I suspect I am not alone in occasionally wondering what it would have been like to have been present during a Biblical event. Sometimes I try to imagine the details of what occurred, the people there, and so forth. This wondering is actually prayer, even though it arises from the imagination. In fact, St. Ignatius of Loyola suggested the usage of our imagination when we pray with Scripture because our imagination is a gift from God, and through it, He can communicate insights about our faith. But even if we are simply doing a bit of prayerful daydreaming, imagining what an event would have been like is a good practice. To spend time immersing ourselves in passages of the Bible is a great way to open our minds and hearts to what God wants to reveal. Therefore, as we approach Pentecost it would be good to wonder about, reflect upon, or if you prefer, do some ‘holy imagining,’ of what it would have been like to have been in the Upper Room along with the apostles and Mary for the days leading up to the descent of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps feelings varied during those days of seclusion due to the unknown time of the event to come. But whatever it was like, I think it is fair to say that what got them through it were two things: the assurance from Jesus that the Holy Spirit would indeed come, and that they were in it together as a community. There is more than just power in numbers: there is also peace.
The Ascension of Jesus was followed nine days later by Pentecost * and so the period of seclusion during those days would have indeed been rather challenging. Remember that there were many people crowded into that Upper Room: “… there was a group of about one hundred and twenty persons in the one place.” (Acts 1:15) These sequestered people had to eat and drink, and therefore a few of them must have been going and coming somewhat surreptitiously to the market to get what they needed, perhaps with their faces covered for protection. Others had to be preparing the meals and doing the work to keep house, perhaps ‘sanitizing.’ Remember, the Jews had strict laws about cleansing, of which Jesus emphasized the spirit of the law rather than the letter, but it still would have been part of their cultural upbringing to wash hands, feet, and utensils, (hopefully not all at the same time.) But in all of this, they prayed together as a group and also individually. In other words, when the Pentecost event happened this group was both the first domestic church and the first members of The Church. During all that time, they no doubt worried a little, wondered about the future, gave each other encouragement and strength in their faith, and in general supported one another in the seclusion of their ‘home.’ In that period of prayer and mutual support, their hearts were ready however, because they found peace and love shared among the community who were gathered. Once that love and peace were at a zenith, it was clear that the time of the Spirit was nigh.
Remember that the Holy Spirit has been described as the Love which unites the Father and the Son in a mutual and continual exchange. ** Therefore it is not a stretch to say that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon them came when God saw that their hearts were at their most ready and had begun to overflow. Their hearts and minds opened, and the Love which filled them, and then overflowed, found its expression in joy beyond description, resulting in a unity of languages such that there were no barriers: all those diverse people gathered in Jerusalem for the Jewish religious holiday of Pentecost understood. The Church, a community of believers, was born in Love and a joy and peace which are indeed otherworldly. Today, as the spiritual descendants of those first Christians, the Love of God which is the Holy Spirit is always here for us, among us, in us, and with us; it is what binds our Christian community together, and it is at the center of our domestic churches (our families), propelling us outward in service and love, potentially with the same fervor as that which marked the Pentecost event in the first century.
Therefore, we have much spiritual power at our disposal. Our numbers are far greater than those early believers: through the sacraments, we have been given nothing less than what those first 120 Christians received. As they did, we prepare through prayer, individually and as a community, asking the Spirit to open our minds and hearts, that the gifts we have received would be enlivened and energized. The time is now: let us use the power of love through our own actions of respect, care for the poor and ill, service, stewardship, and mercy. It would be good to read and pray with the Acts of the Apostles, to observe how the church responded after Pentecost, in order to be inspired in our own going forth. But whatever we do, let us remember that we already have the promise of Jesus fulfilled in the coming of the Holy Spirit; that is, we already have the power of Love. We are one Community, One Body of Christ. There is power in numbers: we are in this together, and yes, that Love does lead to peace.
May we pray for the Holy Spirit to come upon us and our world anew! May we make it a practice to immerse ourselves in the Word of God, letting our thoughts and imagination take us past the words on the page and into the Heart of God! And may we be inspired to reach out to all our brothers and sisters, bringing the Gospel to the ends of the earth through our word and deed! Let us continue to meet in the Holy Spirit! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
* In some dioceses around the world, Ascension is celebrated as a Holy Day of Obligation on the Thursday which falls nine days before Pentecost, just as it did in the actual events. Others celebrate the Ascension on the Sunday before Pentecost as a way to include everyone who might not be able to attend during the week. It is up to the local Ordinary, or head bishop, to decide.
**As St. Augustine beautifully says, “The Trinity is the mutual exchange of Love between the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit which is extended to us.”
1.Image, Holy Spirit Detail (part of larger work, Viriditas) by Fr. William Hart McNichols. It can be found at https://fineartamerica.com/featured/viriditas-holy-spirit-detail-william-hart-mcnichols.html
2. My photo, The Apostles and Mary gathered in the Upper Room at Pentecost taken in St. Anasthasia Church, Verona, Italy.
3. Mosaic, God Commencing the Creation of the World, Cathedral of Monreale, Monreale, Sicily, Italy.
(You can see God sending the Spirit to hover over the waters, as it states in Genesis 1.)
4. Painting, Boston Common, Childe Hassam.
5. Icon, The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, by Fr. William Hart McNichols. You can find it at https://fineartamerica.com/featured/the-blessed-virgin-mary-mother-of-the-church-william-hart-mcnichols.html
NOTE: In compliance with GDPR rules, I wish to make it clear that I do not gather any information on any of my readers at any time.
Heart Speaks to Heart