The apostles and believers were united with a common zeal to go and preach the Gospel. FATHER JOHN JOSEPH FENELON explains

The reason Pentecost falls 50 days after Easter comes from a parallel Jewish holiday, Shavu`ot, which falls 50 days after the Passover. Shavu’ot is sometimes called the festival of weeks, referring to the seven weeks since Passover. (Deut 16:9; Lev 23:16; Ex 23:16 ).

Originally a harvest feast, Shavu`ot now commemorates the sealing of the Old Covenant on Mount Sinai, when the Lord revealed the Torah to Moses. Every year, the Jewish people renew their acceptance of the gift of the Torah on this feast. In (Ex 19 and 20) God appeared to Moses to give the Law (Ten Commandments) to be given to the people. The Law was the mandate of God’s will for His people and they were to follow them faithfully in order to be the Covenant partner with Yahweh, their new identity.

In the Catholic tradition, Pentecost Sunday is the 50th Day after the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The word Pentecost is derived from the Greek word Pentecoste meaning 50th. The fire and wind mentioned in Acts 2:1-13 remind us of Mount Sinai. But what was handed over to the Apostles on Pentecost in the Upper Room (symbolic of Mt Sinai) was the Holy Spirit.

Very often the Holy Spirit is seen as a bird or tongues of fire based on Biblical imagery (Mk 1:9-11 – Baptism of Jesus, Acts 2:1-11 – Pentecost). But the Holy Spirit is truly the love energy or love force that exists between God the Father and God the Son, given as a divine helper for the baptised to live as God’s sons and daughters. (Rom 8:8 17, Jn 14:1516, 2326).

At Pentecost each of them in the crowd heard the apostles speak in his own language – a reversal of the events at the Tower of Babel, where the people were scattered due to the diversity of languages (Gen 11:19). This is the miracle of Pentecost. The miracle of Pentecost has often been misunderstood as the gift of tongues. The Holy Spirit is the spirit of love and the agent of communion/mission given for the good of the Church. The Spirit is not given for one to feel individually superior but collectively for the communion and mission of the Church. It was right after Pentecost that Peter, inspired by the Holy Spirit, preached his first sermon to Jews and other nonbelievers, in which he opened the scriptures of the Old Testament, showing how the prophets prophesied events about the Messiah and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. He reminds the people that the Jesus they crucified was the Messiah and Lord and was raised from the dead, which ‘cuts them to the heart.” When they asked what they should do, Peter exhorts them to repent of their sins and to be baptised. According to the account in Acts, about 3,000 people were baptised following Peter’s sermon (Acts 2:1441).

For this reason, Pentecost is considered the birthday of the Church – Peter, the first Pope, preaches for the first time and converts thousands of new believers. The apostles and believers, were united with a common zeal and purpose to go and preach the Gospel. In Mt 28:1920, Jesus gives the great commission to His apostles: ‘Go make disciples of all nations and baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

Our Pentecost happened on the day of our Confirmation. To be an evangelistic and missionary Church is our mission as well for we have received the same Holy Spirit of the Apostles! Brothers and sisters in Christ, as we gather to celebrate the Feast of Pentecost, let us pray that the Holy Spirit will descend upon us and fill our hearts with bonds of love, unity and courage, like it did for the frightened Apostles and help us to be courageous witnesses for the Risen Lord. Happy Birthday!

Father John Joseph Fenelon is Assistant Priest at the Church of Saint Vincent de Paul.

This article was first published in The Catholic News on Sunday June 2, 2019.

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