15 May – Feast of Pentecost
The name “Pentecost” comes from the Greek word meaning “fiftieth.” Like Easter, it is tied to a Jewish feast. 49 days (7 weeks, or “a week of weeks”) after the second day of Passover, the Jews celebrated the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot).
Passover celebrates the freeing of the Jews from slavery; Shavuot celebrates their becoming God’s holy people by the gift and acceptance of the Law; and the counting of the days to Shavuot symbolises their yearning for the Law.
From a strictly practical point of view, Shavuot was a very good time for the Holy Spirit to come down and inspire the Apostles to preach to all nations because, being a pilgrimage festival, it was an occasion when Jerusalem was filled with pilgrims from many countries.
Symbolically, the parallel with the Jews is exact. We are freed from the slavery of death and sin by Easter; with the Apostles, we spend some time as toddlers under the tutelage of the risen Jesus; and when he has left, the Spirit comes down on us and we become a Church.
When Pentecost day came round, they had all met in one room, when suddenly they heard what sounded like a powerful wind from heaven, the noise of which filled the entire house in which they were sitting; and something appeared to them that seemed like tongues of fire; these separated and came to rest on the head of each of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak foreign languages as the Spirit gave them the gift of speech.
Now there were devout men living in Jerusalem from every nation under heaven, and at this sound they all assembled, each one bewildered to hear these men speaking his own language. They were amazed and astonished. ‘Surely’ they said ‘all these men speaking are Galileans? How does it happen that each of us hears them in his own native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; people from Mesopotamia, Judaea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya round Cyrene; as well as visitors from Rome – Jews and proselytes alike – Cretans and Arabs; we hear them preaching in our own language about the marvels of God.’
1 Corinthians 12:3-7,12-13
No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord’ unless he is under the influence of the Holy Spirit.
There is a variety of gifts but always the same Spirit; there are all sorts of service to be done, but always to the same Lord; working in all sorts of different ways in different people, it is the same God who is working in all of them. The particular way in which the Spirit is given to each person is for a good purpose.
Just as a human body, though it is made up of many parts, is a single unit because all these parts, though many, make one body, so it is with Christ. In the one Spirit we were all baptised, Jews as well as Greeks, slaves as well as citizens, and one Spirit was given to us all to drink.
In the evening of the first day of the week, the doors were closed in the room where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews. Jesus came and stood among them. He said to them, ‘Peace be with you’, and showed them his hands and his side. The disciples were filled with joy when they saw the Lord, and he said to them again, ‘Peace be with you.
‘As the Father sent me,
so am I sending you.’
After saying this he breathed on them and said:
‘Receive the Holy Spirit.
For those whose sins you forgive,
they are forgiven;
for those whose sins you retain,
they are retained.’
To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.
I am an adult convert to the Catholic faith, and I was baptised at a time when confirmation was held a year after baptism. I recall squirming nervously when my fellow catechumens swapped stories about the confirmation retreat – I imagined uncontrollable hysterics, a massive departure from the prosaic faith I thought I was being initiated into.
And because our God is a God of surprises and the Spirit is always working in us, eighteen years on, I now yearn deeply for the gift of tongues, just so that I can cross that liminal space between our good God and me in moments of worship and prayer, in humble recognition that language cannot adequately express my profound awe and gratitude for His abyssal love for me.
So what happened along the way? I was jolted from my routine faith by a personal tragedy, a devastating loss that showed God’s hand was, and is always, over me. Desiring Him intimately became a natural consequence of this newfound relationship. Gradually, I found my prayers moving from an intellectual acknowledgement of the presence of the divine, to interacting with God in them — meeting Him as a dear friend whom I can commiserate freely with and draw strength from, because He is in the midst of the panoply of all my relationships, struggles and dreams. And the Feast of Pentecost celebrates this reality — the mysterious movement of God in our lives through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
In the Gospel today, Jesus reminds us that as persons sacramentalised in the Spirit, we too have been sent forth to “renew the face of the earth”: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” May the Holy Spirit be before you, behind you and within you, as you animate today and every day that Christ lives, proclaiming ‘the mighty acts of God’.
(Today’s Oxygen by Heng San San)
Thanksgiving – Most loving Father, thank you for always meeting me where I am. Thank you for the gift of the Holy Spirit, who inspires, enlivens and renews me. Thank you for gifting us with the Spirit so that we may always draw close to You.
Prayer – Lord, help me to be ever docile to the gentle promptings of the Spirit, so that I can always find God in all things. I pray earnestly and humbly for the gifts of the Spirit, so that these may grace me to do your Kingdom work with courage and candour, helping those whom you place in my life journey to strive always and only towards You.