SFX Bulletin, 27 May 2012: The word “Pentecost” literally means “the 50th day”. Even before the word came to be associated with the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples 50 days after Jesus' resurrection, the Jews have always celebrated a feast called Pentecost or Feast of First Fruits – the name is derived from the command to bring the best of the first harvest to God as an offering in recognition of His faithfulness for providing the necessities of life (Num.28:26). This Jewish feast is calibrated by counting seven weeks from the beginning of the grain harvest and every Jewish male is required by law to go to Jerusalem for its observance (Ex. 34:23). This required pilgrimage explains why Jerusalem was filled with “devout men...from every nation under heaven...Mesopotamia, Judaea and Cappadocia.”. Even non-Jews (Gentiles) who admired the Jewish faith and followed their observances (“Cretans and Arabs” v.11) were there in the Pentecost account of today's first reading. (Acts 2:5).
It is no mere coincidence that the descent of the Holy Spirit - Jesus' promise to cloth his disciples with “power from on high” (Lk. 24:49) – takes place on this Jewish Feast of Pentecost or First-Fruits.
In this new or “second” Pentecost, the harvest that will be most pleasing to God is the harvesting of souls for holiness. Under the impulse of the Holy Spirit, the disciples “began to speak foreign languages as the Spirit gave them the gift of speech” and they were heard speaking about “the marvels of God” (vv.6&11). Their witnessing and Peter's preaching which enlightened the crowd to the salvific meaning of Jesus' death and resurrection led to the conversion or “harvesting” of 3,000 souls on that first new Pentecost. German bible scholar, Fr. Eduard Lohse, called it “the birthday of the Church” - a phrase that is now popularly used to describe the first Pentecost.
What happened on that birthday of the Church reveals what the Church is meant to do. The Spirit was not sent to the disciples to console them over Jesus' physical departure in the Ascension. Rather, it enlightened, strengthened and gifted them with “tongues” to offer to an international gathering God's divine life through repentance. In doing this, the apostles were fulfilling Jesus’ call, “As the Father sent me, so am I sending you.”
Our Holy Father has highlighted a disturbing trend of “the growing religious illiteracy found in the midst of our sophisticated society. The foundations of faith, which at one time every child knew, are now known less and less…” Perhaps this applies to some of us and we feel inadequate to share the foundations of our faith with others. As such, we shirk from Jesus’ call to us to continue “harvesting” for the Kingdom. Our sophistication, intelligence and our “savviness” are also gifts from God which can be used to bring spiritual enlightenment to others. Our Holy Father encourages us to use our talents to pursue growth in our faith, “…if we are to love God and to hear him aright, we need to know what God has said to us – our minds and hearts must be touched by his word.” (Chrism Mass, 2012)
Holy Mass is the principal means by which we can be “touched” by God. Our Neighbourhood Christian Communities, scripture classes and various prayer groups give us additional opportunities to “know what God has said to us” and we should use these opportunities. On this birthday of the Church may all of us reject a tepid or lukewarm faith for ourselves and our loved ones. Let us beseech the Holy Spirit who has been poured out on the Church to ignite each one of us to be disciplined and put aright what is lacking in our faith. May we all yearn to be Spirit-savvy Christians who prayerfully engage the power of God’s Spirit to bring truth and true life to all we encounter.
SFX Bulletin, 27 May 2012