The Easter season has come to an end, but we know that spiritually it is not something that comes and goes. As Christians, Easter is our way of life. Nonetheless, as we celebrate the Feast of Pentecost it is important for us to keep our liturgical bearings, realizing that it is the third most important feast in our calendar. However, in contrast to Easter, Pentecost is not a season. But together with the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity the following Sunday, it is a time of joyous reflection upon the descent of the Holy Spirit and the subsequent birth of the Church. It is also a time to be reminded of the role of the Holy Spirit within the Trinity, One God in Three Persons. The two feasts are connected so it makes sense to celebrate them one week apart. The Trinity who is One God labored at creating a community of believers, a work that is His body, His people, His Church. The Father planned the work of saving His people from the beginning by sending His Son, and then through the descent of the Holy Spirit, endowed us with the graces we need to stay the course as co-workers in the ‘fields’ until Jesus comes again at the end of time. (Reference to Matthew 9:37)
In his Letter to the Ephesians St. Paul wrote about this work when he stated: “We are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for
the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them.” (Ephesians 2:10) Paul is indicating that God has always had a plan, but that individually and collectively we have a role in it for which He prepares us. We received entry into this way of life through Baptism, completed at Confirmation when, like the apostles, we had our own personal Pentecost, though perhaps without the speaking of multiple languages. The work of the Holy Spirit is a continuous process throughout our lives as He guides, protects, enlivens, teaches, protects, and inspires so that we might weather the storms which come at us from a world sometimes hostile to the goodness of God. Therefore, God is constantly laboring for us by helping us to grow in holiness into the people who we want to be and who we were created to be.
To reflect upon this process, let us consider what might have happened that changed the apostles so deeply during the seven weeks between the Resurrection of Jesus and the coming of the Holy Spirit. No doubt they were continuously praying over and discussing all that had transpired during the ministry of Jesus. But they were doing a lot of this in the presence of the Risen Lord, something which must have been incredibly filled with joy, wonder and awe. As during His ministry they were continuing to learn from Jesus, only now with greater clarity, understanding more deeply what He had taught, what had transpired, and how it had all worked toward His death and resurrection. Jesus also prepared them for leadership which would begin when His time to leave them arrived. This means that He explained to them that He had to leave so that the Holy Spirit could come, empowering them for the ministry to which they had been born.
We need to remember that Jesus had begun His ministry by telling His followers that the hour had arrived “when true worshipers would worship the Father in Spirit and truth; and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in Spirit and truth.” (John 4:23-24) Therefore long before the Pentecost event took place the apostles had already been hearing about the role of the Holy Spirit and about the Spirit’s connection with the Father and the Son. They also were taught that the Spirit was intimately connected with their mission. In a resurrection appearance Jesus said to them, “As the Father has sent me, I send you.” And then He breathed upon them saying: “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (John 20:22). After He missioned them, Jesus told them to pray, waiting for the fullness of the Holy Spirit to descend, empowering them for what was to come. It is not as if they got a piece of the Spirit or as if grace is quantifiable, but rather, Jesus was preparing them so that they would be ready for what was to come on the day of Pentecost.
After six weeks of appearing to them, Jesus ascended into Heaven. It was time for the Spirit-filled Church, (koinonia, in Greek) to be born. The great orator St. John Chrysostom expressed Pentecost beautifully when he wrote: “Earth has become heaven for us today, not that the stars have descended to earth, but the apostles have ascended above the heavens, as the grace of the Spirit is poured forth. He made the world heaven, not by changing nature, but through correcting the choice. He found a publican, and prepared him to be an evangelist. He found a blasphemer, and made him an apostle. He found a thief, and brought him to Paradise. He found a harlot, and made her more chaste than a virgin. He found magi, and made them into evangelists. He cast out evil, and brought in virtue, which was provided for by the grace of God. Earth has become heaven.” * The Holy Spirit worked to prepare the hearts of the men and women who became the first members of the Church: the 120 people in the Upper Room and the 3,000 who saw and heard how the Spirit had affected them, requested baptism on that day. They went from a rag-tag group to a people with a purpose, a people who freely chose to belong to God as adopted sons and daughters, with a new relationship and a new mission.
Our vocation to live the Christian life is not all that different. We are the sinners who the Spirit makes chaste (pure of heart and body), molds into evangelists, transforms into apostles, and ultimately brings to Paradise. God does not expect us to be perfect, just as the apostles were not perfect at any time in their lives. When Jesus said “true worshipers would worship the Father in Spirit and truth” He went on to say that the Father seeks such people. This means that God has sought us out to further the work that the apostles and first Christians began. In coming before the Father in worship, we are a people whose call is shared, although our expression of it is unique. The Holy Spirit empowers us for the journey so that we might learn to see what is deep within our hearts and what we truly long for; to see with eyes of compassion, mercy and forgiveness; to see with a new sense of values; to see the hand of God everywhere; to see our weaknesses with deepened humility and reliance upon God; to see that we are all one; and like the apostles, we learn to see that each one contributes to the work of the whole Body, but that none of us accomplishes anything on our own. We simply continue that which was begun on the day of Pentecost and it is Jesus Christ who accomplishes the work.
Pentecost is the great feast of learning to see and hear the presence of God so that we might worship in Spirit and in truth. It is the great feast of becoming empowered to live as Children of the Light and also to be sharers in the work of building the Kingdom of God. Whether we are able to be active ‘in the world’ or whether we are not able to go forth from our homes, we all have a role by worshiping in Spirit and truth through our prayer as well as our deeds: we all have a role in the work of the Trinity. When we received sacramental graces, when we committed our lives to Jesus Christ, when we allowed our eyes and ears to be opened, we were filled with the very same Pentecost gifts. We are one Body of Christ, though made up of many, as St. Paul says in his letters. In the Acts of the Apostles (AA 2:9-11) it was written of the first witnesses: “We are Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia.…” Today we are North Americans, Europeans, Latinos, Asians, Africans, and Middle Easterners; we are men and women, old and young, ordained and lay, married and single: all are God’s handiwork and all are called to bring the message of Jesus to the ends of the earth through prayer, word, and deed. This Pentecost let us allow the Holy Spirit to enliven our hearts and minds once again, remembering the joy of His coming, experiencing it anew, and embracing the life of faith to which we have been called. In doing so, His Church will shine brightly, helping those who suffer, those who are lost, and those who are seeking to find that for which they long.
May we worship the Father in Spirit and in truth! May we seek to glorify the Son by utilizing the gifts given by the Spirit to bring the gospel to the ends of the earth! May we allow the Holy Spirit to continue to be breathed upon us, that we might have growing clarity about the gifts we have received! May we embrace and inspire others to use their unique gifts as we work together to contribute to the spreading of the Kingdom! And may we have Pentecost joy as we worship God in Spirit and truth in our church communities! Let us continue to meet as one Body of Christ embraced within the arms of God! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
Note: The next post will be June 19.
* The quote from St. John Chrysostom can be found as part of his longer sermon at http://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.com/2012/06/excerpt-from-homily-i-on-pentecost-by.html.
1. This is an icon of the Pentecost event which comes from a church building, which is evident because you can detect the curve of a dome or cupola. I chose it because I liked the depiction of God the Father in the lower middle. He is holding the candles which clearly unite the Father with the fire of the Holy Spirit whose graces are being mediated from above. It can be found at http://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.com/search/label/Pentecost.
2. This is a drawing by Fr. William Hart McNichols, published in 1993 as part of a book on the mysteries of the Rosary. At the time of publication there were only three sets of mysteries in the Rosary, hence the book in which his drawings appear is called The Fifteen Mysteries, by M. Basil Pennington, OSCO. I love this drawing because it is a close-up of some of the apostles and therefore it captures an intimacy that one rarely sees in Pentecost scenes. The faces of the three men appear to be filled with serenity, understanding, and love, (as I see them, respectively from left to right) and it is as if these graces are being shared with those of us viewing the scene. Gazing upon this drawing gives me a sense of peace, because in the midst of the experience of receiving the Holy Spirit there seems to be a gentleness, rather than the event being something boisterous. That is more in keeping with how the Spirit works: freely given, nothing forced.
3. I took this photo on the Sea of Galilee in Israel. I chose to use it here because it reminded me of the apostles being sent forth to spread the Good News. It also was at the Sea of Galilee that most of the them first met Jesus, and it is also where He appeared to them after His resurrection to share a meal on the beach. (John 21)
4. I took this photo in Maine while sitting dockside enjoying a meal. The sun illuminating the clouds was breathtaking. I chose it for this spot in the post because it seemed to depict how the Son and the Spirit give us a new relationship with the Father. The clouds looked different than they had just moments before, yet they were the same clouds.
5. I took this at the first Mass of a newly ordained deacon. I chose it for many reasons. First, because it shows a special ministry and the service which is part of it: proclaiming the Gospel. Second, (in the photo) it is as if the deacon was walking straight to Jesus, though it is a bit of an optical illusion since the statue was on the side of the altar and not to the actual place he was processing. But lastly, this deacon will be ordained a priest this coming week and will celebrate his first Mass on the Feast of the Holy Trinity. Congratulations to (soon-to-be) Fr. Marcus Fryer, SJ!!
6. This icon is exquisite. It is called Hagiography Icon Holy Virgin Mary With the Apostles at Pentecost and it comes from Santiago de Chile. I loved it the moment I saw it because it captured what I was trying to say in the last paragraph. We are one Church, filled with the Spirit. The tongues of fire are falling upon the entire world in this beautiful, vibrant icon and Mary is at the center, interceding for all of us. It is magnificent! If you are interested in obtaining a copy, you can find it at http://nioras.com/product_info.php/hagiography-icon-holy-virgin-mary-with-the-apostles-pentecost-santiago-chile-p-93775.
7. This image is part of a larger work by Fr. William Hart McNichols: it is called Viriditas Triptych. I chose it because the Holy Spirit desires unity, for the Church to be one, just as the tongues of fire are seen surrounding the entire globe. All that is created is renewed in the Holy Spirit and grace is offered to all. If you would like to obtain a copy for purchase in one of many different mediums, this triptych can be found at https://fineartamerica.com/featured/viriditas-triptych-william-hart-mcnichols.html. The larger work to which it belongs can be found at https://fineartamerica.com/featured/viriditas-finding-god-in-all-things-william-hart-mcnichols.html
Heart Speaks to Heart