‘Lord, send out your Spirit’

May 17, 2024 at 6:51 a.m.
Duccio di Buoninsegna - Pentecost
Duccio di Buoninsegna - Pentecost

By Bishop David M. O'Connell, C.M.

A message for Pentecost from Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M.

This weekend, we celebrate with the Church throughout the world the great feast of Pentecost, the feast that commemorates the sending of the Holy Spirit upon the Church.

The word itself, Pentecost, means “50th day” and it was originally used to identify the annual festival that took place 50 days after the Hebrew Passover when the Jewish people presented thanks to God for the first fruits of the harvest. In the Old Testament, the ancient Hebrews celebrated the arrival of a new agricultural season, 50 days after Passover. In the New Testament, the first Christians celebrated the arrival of a new season of grace through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, a new era of salvation history, 50 days after Easter.

Our feast’s Scriptures present two different pictures or representations of that first Christian Pentecost. In the Gospel of St. John, we read about the Apostles huddled together in fear in the Upper Room on Easter Sunday when the Lord Jesus appears to them, showing them his hands and side and saying, “peace be with you,” not once but twice. St. John tells us that Jesus “breathed on them and said, ‘receive the Holy Spirit.’” The Hebrew word for breath and spirit are, in fact, the same word. In other words, what breath is to the body, the Holy Spirit of God is to life, to the soul.

This description of the first Pentecost is different than the one presented in the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles when it was not Easter Sunday but 50 days later. The Apostles were “in one place” but the breath of God, the Holy Spirit of God was not the gentle breath of Jesus described later in St. John’s Gospel. St. Luke in the Acts of the Apostles refers to “a noise like a strong driving wind” and “tongues as of fire” filling those first Apostles with the Holy Spirit. St. Luke writes that devout Jews of every nation under heaven were in Jerusalem at the time and they “heard the sound,” this tremendous commotion.

All of a sudden, these followers of Jesus, the first Apostles, who were huddled, locked away in fear, burst on the scene expressing themselves “in foreign tongues” and making “bold proclamation as the Spirit prompted them.” That’s what the Holy Spirit does, especially in the face of fear and confusion.

Although the Scripture accounts differ in detail on Pentecost Sunday, the outcome was the same: followers of Christ were transformed and strengthened by the Holy Spirit of God to say in every language and to every people under heaven that “Jesus is Lord.”

What are they saying, what does this mean? Our Lord, crucified and risen from the dead, has triumphed so that death has no more power over those who believe. And the power of the Holy Spirit is now with them.

The thing that catches my attention in the Scriptures for this feast is the fact that the Apostles could express themselves in foreign tongues, in languages that were not their own, in languages that could be understood by everyone as they preached “the marvels accomplished by God.”

The Holy Spirit on that first Pentecost gave those first Apostles a new language that overcame all previous confusion and barriers to God’s communication. It was a language whose first expressions were words of peace and forgiveness and unity. “Peace be with you.” “Receive the Holy Spirit.” “Forgive.” That was what God in Christ through the Holy Spirit wanted for his holy people.

And Christ’s words in St. John’s Gospel --his commands, really -- to forgive were not restricted to those Apostles: they were and are addressed to all of us in the Church, in every age and time, again and again. Jesus absorbed the ultimate human violence -- he was put to death -- but his last words on the Cross and his first words in that Upper Room were words of forgiveness and compassion. Those are words that speak volumes in any language. In the power of the Holy Spirit, those words are given to us and become our own!

The Apostles were filled with fear and anxiety. The Holy Spirit of God dispelled that fear, calmed that anxiety so that they might make him known in all the world. As fragile human beings, we too know the experience of fear and anxious worry, don’t we? We live in some dark times, including in our Church.

The Holy Spirit of God continues to be poured into our hearts, speaking his new language of peace and forgiveness, and enjoining us to speak that same new language with one another, a language that can be understood by all who hear it. We must, however, open our minds and hearts to the Holy Spirit, both to hear and to speak.

Pentecost is often called the “birthday of the Church,” the celebration of God’s people renewed and reborn in the Holy Spirit. That Pentecost occurs in our sacramental life -- especially the Sacrament of Confirmation which I confer so often and delegate pastors to do -- as well as in our spiritual life and in our active life of faith.

Remember that in both the Acts of the Apostles and the Gospel of St. John, the Apostles not only received the gifts of the Holy Spirit but also went forth to share the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit to the ends of the earth: preaching, teaching, baptizing, doing good works, some even to the point of death. That commission extends to us who are the Church in time.

Our Holy Father Pope Francis once explained in his teaching and preaching:

“The Christian life is impossible without the Holy Spirit. Prayer is not possible without the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit teaches and animates the Church. The Holy Spirit makes human words ‘dynamic’ and effective. By contrast, without the Holy Spirit, our Church, our Diocese, our parishes, our communities are simply businesses that do some good things. In the Holy Spirit, we are much more than that, right? Do you hear that ‘strong, driving wind?’ Do you see the ‘fire?’ Do you feel it burning deep in your soul? Can you speak it, translate it into words and actions that everyone can understand? If yes, that’s the Holy Spirit and his power at work in you … that’s your Pentecost!”

This weekend then, as we celebrate this Eucharist, we should open ourselves to the Holy Spirit once more so that we, too, like those first Apostles, might learn the new language of the Pentecost and speak it boldly, in word and action, to a waiting world.



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A message for Pentecost from Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M.

This weekend, we celebrate with the Church throughout the world the great feast of Pentecost, the feast that commemorates the sending of the Holy Spirit upon the Church.

The word itself, Pentecost, means “50th day” and it was originally used to identify the annual festival that took place 50 days after the Hebrew Passover when the Jewish people presented thanks to God for the first fruits of the harvest. In the Old Testament, the ancient Hebrews celebrated the arrival of a new agricultural season, 50 days after Passover. In the New Testament, the first Christians celebrated the arrival of a new season of grace through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, a new era of salvation history, 50 days after Easter.

Our feast’s Scriptures present two different pictures or representations of that first Christian Pentecost. In the Gospel of St. John, we read about the Apostles huddled together in fear in the Upper Room on Easter Sunday when the Lord Jesus appears to them, showing them his hands and side and saying, “peace be with you,” not once but twice. St. John tells us that Jesus “breathed on them and said, ‘receive the Holy Spirit.’” The Hebrew word for breath and spirit are, in fact, the same word. In other words, what breath is to the body, the Holy Spirit of God is to life, to the soul.

This description of the first Pentecost is different than the one presented in the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles when it was not Easter Sunday but 50 days later. The Apostles were “in one place” but the breath of God, the Holy Spirit of God was not the gentle breath of Jesus described later in St. John’s Gospel. St. Luke in the Acts of the Apostles refers to “a noise like a strong driving wind” and “tongues as of fire” filling those first Apostles with the Holy Spirit. St. Luke writes that devout Jews of every nation under heaven were in Jerusalem at the time and they “heard the sound,” this tremendous commotion.

All of a sudden, these followers of Jesus, the first Apostles, who were huddled, locked away in fear, burst on the scene expressing themselves “in foreign tongues” and making “bold proclamation as the Spirit prompted them.” That’s what the Holy Spirit does, especially in the face of fear and confusion.

Although the Scripture accounts differ in detail on Pentecost Sunday, the outcome was the same: followers of Christ were transformed and strengthened by the Holy Spirit of God to say in every language and to every people under heaven that “Jesus is Lord.”

What are they saying, what does this mean? Our Lord, crucified and risen from the dead, has triumphed so that death has no more power over those who believe. And the power of the Holy Spirit is now with them.

The thing that catches my attention in the Scriptures for this feast is the fact that the Apostles could express themselves in foreign tongues, in languages that were not their own, in languages that could be understood by everyone as they preached “the marvels accomplished by God.”

The Holy Spirit on that first Pentecost gave those first Apostles a new language that overcame all previous confusion and barriers to God’s communication. It was a language whose first expressions were words of peace and forgiveness and unity. “Peace be with you.” “Receive the Holy Spirit.” “Forgive.” That was what God in Christ through the Holy Spirit wanted for his holy people.

And Christ’s words in St. John’s Gospel --his commands, really -- to forgive were not restricted to those Apostles: they were and are addressed to all of us in the Church, in every age and time, again and again. Jesus absorbed the ultimate human violence -- he was put to death -- but his last words on the Cross and his first words in that Upper Room were words of forgiveness and compassion. Those are words that speak volumes in any language. In the power of the Holy Spirit, those words are given to us and become our own!

The Apostles were filled with fear and anxiety. The Holy Spirit of God dispelled that fear, calmed that anxiety so that they might make him known in all the world. As fragile human beings, we too know the experience of fear and anxious worry, don’t we? We live in some dark times, including in our Church.

The Holy Spirit of God continues to be poured into our hearts, speaking his new language of peace and forgiveness, and enjoining us to speak that same new language with one another, a language that can be understood by all who hear it. We must, however, open our minds and hearts to the Holy Spirit, both to hear and to speak.

Pentecost is often called the “birthday of the Church,” the celebration of God’s people renewed and reborn in the Holy Spirit. That Pentecost occurs in our sacramental life -- especially the Sacrament of Confirmation which I confer so often and delegate pastors to do -- as well as in our spiritual life and in our active life of faith.

Remember that in both the Acts of the Apostles and the Gospel of St. John, the Apostles not only received the gifts of the Holy Spirit but also went forth to share the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit to the ends of the earth: preaching, teaching, baptizing, doing good works, some even to the point of death. That commission extends to us who are the Church in time.

Our Holy Father Pope Francis once explained in his teaching and preaching:

“The Christian life is impossible without the Holy Spirit. Prayer is not possible without the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit teaches and animates the Church. The Holy Spirit makes human words ‘dynamic’ and effective. By contrast, without the Holy Spirit, our Church, our Diocese, our parishes, our communities are simply businesses that do some good things. In the Holy Spirit, we are much more than that, right? Do you hear that ‘strong, driving wind?’ Do you see the ‘fire?’ Do you feel it burning deep in your soul? Can you speak it, translate it into words and actions that everyone can understand? If yes, that’s the Holy Spirit and his power at work in you … that’s your Pentecost!”

This weekend then, as we celebrate this Eucharist, we should open ourselves to the Holy Spirit once more so that we, too, like those first Apostles, might learn the new language of the Pentecost and speak it boldly, in word and action, to a waiting world.


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