For the past week a song has been running through my head, I suppose in anticipation of the Feast of Pentecost. The song is relatively short, something we sang at a prayer group to which I belonged many years ago. It is a song of praise and exhortation, asking the Holy Spirit to "fall afresh on me" and then "on us." I remember how comforting it was to hear our group collectively singing for the Holy Spirit to come upon us with His graces, praying that He would fill us and use us as He desired. Essentially, we were praying for specific graces, asking the Spirit to help us to be good disciples. It seems that this song is connected to my reflection upon the Feast of Pentecost because the intent of the song identifies what was happening when the apostles and disciples were gathered in the Upper Room. They were praying in accordance with what Jesus had instructed them to do, waiting in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit to come down upon them that they might be used as God desired. As the Easter season passes into Pentecost, then, it seems appropriate for us to echo their prayer that the Spirit would fall afresh on us, too.
Asking for the Holy Spirit to descend is something that was never meant to take place on only one day, such as on the original Pentecost or on the day we were baptized. We see this in the fact that Jesus began the process of imparting the Spirit before the day of Pentecost by ‘breathing on’ the apostles when He appeared after His resurrection. (John 20:23) He empowered them through His Ruah (the creative wind and breath of God which was at creation in Genesis 1 and 2) and so this is how they were enabled to understand when Jesus “opened their minds to understand the scriptures.” (Luke 24:45) Later, He instructed them to continue to wait in Jerusalem for the fullness of the Holy Spirit to come, falling afresh upon them, adding more grace to what they had already received.
After the Ascension the apostles followed Jesus’ instructions to the letter. Luke wrote that they returned to Jerusalem for prayer in the Upper Room where many people were present; it was not just the apostles, but rather a group made up of all His disciples, including family. In Acts 1:13-14 Luke named each of the apostles, now eleven, and then he wrote: “All these devoted themselves with one accord to prayer, together with some women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.” In verse 15 he goes on to say, “…there was a group of about one hundred and twenty persons in the one place.” Notice that after the Eleven, soon to be restored to 12, only Mary was named specifically. That she was named reveals that they regarded her highly and that she was an important presence in the midst of their prayer and discernment. They held her in high esteem not only because she was the Mother of Jesus, but because she was a woman of deep and abiding prayer. Mary was (and remains) the best intercessor there is. They had discerned that her gifts were essential to the community, along with their own. But I must point out that all 120 people gathered were in prayer and therefore all were deemed important to the process.
The text of Acts goes on to describe how they chose Matthias, the successor to the betrayer, Judas. In choosing, they exercised the gift of discernment first by listening to Peter as he described how the Spirit had worked through King David in the time before Jesus, and then by proposing two deserving disciples from which to choose. Following this, all 120 people prayed asking for the guidance of the Holy Spirit to choose the one best suited to restore the apostles’ number to twelve which was done so as to have a symbolic connection with the Twelve Tribes of Israel, a sign of the wholeness of the nation as it was originally intended, and hence wholeness for the Church. They then chose lots, trusting that God would reveal the best choice. This process is the basis of that which is still used in all Church discernment: discussion, prayer invoking the Holy Spirit, and thoughtful choosing, often by vote.
It is important that we recognize that Pentecost was the birth of the Spirit-filled community of believers which we refer to as the Church. As a community all members were, and still are, equally responsible to pray for the Spirit to fall afresh. Though we have different ministries, the Holy Spirit’s descent on all those gathered at the first Pentecost tells us that we are all important to the healthy functioning of the Body of Christ. It is not for the leaders only; we all must be responsible for doing our part. For example, we are the primary teachers of the faith for our children; we cannot expect the hierarchy of the Church to be the only ones to do it. It is the same with vocations to the priesthood or religious life: we must all do the encouraging and inviting. Yes, we all can pray for the Spirit to fall upon them, but sometimes the Spirit needs us to do more than pray; He often needs us to be His intended instruments by following through with some action. The Spirit descends, but we must call Him down, then plant the seeds, nurture, and water them.
We are all important to the life of the Church. Imagine what would have happened if the apostles had called down the Spirit and then no one responded after the joy of Pentecost had faded away! Imagine if only twelve men went forth to spread the Good News and no one else discerned their role, such that they left everything to those twelve! It is clear that God intended the Spirit to enliven all of us in different ways with different gifts, just as the apostles heard and spoke in different languages during the Pentecost experience. Therefore we need to discern continually what our gifts are and how we are to use them. We need to keep praying about how we are to serve the Lord, not if we are to serve Him. And if we all take Pentecost to heart every year, calling upon the Spirit to refresh that which He has begun in us, asking Him to fall afresh upon the Church and the hurting world, then we will see with renewed eyes, hear with renewed ears, and love with renewed hearts.
No job or ministry is too small, and we can all do small things with great love. If we are not sure what we are called to do, we can be like Mary interceding for those who need God’s grace to alleviate suffering, especially that which is needless or the result of sin. We can pray for those whose suffering comes unbidden, especially for the ones for whom life is like a constant martyrdom. If we feel we have lost much due to age or sickness we can offer that as prayer also. We can offer it for reparation of sin, as redemptive suffering, or maybe in solidarity with the suffering elsewhere in the world. However, when we ask the Holy Spirit to come, if our suffering or the suffering of the world does not seem to diminish, we must remember that the grace we may be receiving might be that of perseverance, bearing the suffering in union with Christ and for the redemption of sin. Therefore, there is always a role for everyone, even if it is not the one we would have chosen for ourselves. All of us are important and all of our prayer and works, even the work of suffering, makes a difference.
Therefore let us call upon the Spirit to fall afresh upon us each day of our lives. We can do it every morning before we arise. If we call upon the Spirit for graces known and unknown at the start of every day, we will be prepared in ways beyond our imagining to meet the as-yet unknown demands of the day ahead. All we need to say is this: “Come Holy Spirit and fall afresh on me. Use me as you need so that my actions today would be for the good of all those I meet. Come Holy Spirit and fall afresh on your Church that we might continue to spread the Good News. Come Holy Spirit and fall afresh on the entire world that there might be peace and healing this day. Amen!” Perhaps if we began every day like this we would begin to see a change in our perception of the world and of ourselves. Our hearts will change and we will see and hear with more sensitivity, love more deeply, and have an increase in courage, trusting that everything is in God’s hands. Spirit of the Living God fall afresh on us!
May we pray for our Church that on this Pentecost the Holy Spirit may fall afresh on us, enlivening our understanding of community and our part within it! May we call upon the intercession of Mary and the apostles that they would continuously call down the Holy Spirit upon all the areas of the world which are in need of God’s grace! May we pray for the Holy Spirit to fall afresh upon us for the needs of each day! May we have renewed eyes to see the presence of the Holy Spirit within us and around us! May we have renewed hearts to bear with faith all the adversities of life! And may we know the joy of the Holy Spirit as He fills our hearts anew at Pentecost! Let us meet in the midst of the Fire of Love, the Holy Spirit! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
The first image is part of a painting of the Pentecost event by Alessandro Filipepi Botticelli, called The Descent of the Holy Spirit. I chose it because I was drawn to the rays of light which were falling upon them from above and also because Mary was in the center of the group, (which is seen in the complete work.) Truly the Holy Spirit was filling them with joy, peace, and many other graces.
The second image is a photo I took while in Rockport, TX. I loved the contrast of the colors in this scene: the water a deep green, the sky a vivid blue, and the cloud enlivening both colors. The wispy quality of the cloud, and that it was throughout the sky, seems like an image of the Spirit of God, or Ruah from the Old Testament. In Hebrew 'ruah' translates to 'wind, breath, or cloud.' This ruah was the "mighty wind which hovered over the waters" of creation in Genesis 1:2.
Next is an unusual painting attributed to Bl. Fra Angelico, though it may have been done by one of his students. I am not sure where the original is, but I chose it because unlike most Pentecost interpretations I have seen, it contains more than the twelve apostles and Mary. Therefore it is unusual, (and in my opinion, refreshing), to see the event depicted more accurately. Now if only he had included a few more women. I 'forgive' him for this, however, because I love his work.
After the Fra Angelico is my favorite image in this entry. It is called Pentecost. It is my favorite because of the medium used: it is a quilt! It was created by named Arthur Poulin, OSB Cam. (The letters after his name mean he is a Camaldolese Benedictine monk.) It is on Pinterest, to which one must subscribe, but here is the link anyway. https://www.pinterest.com/pin/15058979974308248/?from_navigate=true. I chose it because of the colors which seem to represent the fire of the Spirit coming over the waters. It tied in with what I wrote last week about the fiery cloud which is referred to as Shekinah. And lastly it also ties in with the idea of the Spirit hovering over the waters which I mentioned above. Love it!
Next is another of my photos, also taken in Rockport, TX. It was taken on a nature trail. I chose to include this little bird because it represents the smallest among us. Every creature has a purpose and nothing we do is too small. This tiny bird with its beautiful 'voice' has a purpose, which is to praise God in its song... and so do we.
And finally: The Holy Spirit The Lord The Giver of Life The Paraclete Sender of Peace, by Fr. William Hart McNichols. I chose it because it shows the hand of God bestowing the Holy Spirit and the many graces He bears upon the world. It is a sign of infinite love. It can be found at http://fineartamerica.com/featured/the-holy-spirit-the-lord-the-giver-of-life-the-paraclete-sender-of-peace-093-william-hart-mcnichols.html.
Heart Speaks to Heart