When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Holy Spirit gave them utterance. (Acts 2: 1-4)
The account of Pentecost in Acts 2, speaks powerfully of the dynamism and the movement of the Holy Spirit. The Apostles once hiding, immobilised, and paralysed by fear, were suddenly liberated with boldness and power, that they left the confines of their physical and metaphorical prisons to preach of the Name of Jesus, His death and Resurrection, and of the fulfilment of Salvation History.
We are reminded of the theophanies – the revelation of God, of ancient days – in the encounter of Moses with the burning bush at Mount Sinai (Exodus 3), the glorious pillar of cloud and fire that led the Israelites and protected them (Exodus 13: 20-22), and the magnificent whirlwind that appears to Job (Job 38:1). These elements signify that the Lord God has these elements of wind and fire, cloud and storm subject under His making and authority. This same authority over the elements is seen and manifested in Jesus for we see Jesus calming the storm (Mark 4: 35-41), and Jesus walking on the water (Matthew 14:22-33; Mark 6: 45 -52).
The Church’s liturgy celebrates the Solemnity of Pentecost fifty days after Easter Sunday. The first Pentecost is seen as the day that the Church had her breakthrough, and freshly empowered with the fullness of the Holy Spirit, began her sacred mission that had been mandated by Christ our Lord – the work of evangelisation, of proclaiming the Good News, of going forth to make disciples of the nations. The Sacrament of Confirmation, along with the Sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist, is a Sacrament of Initiation, which invites the Christian into a deeper union with the Holy Spirit so as to become perfect instruments in carrying out the apostolic duties and responsibilities that he or she is meant to fulfil (CCC. 1285 -1321, 2623, 2634, 2644).
At Pentecost, the Apostles were “filled with the Holy Spirit”. The Holy Spirit was outpoured lavishly into the soul so that the person could share more intensely in the redemptive mission of Jesus. This phrase is repeated multiple times in Luke’s writings and throughout Scripture. With the Holy Spirit, the Apostles were strengthened and empowered, and thus guided by the Holy Spirit, were enabled to fulfil the vocation and the mission that had been gifted to them. The tongues of fire are representative of the transforming energy of the Holy Spirit (CCC. 696, 728-730, 1287, 1556). The Pentecost also reverses and redeems what happened at the Tower of Babel – when pride and hubris led to confusion of languages (See Galatians 11:1-9).
It is significant that Pentecost, being a pilgrimage event that drew Jews from all parts of the known world to Jerusalem, would now take on a different impetus and meaning with the miracle of pilgrims from so many diverse cultures and regions being able to understand most crisply and clearly, the preaching of the Apostles in their own languages – this foretells and heralds the universality of the Church as the Gospel is preached in every conceivable tongue. This is the desire of Christ – a desire of reunion, reconciliation, unity and that of bringing His message of redemption and salvation to everyone. It is also significant that the number of nationalities listed in Acts 2, is 17. 17 is the seventh prime number and is used in Scripture to represent universality and perfection (CCC. 101, 737-741).
At the heart of Pentecost is a Breakthough that is only attainable through the workings and the Grace of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps in this time of a global pandemic, the Church needs to re-focus on the driving force of the Holy Spirit, and to discern how and where the Holy Spirit is leading the Church in the 21st century. The structures we once held dear were crumbled almost overnight. The affection that we once held for the Church as physical building has led to complacency and resulted in a Church that was constantly in maintenance mode. We have lost our sense of mission, we have left the poor to fend for themselves. What is the Holy Spirit saying today? Have we, inundated by the advancements of humanity and technology become impervious and numb to the promptings of the Holy Spirit? What is our mission today? What are called to witness to today?
This time of the pandemic has especially been difficult for many who have lost jobs, have tried to survive by scrapping the bottom of the barrel and making ends meet, who have lost loved ones to the virus. We are paralysed by fear and put into exile into our own homes, and perhaps that Breakthough is exactly what we need – in our finances, in our debts, in our employment, in our studies, in our dreamings, in our mission, in our difficult relationships, in our ministry, in our communities, in our friendships and enterprises. What is one to do? What does Jesus say?
I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Counsellor, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of Truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; you know Him, for He dwells with you, and will be in you… He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. (John 14:16-26)
This Pentecost, let us cry out to the Holy Spirit and surrender these gravestones that need to be rolled away in our lives to His most mighty and capable hands. Take heart. The Holy Spirit is moving behind the scenes and preparing us for the Breakthrough that we need.
By the Grace of God,
Brian Bartholomew Tan
Catechism of the Catholic Church. (n.d.). Libreria Editrice Vaticana.