• This stained-glass window depicts a scene from Pentecost, which marks the end of the Easter season and commemorates the Holy Spirit descending upon the apostles 50 days after Christ's resurrection. The Spirit's promise that life always can be renewed is the promise of Pentecost. (CNS photo by Gregory A. Shemitz)
    This stained-glass window depicts a scene from Pentecost, which marks the end of the Easter season and commemorates the Holy Spirit descending upon the apostles 50 days after Christ's resurrection. The Spirit's promise that life always can be renewed is the promise of Pentecost. (CNS photo by Gregory A. Shemitz)

Pentecost: Filled with the Spirit

Catholic News Service    |    05.16.2018
Category: Faith Alive

In this issue:
Have a heart! The promise of Pentecost
Spiritual fruits of Pentecost 
Evolution of Pentecost
Food for Thought

In a nutshell

The Spirit's promise that life always can be renewed is the promise of Pentecost.

Sometimes, as with the apostles, the Spirit's manifestation is astonishing and the results immediate. Our experience may not be as sudden or startling, but it's no less profound.

Pentecost, in various forms, dates back to the earliest days of the church. As such, it has meaning for us, and it deserves our attention and reverence.
 

Have a heart! The promise of Pentecost

By David Gibson/Catholic News Service

 "The sound of the word 'heartless'" is nothing less than "horrible," in Benedictine Father Benoit Standaert's view.

There is a striking difference between living "with or without heart." It "is as great as the difference between heaven and hell, life and death, light and dark," the Belgian priest asserts.

It is vital, he suggests in "Spirituality, an Art of Living: A Monk's Alphabet of Spiritual Practices," that the key to unlocking the heart be found.

Most people know instinctively what "heartlessness" implies. Christians tend to grasp, moreover, that a heartless life leads away from the values of the Gospel. They sense that heartlessness results in a somewhat cold, methodical approach to the surrounding world, an approach that rests too comfortably on the surface of things.

But Christian spirituality focuses the eye, the mind and imagination on all the richness found below the surface of whatever is most readily visible to us.

A transformation of human hearts that have grown stony is what God's promise of renewal entails, according to the Hebrew prophet Ezekiel. Thus, God says:

"I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you" (Ez 36:26-27).

The Spirit's promise that life always can be renewed is the promise of Pentecost. The church's Pentecost Sunday prayer -- "Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love" -- is heard during Masses celebrated this day around the world.

Father Standaert thinks that this process of renewal involves getting "back in touch with the promptings of our heart." He writes: "Our humanity is at stake here: Do you have a heart or are you heartless?"

This means that the Spirit's coming sets in motion a journey into holiness. For the Spirit is "the foundational principle of new life, holy life," Father Standaert says.

Pope Francis' just-released apostolic exhortation on the call to holiness today, titled "Rejoice and Be Glad" ("Gaudete et Exsultate"), reproposes "the call to holiness in a practical way for our time, with all its risks, challenges and opportunities." He situates holiness in the very heart of the actual lives people live.

The Holy Spirit is the nurturer of whatever holiness characterizes our lives, the pope affirms. "Holiness, in the end," he writes, "is the fruit of the Holy Spirit in your life."

He dispels the notion "that holiness is only for those who can withdraw from ordinary affairs to spend much time in prayer." Instead, "we are all called to be holy by living our lives with love and by bearing witness … wherever we find ourselves."

Many Christians may indeed suspect that holiness is for others, for people with some special talent or aptitude for following the patient, kind, hospitable and healing ways of Christ that holiness implies.

There can be a tendency, moreover, to think that we know holiness when we see it and to surmise that those who appear holy must be greatly different from us.

But Pope Francis is at pains in his new apostolic exhortation to assure people like you or me that our lives and activities fit well within the panorama of holy lifestyles. The challenge is to broaden our sense of holiness, he indicates.

"We are called to be contemplatives even in the midst of action and to grow in holiness by responsibly and generously carrying out our proper mission," he states.

Pope Francis confesses that he likes "to contemplate the holiness present in the patience of God's people: in those parents who raise their children with immense love, in those men and women who work hard to support their families, in the sick" and in elderly religious-order members "who never lose their smile."

Does smiling, then, constitute a sign of the Spirit's work? A smile can become a gift to others, even when we feel we have nothing else to give to them, St. Teresa of Kolkata believed.

Father Standaert remarks that "nobody can smile and grit his teeth at the same time." He fears, though, that smiling has become very difficult for many. Yet, he says, anyone "who receives your smile understands perfectly: This is pure blessing, pure gift."

The Belgian monk's best advice is to "make smiling an intentional practice." Then "it will nourish us for the rest of our lives."

Similarly, Pope Francis finds that "ill humor is no sign of holiness." In fact, he points out, "Christian joy is usually accompanied by a sense of humor."

True enough, conversations about spirituality -- all the ways of acting upon the Spirit's prompting in prayer, reflection or service to others, for example -- at times assume a serious, earnest tone. But joy and good humor are not foreign to saints' lives, the pope insists.

The holiness the Spirit gives, Pope Francis is convinced, "will take away none of your energy, vitality or joy."

(Gibson served on Catholic News Service's editorial staff for 37 years.)

Spiritual fruits of Pentecost

By Barbara Hosbach/Catholic News Service

Jesus assured his disciples he would not leave them as orphans; he promised the Father would send another Advocate to be with them always (Jn 14:16-18). That promise was kept on the day of Pentecost, considered the birthday of the church, when Jesus' followers received the Holy Spirit. We who believe are also blessed with the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.

Sometimes, as with the apostles, the Spirit's manifestation is astonishing and the results immediate. Our experience may not be as sudden or startling, but it's no less profound.

One Pentecost Sunday reading, taken from St. Paul's Letter to the Galatians, lists the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (5:22). This fruit can't be developed independently. I know. I tried.

Picture an apple tree. Apples never grow in isolation. Those that fall from the tree eventually rot.

Similarly, efforts to be good or gentle or patient on my own usually fail. I simply can't produce these qualities single-handedly. Although I might keep it up for a little while, sooner or later my pleasant veneer wears down.

If I'm "generous to a fault" and others don't reciprocate -- or at least notice and thank me -- I become resentful. As I try to exercise self-control, the more I suppress my feelings, the louder they nag at me. I've even tried willing myself into patience.

When annoyed, I'd lecture myself. It never worked. "You've got to be patient," I'd mutter to myself, all the while feeling like a cartoon character ready to shoot steam out my ears.

Knowing what I should do -- even if I want to -- doesn't enable me to do it. Knowing and doing are two different things.

That's where the power of the Holy Spirit makes all the difference. After all, the disciples didn't manufacture the Holy Spirit, they received it.

For example, I've heard that patience can't be achieved through willpower; it's acquired by letting go of self-will. Accepting God's unconditional love empowers me to accept myself as a frail human in need of his help. That humility makes room for the Holy Spirit to emerge.

Of course I feel more peaceful when I treat myself gently instead of pressuring myself. I can be kinder to others and more patient when I'm not trying to force things to go the way I think they should. When I relax, my relationships with others always improve. These gentler attitudes pave the way for joy.

Maybe it's no accident that -- at least in the English language -- the word fruit can be singular or plural. St. Paul listed the first fruit of the Spirit as love, but all the others are connected -- they come from and lead to love. When I allow myself to pause and breathe in God's love through the Holy Spirit, I become more effective in genuinely carrying his message of love.

It helps to remember that spiritual growth is a process. Apples don't materialize fully formed. They start as tight little buds that aren't even edible, then slowly blossom. It takes time for them to ripen. They need to receive nourishment from the sun and rain before they develop into fruit that will nourish others.

That's why we need to remain faithful and be patient with ourselves, trusting God's own faithfulness, patience, gentleness and generous love for us. We can't give what we don't have. As we grow in the Spirit, bearing fruit becomes a natural process.

Jesus said, "Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing" (Jn 15:5). Christ keeps his promises. When we open ourselves to receive the blessings he offers through the Holy Spirit, we will bear much fruit.

(Hosbach is a freelance writer and author of "'Your Faith Has Made You Well': Jesus Heals in the New Testament.")

The evolution of Pentecost

By Joseph F. Kelly/Catholic News Service

Pentecost, Greek for "50th day," was originally a Jewish term referring to the 50th day after Passover. For the first Christians, it was the 49th day after Easter, and, counting Easter, a period of 50 days. The apostle Paul twice used the word to reference the Jewish feast day, but the day has always been sacred to Christians.

The Acts of the Apostles (2:1-4), refers to Pentecost as the day when the apostles were gathered in the upper room "and suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind. … Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire. ... And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit."

Pentecost was the decisive event in the early history of the church, an assurance to the apostles and other disciples that the risen Jesus was fulfilling his promise to send the Holy Spirit to them.

This motivated them to overcome their fears of the Jewish and Roman authorities and to preach about Jesus and his redemptive mission that continues after his resurrection.

While it cannot be determined how widely spread the feast initially became, Acts tells us that when Paul was evangelizing in Asia Minor, he "was hurrying to be in Jerusalem, if at all possible, for the day of Pentecost." In his First Letter to the Corinthians (16:8), Paul speaks of staying for Pentecost in the Greek city of Ephesus, a gentile environment.

Today Pentecost is a feast day in the Roman Catholic Church and some other churches.

Coming so far after Easter, Pentecost reflects its late spring date. Flowers are used to decorate churches on this feast. The Catholic Church and others used to consider the eve of Pentecost to be a time of fasting, while Catholics also started a Pentecost novena.

Pentecost was also a popular time for confirmation among those churches that have that sacrament or a ritualized observation as adolescents became adult believers.

In the Middle Ages the dramatic scene of Pentecost was a very popular theme for religious art. Much medieval piety focused on Mary (for example, "Notre Dame" means "Our Lady" in French), and visual art for Pentecost often showed Mary seated while the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove flew above her and the male disciples stood or sat around her. Such works of art enjoyed great popularity in France and Italy.

But the dramatic scene of Mary with her son's closest disciples also appealed to music composers. Johann Sebastian Bach composed a number of cantatas for the German Lutheran observation of Pentecost.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, an Austrian Catholic, prepared a motet for Pentecost. And the list of artists who found inspiration in Pentecost is much longer than this.

No feast coming after Easter will get much limelight, but Pentecost, in various forms, dates back to the earliest days of the church. As such, it has meaning for us, and it deserves our attention and reverence. The descent of the Holy Spirit on the disciples is indeed the origin, the "birthday," of the church.

(Joseph F. Kelly is retired professor at John Carroll University in University Heights, Ohio.)

Food for Thought

The ancient Celts called the Holy Spirit "the wild goose."

Geese are loud, boisterous, temperamental creatures with a mind of their own. The image doesn't sound holy or sacred -- at first. 

Father Dave Pivonka, a priest of the Third Order Regular of St. Francis, says that when he first heard the Celt's term for the Holy Spirt, "it stirred something in my heart."

"Yes, there is a wildness to the Holy Spirit," he added.

Images of a dove or candle flame are the most common images when picturing the Holy Spirit. "But the Holy Spirit is more than that. God's Spirit is power and blows not merely like a gentle breeze but at times like a raging wind," Father Pivonka said.

Along with a team, Father Pivonka created The Wild Goose Project, a series of 14 videos segments centered on the Holy Spirit. The series can be watched individually or in groups online for free, or DVDs can be purchased, and is accompanied by a study guide.

The project is an "attempt to invite Catholic Christians into a more profound life-giving relationship with the Holy Spirit," Father Pivonka said on the project's website.

Pentecost may be the perfect time to begin a closer relationship with the uncontrollable, untamable "wild goose," the Holy Spirit.

View the segments here: https://thewi7ldgooseisloose.com/series-segments
 

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