May 15, 2024 at 9:07 a.m.

Pentecost and the practical gifts of the Holy Spirit

What exactly do we celebrate on Sunday on this great feast?
WORD OF FAITH: A breakdown of each week's upcoming Sunday readings to better understand the Word of God at Mass.
WORD OF FAITH: A breakdown of each week's upcoming Sunday readings to better understand the Word of God at Mass.

By Father Anthony Barratt | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

This Sunday, we keep another great feast, that of Pentecost, when we remember the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles. Fifty days ago, we celebrated Easter, and during that time we have been hearing about the risen Jesus’ appearances to his disciples. The risen Jesus has now returned to the Father (as we celebrated on the ­Ascension of the Lord). Now, Jesus fulfills his earlier promise that “the Advocate, the Holy Spirit,” will be sent to the disciples (see Sunday’s alternative Gospel, John 15:26-27, 16:12-15). The feast of Pentecost concludes the 50 days of our season of Easter. In fact, the word “Pentecost” comes from an ancient Greek word, “pente-koste,” meaning 50 days. Well, all of this is fine and good, but what exactly do we celebrate on Sunday?

All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. 

— Acts 2:4

The feast of Pentecost, like so many of our feast days and prayers, actually has its roots in a Jewish celebration, namely that of the “first fruits” or “the weeks.” This important feast was celebrated some ­seven weeks after the Sabbath of the Passover. It was a time to give thanks to God for the first fruits of the spring harvest and so to renew the covenant or relationship between God and His people. 

On the day of Pentecost, the Apostles were renewed and, in fact, radically changed in their relationship with God. Before the Holy Spirit came upon them, they were weak and frightened men, cowering in the upper room in fear (as we are told at the beginning of our First Reading in Acts 2:1-11). After they had received the Holy Spirit, they were strengthened and became bold and powerful witnesses to the risen Jesus. In this sense, Pentecost is called “the birthday of the Church.” They received not the first fruits of the spring harvest, but rather the fruits or gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom and understanding, right judgment and courage, knowledge and reverence, wonder or awe. This giving of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is continued in the Church through every generation and place seen, above all, in the Sacrament of Confirmation. 

The Gospel additionally tells us that the Apostles also received the authority to become special instruments of God’s love and mercy as the Holy Spirit is breathed upon them (John 20:19-23). This gift continues in the Church, for example, through the Sacrament of Ordination. Those who are to be ordained are literally ordered (that is both changed in their very being and also commanded) to be ministers of that same love and mercy through their leadership, their teaching and preaching, and through the celebration of the sacraments. All of us, though, receive the Holy Spirit. In these different and often difficult times, hopefully, we too have felt that presence of the Holy Spirit and all the wonderful gifts that the Holy Spirit can give to us. 

This radical renewal of relationships extends even further. We can notice, for example, how when Peter preaches on the day of Pentecost, each person present understands him in his or her own language (Acts 2:1-11). In other words, the division that can be caused by all the different languages spoken in our world (as we hear in the story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11:1-9; the First Reading at the Vigil Mass) is now overcome by the one message and one language of Jesus Christ: a language of love. After all, the Holy Spirit is often called the “bond of love” or the “Spirit of unity.” As St. Paul tells us in the Second Reading (1 Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13), this unity is seen in a unity of action: there are many diverse gifts, but the same Spirit. So, on Sunday, with this wonderful feast of Pentecost, we also celebrate the unity that following Jesus and having faith in him can bring. We are indeed one family, brothers and sisters, in Jesus Christ.

As our season of Easter comes to its close, let us give thanks for the first fruits or the gifts of the Holy Spirit that we have received. It is a good time to renew our appreciation of those seven gifts of the Holy Spirit and to see how these gifts are very practical. They really do help us in our everyday lives. Each day, why not think about one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit and see how this gift is working in your life. Also, let us realize, once again, that these gifts are given to us to be shared with others. All of us have received that mission, or even commission, to preach the Gospel. Yes, we are disciples, but we are also disciple-makers. We often do this simply by trying to live and to witness to our faith in the everyday events and encounters that make up our daily lives. Let us not cower in some upper room, but rather, like the Apostles at Pentecost, boldly go out and witness to our faith.


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