It was the Jewish Feast of Pentecost which means the fiftieth day after the feast of Passover. Pentecost was the celebration of the harvest and the celebration of the First Fruits of the land, and the celebration of the Law given by God to Moses at Mt. Sinai.
People came to Jerusalem from all parts of the known world to celebrate the feast. The Apostles and about 120 disciples were in the city – not to celebrate the Feast – they were hiding and waiting in the Cenical – the room of the Last Supper. Jesus had told His Apostles at His Ascension to go and pray for the coming of the Holy Spirit who would make everything clear to them.
As we just heard in the first reading, the Holy Spirit came to them in the sound of wind and in fire, just as Jesus had promised. Peter – the clear spokesman for the Apostles opened the windows and began to preach a message of repentance and forgiveness. The confusion of tongues God created among the people of the Old Testament who tried to build the Tower of Babel was reversed.
At Pentecost – the birthday of the Church – the Apostles were changed men. They were ready to carry out the command of Jesus: “Go and make disciples of all nations. Baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” They knew what He meant when He said: “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive – they are forgiven them; whose sins you hold bound they are held bound.”
It was only when the Apostles and the disciples received the Holy Spirit that they were able to take the Good News of the Gospel into the world. It was the Holy Spirit who led them, guided them, and filled them with the courage and wisdom they needed to do what they were called to do. It was the Holy Spirit who opened the hearts of the people to listen to their message and accept it.
For the Apostles, life drastically changed with Pentecost. Before, they had been timid and fearful – lurking behind locked doors in terror of their uncertain future. At Pentecost, the fire of God inflamed them, and they were filled with boldness. Before they had been hesitant and confused in their faith. At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit opened their minds so that they could believe firmly and speak eloquently of the wonderful works of God. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Church was powerfully born.
As the Church moved out from the Upper Room, great signs and miracles happened as recorded in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, and in the Holy Name of Jesus, the sick were healed, the dead were brought back to life, demons were cast out, the widows and orphans were cared for, and the Church began to flourish.
The 120 disciples of Jesus would soon become 3000, then 5000, then millions, so that now Jesus is testified to in countless tongues and places. This Feast of Pentecost reminds us that the disciples had been filled with fear.
They locked the doors of the place where they were, convinced that nothing good or new could come from their pain. They locked the doors, convinced that there were no alternatives or new approaches. They locked the doors and no longer hoped that God would act among them.
This is a picture of the Church in every age, a picture of the Church in our time. We too lock the doors of the place where we are – not expecting God to act in our day. But the Risen Christ stepped through the locked doors. The Risen Lord stepped through their fears and challenged them to faith. And this is how the Church was born, and it is how the Church continues to be born again and again after every crisis.
This is how the Church is born in our day, in our diocese, in our parish basilica. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the Risen Christ leads people from fear and indifference to faith. We are like those first disciples, bringing our faith and also our fears to the Lord, bringing the struggles and disagreements to the Lord, longing for peace and praying that Christ will urge us on – for He is with us as He promised us, and He will never leave us orphans.
On this Birthday of the Church – this Feast of Pentecost – we ask for a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and for a fresh awakening of the gifts which each of us received at our Confirmation so that what happened in the Apostolic Church will happen to us as individuals and to the Church here and now.
On this Feast of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit is calling us to take the Church more seriously: to rise from the ranks of Sunday Catholics and become alive in our Faith; to learn more about our Faith, defend our Faith, and proclaim our faith by living it to the full; to re-examine our faith in light of the Gospel, and discover that the Catholic Church alone comes from Jesus Christ and His Apostles and that we alone (despite our fears and weaknesses) have the fullness of the teachings of Jesus which have come to us unchanged and in their entirety from Jesus Himself.
Without the Holy Spirit, you and I can bear no fruit – our lives are in vain. May the Holy Spirit of Pentecost fill up what is lacking in each of us and may He always be welcome in our lives, and may He calm our fears about the virus.