The Feast of Pentecost occurs on the seventh Sunday following Easter Sunday. On this day, we commemorate the occasion of the Holy Spirit descending upon the disciples of Jesus, marking them each with “tongues of flame,” and allowing them to speak and proclaim in different tongues, or languages.
To describe this moment in early Church history as a “tipping point” would be an understatement. Pentecost signifies a unique outpouring of God’s love and spirit upon those first men and women to follow Jesus Christ, empowering them to expand and carry His message of salvation to all nations. Today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles depicts this anointing of the Holy Spirit, in such a way that has inspired numerous works of music, literature, and art – including some artwork appearing here at the Catholic Apostolate Center!
As I reflect on the mystery of Pentecost, and ponder what it could mean for us in this current day, I am drawn to these particular passages from today’s Scriptures:
Reading 1: ACTS 2:1-11
“And suddenly there came from the sky
a noise like a strong driving wind,
and it filled the entire house in which they were.
Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire,
which parted and came to rest on each one of them.”
Have you ever been in a room that was particularly quiet – and then suddenly, for no discernable reason, your senses sharpened dramatically? When I read today about the “strong driving wind” filling the entire house where the disciples were, this sort of heightened awareness is what I imagine the disciples could have felt right before the Spirit arrived and the tongues of flame appeared.
Especially in this season following the Paschal mystery, I view this reading as an invitation to seek and contemplate God in the quiet places with an open heart to what may come.
Reading 2: 1 COR 12:3B-7, 12-13
“There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit;
there are different forms of service but the same Lord;
there are different workings but the same God
who produces all of them in everyone.”
At Pentecost, the flames parted and “came to rest on each one of them [disciples].” I find this so encouraging! This past Lent, we read about Moses and the burning bush, from which God calls out, “Moses! Moses! ...Do not come near! Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.”
Now, at the historical moment of Pentecost, fire is actually sent and bestowed upon each follower. God is still a mystery, as is the Holy Spirit – but a mystery that comes to us and rests upon us. We should not be afraid to be humble like Moses (removing our sandals before God) while at the same time accepting with joy and utilizing with courage the gifts the Spirit may bestow to each of us, according to our unique natures.
Gospel: JN 14:15-16, 23B-26
"I have told you this while I am with you.
The Advocate, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name,
will teach you everything
and remind you of all that I told you."
This age of instant communication is hopeful and perplexing all at once. On the one hand, technological advances have made worldwide communication easier than ever – truly a remarkable gift! On the other hand, we have all experienced how shorthand communication styles can misconstrue intended messages and cause confusion or even lasting harm. To me, the promise of Pentecost speaks directly to these challenges. Through the Holy Spirit, we may learn to genuinely and faithfully connect with one another despite all of our perceived differences.
There is a definitive continuation of the Easter message contained in today’s Gospel when we are told of “The Advocate… who the Father will send in my name.” We are not alone, even though we live long after the age of Christ. Perhaps this is what is meant when He once said, “I am with you always, until the end of the age” or “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”
I believe that the Holy Spirit does blow through the rooms of our houses and within our hearts, even today. And while we may not see with human eyes the flames and the dove from this narrative, I believe that we are all surrounded by people who possess the flame within and have allowed The Advocate to work through them – helping them to become little advocates, little flames, and little doves, living among us, bringing peace.
Mike McCormick serves as the Outreach Coordinator at the Catholic Volunteer Network in Washington, DC.
Today is Ascension Thursday.
The Ascension is traditionally celebrated on the Thursday of the sixth week of Easter, but in many dioceses around the US the celebration of the Ascension is transferred to the following Sunday.
Below is a reflection given by Pope Francis during a General Audience in St. Peter’s Square on April 17, 2013.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good Morning!
In the Creed we say that Jesus “ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father”. The Jesus’ earthly life culminated with the Ascension, when he passed from this world to the Father and was raised to sit on his right. What does this event mean? How does it affect our life? What does contemplating Jesus seated at the right hand of the Father mean? Let us permit the Evangelist Luke to guide us in this.
Let us start from the moment when Jesus decided to make his last pilgrimage to Jerusalem. St Luke notes: “When the days drew near for him to be received up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Lk 9:51). While he was “going up” to the Holy City, where his own “exodus” from this life was to occur, Jesus already saw the destination, heaven, but he knew well that the way which would lead him to the glory of the Father passed through the Cross, through obedience to the divine design of love for mankind. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that: “The lifting up of Jesus on the cross signifies and announces his lifting up by his Ascension into heaven” (n. 662).
We too should be clear in our Christian life that entering the glory of God demands daily fidelity to his will, even when it demands sacrifice and sometimes requires us to change our plans. The Ascension of Jesus actually happened on the Mount of Olives, close to the place where he had withdrawn to pray before the Passion in order to remain in deep union with the Father: once again we see that prayer gives us the grace to be faithful to God’s plan.
At the end of his Gospel, St Luke gives a very concise account of the event of the Ascension. Jesus led his disciples “out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them, and was carried up into heaven. And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God” (Lk 24:50-53). This is what St Luke says.
I would like to note two elements in the account. First of all, during the Ascension Jesus made the priestly gesture of blessing, and the disciples certainly expressed their faith with prostration, they knelt with bowed heads, this is a first important point: Jesus is the one eternal High Priest who with his Passion passed through death and the tomb and ascended into heaven. He is with God the Father where he intercedes for ever in our favour (cf. Heb 9:24). As St John says in his First Letter, he is our Advocate: How beautiful it is to hear this! When someone is summoned by the judge or is involved in legal proceedings, the first thing he does is to seek a lawyer to defend him. We have One who always defends us, who defends us from the snares of devil, who defends us from ourselves and from our sins!
Dear brothers and sisters, we have this Advocate; let us not be afraid to turn to him to ask forgiveness, to ask for a blessing, to ask for mercy! He always pardons us, he is our Advocate: he always defends us! Don’t forget this! The Ascension of Jesus into heaven acquaints us with this deeply consoling reality on our journey : in Christ, true God and true man, our humanity was taken to God. Christ opened the path to us. He is like a roped guide climbing a mountain who, on reaching the summit, pulls us up to him and leads us to God. If we entrust our life to him, if we let ourselves be guided by him, we are certain to be in safe hands, in the hands of our Saviour, of our Advocate.
A second element: St Luke says that having seen Jesus ascending into heaven, the Apostles returned to Jerusalem “with great joy”. This seems to us a little odd. When we are separated from our relatives, from our friends, because of a definitive departure and, especially, death, there is usually a natural sadness in us since we will no longer see their face, no longer hear their voice, or enjoy their love, their presence. The Evangelist instead emphasizes the profound joy of the Apostles.
But how could this be? Precisely because, with the gaze of faith they understand that although he has been removed from their sight, Jesus stays with them for ever, he does not abandon them and in the glory of the Father supports them, guides them and intercedes for them.
St Luke too recounts the event of the Ascension — at the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles — to emphasize that this event is like the link of the chain that connects Jesus’ earthly life to the life of the Church. Here St Luke also speaks of the cloud that hid Jesus from the sight of the disciples, who stood gazing at him ascending to God (cf. Acts 1:9-10). Then two men in white robes appeared and asked them not to stand there looking up to heaven but to nourish their lives and their witness with the certainty that Jesus will come again in the same way in which they saw him ascending into heaven (cf. Acts 1:10-11). This is the invitation to base our contemplation on Christ’s lordship, to find in him the strength to spread the Gospel and to witness to it in everyday life: contemplation and action, ora et labora, as St Benedict taught, are both necessary in our life as Christians.
Dear brothers and sisters, the Ascension does not point to Jesus’ absence, but tells us that he is alive in our midst in a new way. He is no longer in a specific place in the world as he was before the Ascension. He is now in the lordship of God, present in every space and time, close to each one of us. In our life we are never alone: we have this Advocate who awaits us, who defends us. We are never alone: the Crucified and Risen Lord guides us. We have with us a multitude of brothers and sisters who, in silence and concealment, in their family life and at work, in their problems and hardships, in their joys and hopes, live faith daily and together with us bring the world the lordship of God’s love, in the Risen Jesus Christ, ascended into Heaven, our own Advocate who pleads for us. Many thanks.