Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth (Ps. 104:30)
By Jerry Creedon
When you read this, my dear friends, Pentecost will have come and gone. In the old liturgy (of the days many decades ago when I was an altar-server) Pentecost had a much longer innings. The Sundays after Pentecost were called precisely that, “Sundays after Pentecost,” and there were, on average, thirteen Sundays after Pentecost. Now they are called “Sundays in Ordinary Time.” Pentecost, however, is still one of the greatest feasts of the year. Its roots are ancient. It was the old Israelite festival of Shavuot or Weeks which, by the way, Jews still celebrate. Shavuot which, translated into Greek long before the birth of Christianity, came to be called “Pentecost,” was one of the three great pilgrimage feasts of ancient Israel. That explains why all those foreigners, Parthians, Medes, Elamites and so on, were in Jerusalem when “the day of Pentecost had come.” The disciples were there too. Jesus had told them “not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father” (Acts 1:4). There they were, all together, in one place, huddled, quiet, praying, apprehensive, maybe afraid. Suddenly the quiet of the group was disturbed, and the tension in the room abruptly broken, by the roar of a violent wind and the flash of fire. “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.” This is the dramatic story of the first Christian Pentecost, as told by St. Luke in a mere four verses of Acts of the Apostles. It is a story of great excitement, exuberant joy, boundless energy, refreshing newness, untrammeled freedom. It is a tale of crowds becoming community, outsiders becoming insiders, timid by-standers becoming fearless witnesses.
What about us, the Catholic education community of Hamilton-Wentworth? What does the celebration of last Sunday say to us? The very vocabulary of Pentecost cries out to us. The Holy Spirit “fills.” “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit,” “Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 4:8). We pray, do we not, to the Pentecost Spirit:
“Come with thy power and heavenly aid,
and fill the hearts which thou hast made.”
This hymn goes back to the ninth century. It is sung not only at Pentecost, but for ordinations and the opening of synods and church councils. It is the text for the first movement of Gustav Mahler’s Eighth Symphony. It is the hymn most frequently sung over the years in all Christian churches. When we ask the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts, we join the chorus of myriads of fellow Christians through the centuries in our plea for wholeheartedness, and liberation from half-heartedness.
We are praying that we become the Spirit-filled evangelizers to whom Pope Francis devotes the final chapter of his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium. “Spirit-filled evangelizers,” the Holy Father writes, “means evangelizers fearlessly open to the working of the Holy Spirit” (#259).
And the Holy Spirit works in extraordinary and unexpected ways. To get back to vocabulary, the Holy Spirit is described as not only “coming upon” persons, but as “falling” on them. “The Holy Spirit had not yet fallen on any of them” (Acts 8:15-16). “While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word” (Acts 10:44). And there are several other examples, all of them telling us that “the Spirit, like the wind, blows where it chooses” (John 3:8). The working of the Spirit is sudden, unexpected, unpredictable, free from the control of our managerial strategies. When we least expect it, and how we least imagine it, the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, lands at our side bringing comfort and joy to troubled hearts and pouring into them anew God’s love (Romans 5:5). Like the Divine Shepherd in Psalm 23, he (or, maybe, she. The Hebrew word for spirit, ruach, is feminine!) “revives our drooping spirits,” energizes us. Pope Francis, urging “enthusiasm for a new chapter of evangelization full of fervour, joy, generosity, boundless love and attraction” admits that he realizes that “no words of encouragement will be enough unless the fire of the Holy Spirit burns in our hearts” (Evangelii Gaudium #261). Could we see these powerful words of Pope Francis as the psalm for Pentecost transposed to a new and higher key?
“When you take away your Spirit creatures droop and die.
When you send forth your Spirit they are created
and you renew the face of the earth” (Ps. 104: 29-30).
I mentioned at the beginning that Pentecost has its origins in an old Israelite festival, the Festival of Shavuot or Weeks. This was a harvest festival which later came to be a commemoration of the giving of the Torah to Moses on Mt. Sinai. This Pentecost I would like to hark back to that ancient harvest festival. I think of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem “Hurrahing In Harvest,” and I propose that we, in our Catholic education community of Hamilton-Wentworth, do just that: hurrah in harvest. For it is harvest time. The end of another school year is in sight. And, like the crowds at the first Pentecost, we have much to hurrah over, much for which to thank the Holy Spirit who gives our community life and breath.
“For now the winter is past,
the rain is over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth;
the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtledove
is heard in our land.
The fig tree puts forth its figs,
and the vines are in blossom” (Song of Songs 2:12-13).
I dedicate this reflection to Father Kyran Kennedy, a true “sacerdos magnus qui in diebus suis placuit Deo, a great priest who in his days pleased God” (Sirach 44:16-17). Pentecost Sunday, June 8, 2014, was the sixty second anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood. May his noble soul rest in the peace of Christ whom he so faithfully served.