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I am a Third Order Franciscan of the Province of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Celebrating Pentecost

In former times, man, having been overcome by madness, sought to build a tower to reach up to heaven. But the Lord, by dividing their tongues, put a division in their evil desires. [Genesis 11:1-9] Now the Holy Spirit descends upon the Apostles in tongues of fire in order to unify the divided world. The result is something new and wondrous; for just as in former times tongues divided the world and split an evil assembly, now tongues gather the world together and join in harmony those who had been divided. – Chrysostom [Second Homily on Pentecost, II]

The Feast of Pentecost commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Mary and the Apostles and the beginning of the Church. As a harvest feast for both Jews and Christians, the faithful decorate homes with flowers and green plants. Christians believe that the green branches and flowers symbolize the holy gifts and sanctified life that come through the Holy Spirit. In Italy, the feast is known as the Festa Rosalia or the Feast of the Roses, this name was later adopted by the Greek Christians as Rousalia and the Slavs as Rusalya. The Slavs also call the feast Zelenyi Sviata or the Green Holy Day because Eastern clergy wear green vestments on this day.

The Jewish people traditionally celebrated the Feast of the Harvest on the fiftieth day after Passover. [Leviticus 23:15-16] This feast was also called the Feast of the First Fruits. [Numbers 28:26] Since the harvest officially lasted for seven weeks, Pentecost was also known as the Feast of the Weeks [Deuteronomy 16:9-10] In the time after the Babylonian exile, the Feast of the Harvest was linked with the establishment of the covenant between God and the Jewish people on Mt. Sinai that the Jews believed had taken place on the fiftieth day after the crossing of the Red Sea.

In the time of Jesus and the Early Church, Greek Jews celebrated the Feast as “Pentecost” meaning “the fiftieth”. Jews would spend the eve of Pentecost in an all-night vigil. They held the tradition that Moses would wake the Israelites in the middle of the night to proclaim the Law of God to them. The Jews would also read the harvest and covenant Scriptures of the Bible including Joel 3:1-2 –

Then afterward I will pour out
my spirit upon all mankind.
Your sons and daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams,
your young men shall see visions;
Even upon the servants and the handmaids,
in those days, I will pour out my spirit.

This text would be very important to the Apostles when they preached to the Jews after the descent of the Holy Spirit.

For the Church, the commemoration of the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost also serves as a reminder of our own Baptism in both water and in the Spirit, the reality of our divinization in the Spirit, our adoption as Children of God through the Spirit, and, of course, of the fullness of the revelation of the Holy Trinity.

The importance of unity is particularly emphasized. The apostles and disciples are all gathered together “in one place” at the time of Pentecost. The tongues of fire are united until they separate to unite themselves with the Christian faithful. The people of different lands and languages are joined in a common understanding. As Christ ascended when He had fulfilled all that the Scriptures had prophesied, so does the Spirit only appear as the time of Pentecost is also “fulfilled.” Yet, fulfillment does not mean completion but rather that through the work of Christ, we have been prepared for the arrival of the Spirit in our lives.

Having recognized the reality of the divine and human working together in Christ, we are prepared for something similar to happen to us as well. Through prayer and contemplation, the disciples no longer are afraid in the upper room, now they have the courage to proclaim the truths of the Spirit openly. Within our own lives we too have had to move from fear to courage. We may have had fears about our relationship with the Lord, we may have placed all our attention on the suffering in our lives and not seen the light of the Resurrection or the light of Pentecost. The Apostles did not become Evangelists overnight and the Church, in her wisdom, has given us these many days of Lent and Easter to recognize more clearly as the Apostles did on that Resurrection day that there was no need to be afraid and that God will always be with us in His Son and in His Spirit.

My brothers and sisters, think about how the significance of this day’s solemnity compares with that of the Incarnation of the Only-begotten Son of God. The importance of these feasts should be considered to be the same. In the Incarnation, the one God, while remaining God, took upon himself our human nature. Today, humanity has received God within it as God descends from above. In the first, God became human by nature; in the second, we became gods by adoption. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, if we do not wish to continue in death as people of the flesh, let us now give our love to the Life-giving Spirit. – Gregory the Great [Thirtieth Homily, IX]


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