Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 12, 2000
Is Pentecost an important feast?
By SR. LOUISE ZDUNICH, NDC
We celebrate Christmas and Easter as big feasts but we hardly hear about Pentecost. Isn't it important too?
True, Pentecost seems almost like a forgotten feast. It seems only to serve as the end of the celebration of our Easter season and gets short shrift.
Yet, in many ways, Pentecost is the most important feast; it is the culmination of Jesus' work on earth. It touches our lives the most deeply. Jesus promised to send the Spirit to remain with the Church and with each of us, empowering us to be Jesus' presence to all and to build up the Body of Christ through sharing of the Holy Eucharist and of our lives with one another in Christian community.
We could do nothing to bring about the reign of God without the power of love that the Spirit gives us. If we are not actively connected to the Spirit, we can hardly have a living faith.
This is, in a sense, where Jesus' plan for future generations began. The disciples, with Mary, gathered in community to wait for the Holy Spirit. It is in community that we too receive the Spirit of God for we were created for one another. We are not meant to live as isolates but rather by sharing our lives to be bearers of Christ to one another.
This is the moment that the Spirit empowers the disciples to carry forth Jesus' message to the world. Read the account in Acts and see the empowerment of the disciples once they receive the Spirit. Jesus alone didn't, couldn't, accomplish the transformation of the disciples that occurred with the coming of the Holy Spirit.
What did the Spirit bring to these disciples to change them so? Remember the gifts of the Holy Spirit that we all heard about in catechism classes? These are most dramatically represented in what happened to the disciples with the descent of the Holy Spirit.
The Church chose the qualities of the Messiah as given in Isaiah 11:2-3 to explain the mysterious power which transforms cowards into heroes, as it did the disciples. "The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, a spirit of wisdom and understanding . . . counsel and of strength, of knowledge and fear of the Lord."
The Greek Septuagint (Jewish translation into Greek for exiled Jews who no longer understood Hebrew), which was used by the early Church, adds piety as one of the gifts.
Wisdom rejoices in the goodness of God and allows us to see situations through God's eyes. A person with the gift of wisdom, for example, may more fully experience the mysteries of the death and resurrection of Christ.
The second gift, understanding, enables us to see life in the light of God and eternity, to understand the reality of life and death. It gives us insight into the mysteries of God such as Christ's presence in the bread and wine in the Holy Eucharist that we believe but cannot fully understand.
Knowledge, the fifth gift, gives us a divine viewpoint and helps us judge all things in view of God and everlasting life. The opposite of ignorance, knowledge enables us to see the shallowness of our lives when God is not at the centre.
Knowledge and understanding work together leading us to a silent knowledge of God. St. John of the Cross said: "Faith reveals to us things that we have neither seen or known, neither as they are in themselves nor in any similitude or analogy, since there is nothing in our experience that resembles them in any way at all."
The third gift, counsel, enables us to make decisions, as well as help others make decisions, which develop our relationship with God and further God's reign on earth. It is, in a sense, advice that the Holy Spirit gives us.
The second last, piety, does not mean devotion as we usually think of it but is really loyalty to God's cause, in spite of life's vicissitudes. Piety inspired St. Ignatius' motto "All for the greater glory of God."
The fourth gift, fortitude, is perhaps the easiest to understand. It helps us endure difficulties and accept suffering, all for the love of God and the work of bringing about the reign of God in the world.
This gift was vivid in the life of the disciples and of the early followers of Jesus. Their fortitude is evident in the many stories we have of their martyrdom. Who of us could say as did St. Lawrence when he was being burned at the stake: "Turn me over so I can roast well on the other side too."
The last gift (which is really the first in importance), fear of the Lord, does not mean to be afraid of God. Rather, it signifies reverence, awe, a quality rather uncommon in our world today. Reverence means seeing the presence of God in the world and in other people.
The depersonalization that we experience today is the opposite of reverence. It is difficult in our noisy, busy world to treat others with the respect and reverence they deserve.
We received these gifts at Baptism and Confirmation and they enable us to continue the work of God in our world. But do they still operate in us? To make them operative we need to cooperate with God who has given us free will.
These are, as the word says, gifts. We can accept or reject them. But they are truly gifts in the sense that they operate mysteriously even when we are only half-hearted in our cooperation.
Look at Jeremiah and Jonah; they objected to what God asked of them. Look at Peter and Paul; one fails Jesus in a most crucial moment; the other, bent on killing the disciples, suddenly becomes one of them. Yes, they were truly transformed by God. And we can be too!