Today we celebrate the Solemnity of Pentecost, the most important feast of the Church after Easter and Christmas. The word Pentecost means fifty in Greek because it occurs fifty days after Easter. It is also called the birthday of the Church, for on this day, the Holy Spirit descended on the Church to confirm and establish it as the New Covenant which is now open to all people of the world.
What many Christians don’t know is that it was and still is.a very important Jewish holy day. It is the festival of Shavuoth, which is celebrated fifty days after Passover, and it celebrates the day that God established a New Covenant with the people of Israel and gave the Ten Commandments to Moses on Mt. Sinai. It was one of the three very important feasts where all Jewish men were required to come to Jerusalem to celebrate it if they were physically able, and that is why at that first Pentecost, Jerusalem was filled with Jews from all over the Roman Empire. Nine days before Pentecost, Jesus ascended into heaven, and we celebrated the Feast of the Ascension of Jesus last Sunday.
Before Jesus left them, He told his disciples that He would not leave them orphans; that He would send them the Holy Spirit; and He said that if He did not return to His Father in heaven, He could not send them the Holy Spirit. He told His disciples to stay in Jerusalem and pray and wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit that He would send, and He said that when the Holy Spirit came, they would be “clothed with power from on high”.
The Apostles returned to Jerusalem, and they hid themselves in the Upper Room where they had celebrated the Last Supper with Jesus. There they waited and prayed for nine days. They were still very much afraid that they would be arrested as followers of Jesus and killed like He was. Then on Sunday, the Jewish feast of Pentecost and the tenth day after Jesus’ Ascension, at about 9 o’clock in the morning, while the Apostles were gathered in prayer with Mary, there suddenly came a tremendous roaring sound, like the wind of a tornado or a hurricane blowing, and this sound was heard throughout Jerusalem. When the Apostles and Mary looked up, they saw a bright light, shining with the power of the sun and as brilliant as fire, and from this light, tongues of flame parted and settled upon the heads of each of them. They were all filled with the incredible power of the Holy Spirit, and they were suddenly transformed. They immediately left their hiding place and boldly went to the Temple and began to explain the Good News of Jesus to all the Jews who had gathered there from all over the Roman Empire.
Through their preaching, three thousand people were baptized that day. The Church was officially established, and the Holy Spirit had come to dwell within the Church in a very special way forever. The Holy Spirit is pure spirit, like God the Father. We know Him by His qualities and by His actions, and the Bible is filled with them. His Name in Hebrew means “The Breath or the Wind of God”. In the Creed that we stand and profess every Sunday, we say that we believe in the Holy Spirit Who is the Lord, because He is God. We also confess that He is the Giver of Life because in the Book of Genesis, the first book of the Bible, before God physically created the heavens and the earth, the Holy Spirit hovered over the dark, formless waters that were present, bringing the gift of life and setting the stage for Creation. When God fashioned Adam out of the clay of the earth, He breathed His Spirit into His nostrils, and Adam became a living being. The Holy Spirit overshadowed the Virgin Mary, and she conceived Jesus in her womb. In today’s Gospel, Jesus breathes on His Apostles, and as they receive the Holy Spirit, they are given the power to forgive people’s sins.
The Holy Spirit is the essence of God, which is love. But it is important to remember that the Holy Spirit is also a person that we can know and love and with whom we can form a personal relationship. Jesus sent Him to be our Counselor, our Defender, and our Consoler. St. Paul said that He even prays for us in those moments when we desperately need God and we don’t know what to say.
We first receive the Holy Spirit at our Baptism. Then in the sacrament of Confirmation, we receive the fullness of the power of the Holy Spirit Who comes to us with his Seven Gifts – the same Seven Gifts which so incredibly transformed the Apostles on that first Pentecost Sunday. These Seven Gifts are Wisdom, Knowledge and Understanding, so that we know our Catholic Faith and be witnesses to that Faith to those around us; Counsel, so that we can tell right from wrong and make right choices in life; Piety and Fear of the Lord, so that we can strengthen our relationship with Jesus, and Fortitude or courage so that we can defend our Faith.
In this time when our Faith can be challenged, belittled, or even ridiculed, we need the Holy Spirit and His Seven gifts now more than ever. We are all beloved sons and daughters of God the Father, redeemed by Jesus and continually renewed, strengthened and made holy by the love of the Holy Spirit. As the sons and daughters of God, we have the right and privilege to call upon the Holy Spirit to lead us, to enlighten us, to defend us and to love us. So, on this birthday of the Catholic Church, let us thank God for drawing us into the Faith, and let us start calling on the Holy Spirit more often. Just say, “Come, Holy Spirit!” He is closer to us than our own breath, and He is waiting to be part of our lives! Happy Pentecost to all!BACK TO LIST