Today we end the Easter season. The Easter candle which has been burning since Easter to remind us of the light that has come into the world, will be set aside and used only of there is a baptism or funeral. Next week we continue what is called “Ordinary Time’ which simply means that the joyous feasts of Easter have ended, and we go back to the Gospel of Luke and continue to read the story of Jesus, focusing primarily on his teachings and parables.
So what is Pentecost all about? One of the major things it is about is, of course, the Holy Spirit. We often pray that the Holy Spirit enlighten the hearts of the faithful. I like that image because I think that any light that can be shed in our lives is a good thing! Imagine for example a camping light that can be used to shed light in the darkness and help us to see. But it can’t work by itself. It has to have batteries. Perhaps think of the Holy Spirit as the battery behind us that gives us the ‘energy’, often called ‘grace’ that powers us, allowing us to see.
The Apostles and followers of Jesus were locked up in a room, frightened and confused, but awaiting something that had been promised them. When the Holy Spirit came, it came as tongues of fire – light and energy – which caused all of them to see in the light and be the light in so many ways. They began to speak in such a way that people could understand them in any language. The frightened followers all were energized and were given gifts to be able to go out and preach the message of Christ. Peter, in particular, preaches a moving homily using the Jewish prophet Joel to explain what had happened to them: the Spirit was causing them to dream dreams, see visions and prophesy. The church was alive and energized!
So Pentecost then is the celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit energizing the church and sending its members forth to live and preach the good news of Jesus, the Christ. And like the energizer bunny, it goes on and on. Our readings and hymns today abound with attempts to explain what the Spirit is and what the Spirit means. God sends the Spirit in Jesus’ name. We are told that the Spirit can teach us all things and remind us of all that Jesus taught us. For this reason we need to have faith in the Spirit and leave ourselves open to its work.
The Holy Spirit is God, the third person of the Trinity. It is God’s own presence that comes in to us and mentors us and makes Jesus alive in us. Confirmation is the sacrament we most closely associate with the coming of the Spirit. In adults baptism and confirmation are often given in the same day because confirmation is a deepening of the gifts we already receive at Baptism. In younger people we most often separate the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation because the child received Baptism before the age of reason, and was baptized by the will of the parents. Confirmation becomes an initiation rite, then, where the child confirms the baptismal choice and the depth of the gifts received at Baptism is strengthened by the presence of the Holy Spirit in the child. It is also a commissioning rite – one in which we are sent out to the world to preach repentance and the forgiveness of sin. So each Pentecost we are reminded of our mission to do this.
St. Paul often talks about gifts of the Spirit – the greatest one being caritas or love. But the Church also identifies other gifts that come from the Spirit, gifts that presumably were given to the apostles and disciples in the upper room at Pentecost and are given to each of us – gifts of wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord. We see many of these gifts acted out in the Pentecost story.
Wisdom involves seeing the light – seeing things as God sees them and not as humans do. Christ often told us that God’s ways are not our ways. The Holy Spirit can help us distinguish what is God’s way, and help us make right judgments in our lives and live our lives according to his word. It is very difficult to listen to the church teaching in our contemporary time and follow wisdom of the church gathered in 2000 years long church’s history. Sometimes we think we know more and better.
Understanding also involves seeing the light – it is the light bulb that goes on when we recognize the truth in something. It is the “Eureka” moment. The Apostles had such a moment at Pentecost when all the things Jesus had taught them, his Passion and Death, his Resurrection, his Ascension – all came together and made sense for the Apostles, so they had the ability to see and teach others. They understood what it was all about. We have the same experience in our lives, sometimes we don’t know why something happens, what is the reason and understanding comes a little later. Oh, now I know, I understand why, we say to ourselves.
Counsel is the mentoring aspect of the Spirit. It is the compass that can guide us when we lose our way. It is the map that we need when we don’t know which way to go. It is the friendly advice that pushes us in the right direction when we reach that path in the road that goes in two directions. We should give ourselves time and listen God the Holy Spirit for His advice, in meditation and prayer.
Fortitude is the gift that helps us by giving us the strength to make difficult moral decisions. Think of fortitude as a shot of moral adrenaline that overcomes the fear that we may have to choose a difficult but correct path. With fortitude the early Christians could go out and preach the Good News even in the face of persecution. Fortitude is a gift needed today as well, we tend to take our life easy, not to build up any tension or moral controversy. Not to stand up for what we believe.
Knowledge is the gift of the Spirit that helps us to understand what is difficult to understand. It gives us the obligation to try to understand our religion, to understand the Scriptures. As thinking beings, the Spirit can help us to make sense of the spiritual realm which is often not as accessible as worldly knowledge. Use your minds to ponder the mysteries of God, and the Spirit will help you. Never be afraid to use your minds. Our Catholic theology is a direct result of great Christian thinkers of the past and present. There is nothing in our way of thinking that we should be ashamed of, our faith our theology is very logic, we have good, satisfactory answers to every possible question, if we think we don’t, it means we don’t know our faith enough. Maybe we should study more, and grow in our knowledge of our faith.
Piety is the gift of recognizing our gifts. It is our recognition of the wonderful things that God has done for us and the feeling of thankfulness that comes with it. It is the joy that the Apostles felt at Pentecost, the gratitude that allowed them to praise God and spread his Good News. Everything we have are God’s given gifts, we may and should develop them, but always be grateful to God and praise Him for his gifts and talents we have. We should feel the gratitude for our faith, that we were invited to personal relationship with God and be able to see Him and appreciate Him in our world.
Lastly, we are given the misunderstood gift of “fear of the Lord.” This is probably a poor translation because the Church does not believe that God, our loving parent, should be feared. A better translation might be “respect of the Lord.” When we respect a person we often want to be like that person and makes us not want to hurt or dishonor that person. It gives us impetus for not sinning because we don’t want to hurt God. It is respect for his Creation, the environment, and for his Word. God loves us and he will love us no matter what, but we want God to love us with a happy heart, make Him proud of us.
Thus, in the Pentecost story today we can see many of the aspects of the theology that have developed over the centuries. What is most important for us to remember, I think, is that the Spirit is God’s gift to us, the Spirit is with us, the Spirit can help us grow, guide us, help us to become a better persons, help us make right decisions, give us strength when we are down or bad things happen to us, and so much more. So it is time today to celebrate those gifts, that loving God has given us, and to become more aware of the power that we have through the Spirit. In everything you do, the Spirit is with you.