beyond safe boundaries, as Pope Francis is encouraging his priests to do. To make connections. To unite. To celebrate diversity. The story of Pentecost states that the Spirit of God is uncontrollable – by us. It comes as a “strong driving wind’ and “tongues [on] fire! Or in “Trekkie” language, to go “where no one has gone before.”
The greatest saints did just that! Catherine of Sienna (a woman religious!) chastised the pope and she was only 33 years-old when shed died. Francis Xavier undauntedly stepped off the boat in Japan into a culture very foreign to him. A peasant girl named Joan rallied the French army to victory and was burned at the stake because of it. Katharine Drexel stepped beyond boundaries to treat Blacks and Native Americans as persons. And a supposed “care-taker pope” John XXIII shocked everyone by calling a solemn Council of the Church.
They improvised! They pushed the boundaries of the established ways of doing things! They were not afraid to do things differently. They were bold and convicted in the confidence they received from the Spirit of God – just like the apostles at Pentecost. They were the innovators, the Reformers. The ones who led and changed the Church. They listened to the Holy Spirit who prompted / disturbed / prodded / led them/ inspired them / and who became their “Defense Attorney” or Advocate, i.e. “Paraclete.” They simply learned to trust that they were tuned into God from moment to moment who would guide them in what to say and do at the appropriate time.
Our world, our country desperately needs people with that kind of enthusiasm and conviction today. I pray that as I have entered my 54th year of holy priesthood, I may still have some of that enthusiasm and joy and conviction to serve God’s holy people! Please pray me!
Now, I’m not quite done with you yet, on this long post on this Memorial Day weekend, dear friends, because there’s one more important word to offer. I often rely on A book of Lent and Easter reflections, and I’m going to end with a powerful word from a German theologian Jurgen Moltmann, who has some rather damning words to say on our political scene today, although he was writing decades ago.
The Feast of Freedom by Jurgen Moltmann
Moltmann is against a Christianity that focuses on the next world, rather on this world.
We’re to get up out of our apathy and the cynicism of prosperity” and fight against “death’s accomplices here and now.”
“This faith sees the raising of Christ as God’s protest against death, and against all the people who work for death; for the Easter faith recognizes God’s passion for the life of the person who is threatened by death and with death. It is proved here and now, through the courage for revolt, the protest against deadly powers, and the self-giving of men and women for the victory of life.
“Weary Christians have often enough deleted this critical and liberating power from Easter. Their faith has then degenerated into the confident belief in certain facts, and a poverty-stricken hope for the next world, as if death were nothing but a fate we meet with at the end of life. But death is an evil power now, in life’s very midst. It is the economic death of the person we allow to starve; the political death of the people who are oppressed; the social death of the handicapped; the noisy death that strikes through napalm bombs and torture; and the soundless death of the apathetic soul.
“ It is impossible to talk convincingly about Christ’s resurrection without participating in the movement of the Spirit “who descends on all flesh” to quicken it. This movement of the Spirit is the divine “liberation movement,” for it is the process whereby the world is recreated. In a world of politics that dislikes “diversity”, and wants to put librarians in jail, we might want to listen more attentively to what the Holy Spirit might be saying to us this Pentecost and beyond!
Taken from Jürgen Moltmann’s Book The Power of the Powerless (123-126)
And may we celebrate today the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives, in the Church, in our world and in, indeed, all of creation!
Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful,
and enkindle in them the fire of your love.
Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created.
and You shall renew the face of the earth.
May it be so. May it be so.
Now, here’s the ancient Sequence for the Feast ~ or if you will, a poem that occurs within the Mass . . .
Come, Holy Spirit, come!
And from your celestial home
Shed a ray of light divine!
Come, Father of the poor!
Come, source of all our store!
Come, within our bosoms shine.
You, of comforters the best;
You, the soul’s most welcome guest;
Sweet refreshment here below;
In our labor, rest most sweet;
Grateful coolness in the heat;
Solace in the midst of woe.
O most blessed Light divine,
Shine within these hearts of yours,
And our inmost being fill!
Where you are not, we have naught,
Nothing good in deed or thought,
Nothing free from taint of ill.
And before you go, here is Carey Landrey’s “The Spirit is a’movin’ ” that he sang for my ordination. Be sure to turn up your speakers .
Heal our wounds, our strength renew;
On our dryness pour your dew;
Wash the stains of guilt away:
Bend the stubborn heart and will;
Melt the frozen, warm the chill;
Guide the steps that go astray.
On the faithful, who adore
And confess you, evermore
In your sevenfold gift descend;
Give them virtue’s sure reward;
Give them your salvation, Lord;
Give them joys that never end.
And here today’s Mass readings.