Pastoral Message – MAY 23, 2021
Pentecost Sunday is here again. On this day, Roman Catholic Christians remember back to that scene described in Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 2. That’s always our first reading at Mass on Pentecost Sunday. So, it’s familiar to us. But please allow me to add a little backstory.
To set the scene, Jews are gathered in Jerusalem from everywhere to celebrate a harvest feast. And Jesus’ disciples were together in “one place”. They had been instructed by Jesus, just before He ascended into heaven, not to take off and scatter but to stick around the neighborhood. So there they were, gathered together, when a forceful rush of wind came from the sky.
What was that rush of wind? The disciples might have remembered back into salvation’s history- God’s Spirit blowing over the waters at the creation of everything. They might have remembered the Spirit rushing upon David when he was anointed King of Israel. They might have remembered Jesus’ power, calming howling winds and stormy seas. Or maybe, upon reflection later, they remembered just the opposite when God was not in the earthquake, fire or wind, but was revealed in a still, small voice to Elijah, the prophet. Those examples of the Holy Spirit’s revelation might have come to mind, or not.
Anyway, this rushing, driving “wind” of the Holy Spirit was accompanied and followed by “tongues as of fire” which rested on each one. These disciples were enkindled, or aroused, enlightened, inspired – really set on fire. They were given the gift of the Holy Spirit so they might continue the mission of Jesus Christ. At that moment these disciples became active participants in the history of salvation.
Before I go further, I think I should point out that Pentecost as a feast isn’t exclusive to Christians. Pentecost is the Greek name for an older celebration, the Jewish Feast of Shavuot, also known as the Feast of Weeks. This Feast was an early summer harvest feast that was 7 weeks, or 49-50 days out from the Feast of Passover. (It’s still celebrated by some of our Jewish friends today. But more on that in the paragraph below.) Both Passover and Shavuot were Jewish feasts that required a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. So Jerusalem was full of pilgrims and tourists. As out-of-towners, they might not have heard about Jesus Christ- his passion, death and resurrection. But they were attracted by this supernatural phenomenon- this rush of wind from the heavens. A crowd gathered around the group of disciples, who seemed to be at the center of this driving wind, fire and subsequent praise of God. And even though the disciples were obviously Galileans, they began to speak in ways that were comprehensible to everyone – there was no division due to language barriers. Folks understood the praises offered by the disciples in their native languages. How could this be? It could only be by the action of God.
Well, here is the really cool theological stuff. The Jewish feast of Shavuot today celebrates the giving of the Torah to Moses and the Hebrew people. Torah, love of Torah, study of Torah becomes the source of enlightenment and revelation to Israel. Torah means “instruction”, “guide”, “standard” or “law”. So today, and for the last 2000 years or so, Shavuot is less about making grain offerings and thanksgiving for a bountiful harvest and more about receiving the Torah and the wisdom and life that is found in studying God’s revelation.
For Christians the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost becomes the source of preaching, enlightenment and revelation. The rushing, on-fire inspiration of the Holy Spirit is the source of our “instruction” – Apostolic Tradition and Scripture that flows from the early Church. The Holy Spirit working through the magisterium of the Church is our “guide” and “standard”. Together, the canon of Scripture and Sacred Tradition becomes our source of teaching, study, our understanding of Christian relationship and Catholic identity. What we celebrate on Pentecost then becomes the foundation for who we are, all that inspires us, and the human-Divine relationships that make us Christians. If the giving of the Torah founds, centers and continues to inspire our Jewish sisters and brothers, so the gift of the Holy Spirit founds, centers and inspires us today.
So, with all this in mind, let’s thank God the Father and Jesus Christ, for giving us the Holy Spirit on this Pentecost day. And then let’s invite the Holy Spirit to enkindle the fire of God’s love in us all. So we can join the original disciples and all those true Christians who have followed, in being a part of salvation’s history.