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Pondering Pentecost

Posted in Pentecost, and ST. JOHN PAUL II

Last updated on May 21, 2021

Jesus told his disciples to wait in Jerusalem “for the fulfillment of the Father’s promise… John baptized with water, but within a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 1: 4,5)

They gathered in the upstairs room. “Together they devoted themselves to constant prayer. There were some women in their company, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers…When the day of Pentecost came it found them gathered in one place. Suddenly from up in the sky, there came a noise like a strong, driving wind which was heard all through the house where they were seated. Tongues as of fire appeared, which parted and came to rest on each of them. All were filled with the Holy Spirit. They began to express themselves in foreign tongues and make bold proclamation as the Spirit prompted them.” (Acts 1: 14; 2: 1-4)

God Times Events The Way He Wants

Pentecost is the Greek name for Shavuot which commemorates the spring grain harvest and the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. The Jews celebrate Shavuot 50 days after the Passover. This was happening as the disciples experienced the Holy Spirit.

Our Lord’s interest in dates and when events need to happen steered my heart toward the timing of a major event in my family, the birth of our youngest of seven in 1999, Rosemary. Three of our children were born in January and three were born in August. Rosemary was born in May. Not just any day in May, but on Pope John Paul II’s birthday, May 18. Adding to this is the fact that the prime of my Catholic life and marriage was lived from 1978 (wedding in 1979) to 2005, the reign of this saint and Marian pope. He was also the first Polish pope and I taught for 16 years at St. Mary’s Catholic School in Wilno, Ontario, the first Polish settlement in Canada.

I’ve highlighted a piece of Saint John Paul II’s writing on Pentecost taken from his 1997 homily at Rome’s St. Athanasius Church on May 18, his birthday on the Solemnity of Pentecost.

These extraordinary phenomena attracted the attention of the Israelites and the proselytes present in Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost. They were amazed at that rush of wind and still more at hearing the Apostles speak in different tongues. Coming from many parts of the world, they heard these 12 Galileans each speaking in his own language: “We hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God” (Acts 2:11).

In the Acts of the Apostles, St Luke describes the extraordinary manifestation of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost as a communication of the very vitality of God who gives himself to men. This divine gift is also light and power: light, to proclaim the Gospel, the Truth revealed by God; power, to infuse the courage of witnessing to the faith, which the Apostles begin at that very moment.

Power Given To Go and Witness

The purpose of the extraordinary manifestation of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost was not to dazzle onlookers or prove that indeed Christ is now united with the Father in glory.  The Holy Spirit drove Peter to speak to the onlooking Jews who thought they had too much wine:

You must realize that these men are not drunk, as you seem to think. It is only nine in the morning! No, it is what Joel the prophet spoke of: ‘ It shall come to pass in the last days, says God, that I will pour out a portion of my spirit on all mankind: Your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions and your old men will dream dreams…’ ” (Acts 2:15-17)

Just before his Ascension, Jesus told them why he was sending the Holy Spirit: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes down upon you; then you are to be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, yes, even to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) Peter was the first to demonstrate this powerful witnessing.

Pope John Paul II: The witness of the Spirit of truth must become one with that of the Apostles, thus fusing the divine and human witness into one saving reality. From this fusion flows the work of evangelization, begun on the day of Pentecost and entrusted to the Church as her task and mission down the ages.

When we listen to the Pentecost reading each year we might wonder why the Holy Spirit isn’t acting in such a decisive and powerful way today, especially personally. We may experience more weakness, timidity, and fear than power when we face those who do not believe. That’s what we need to ponder all the time.

Prayer is driven by our intrinsic desire for God. Through prayer, those questions and doubts will lead us to a humble longing to listen and receive Jesus. He will come and speak to us; He will send His Spirit on us to rekindle what He did at our Confirmation. Veni, Sancte Spiritus:  Come, Holy Spirit, kindle in the hearts of your faithful the fire of your love!

Carriers Of Good News

John Paul II concluded his birthday Pentecost homily pointing out how the faithful at St. Athanasius Church were spreading the Good News of the Resurrected Lord.

Today’s liturgy invites us to welcome the gift of the Spirit with generous readiness, to be able to proclaim the risen Lord effectively… I know that you are already doing so in many worthwhile ways: in the catechetical groups for sacramental preparation and in the parish centre by your witness of charity and through the popular festivals and events, in the counselling centres, in homes and the neighbourhood. Supported, too, by the impulse of the city mission, endeavour to pass on to everyone the newness of the Gospel, by seeking ways and means that respond ever better to the needs of people today…

I am addressing you in particular, young people and children who live in the parish: do not be afraid of Christ, be his apostles among your peers, who in this neighbourhood, as in other parts of the city, frequently have to face very serious problems.

I am thinking of unemployment and the difficult search for meaning in life, which can lead to despair, to drugs or even to absurd and reckless acts. The city mission, which concerns your parish too, calls all believers to proclaim the hope of the Gospel in every context and in every family.

“The Spirit of truth … will guide you into all the truth…. He will glorify Me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you” (Jn 16:13-14). From Jesus’ promise comes the certainty of fidelity in teaching, an essential part of the Church’s mission. In this proclamation, which takes place throughout history, the Holy Spirit is present and active with the light and power of divine Truth. The Spirit of Truth enlightens the human spirit, as St Paul says: “and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Cor 12:13). His presence creates new awareness and knowledge about revealed truth, thus making it possible to share in the knowledge of God himself. In this way, the Holy Spirit reveals the crucified and risen Christ to men, and shows the way to become ever more like him.

All the great works of God begin with the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, both in the life of individuals and in that of the whole Ecclesial Community. Born on the day of the descent of the Holy Spirit, the Church is constantly reborn through the work of that same Spirit in many places throughout the world, in many human hearts, in various cultures and nations.