We begin this week by reaching out in prayer to all those affected by the horrific terror attacks in Egypt and Manchester. We pray that unity and healing will overcome hatred and vengeance. We pray that welcome and reconciliation will outshine anger and retaliation. We pray that love will cast out fear.
There must have been an element of fear when Mary and the other disciples, both men and women, gathered behind closed doors in the upper room on that first day of Pentecost. They had experienced a whole spectrum of emotions from the time Jesus was arrested and crucified to the moment when Mary Magdalene proclaimed that Jesus was risen. Many of the disciples had seen and encountered the risen Jesus. They had witnessed Jesus return to his father. They had heard him say that they would be his fearless witnesses once they received the Holy Spirit.
We can only imagine the mixture of emotions that filled their minds and hearts – fear, hope, doubt, expectation, anxiety, anticipation, sadness, peace. Yet ‘they all joined together constantly in prayer’ (Acts 1:14), always believing in the promise Jesus made to them, ‘I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high’ (Lk 24:49).
On that first day of Pentecost Jerusalem would have been crowded with thousands of pilgrims who had come from far and wide to mark the festival of Shavuot, celebrating the spring harvest and the giving of the Torah. It was this teeming pilgrim crowd that first witnessed the disciples emerge from behind closed doors, infused with the Holy Spirit and preaching the Word courageously, committing themselves to be witnesses of Jesus to the whole world.
Pope Benedict, addressing the crowds gathered in St Peter’s Square on the feast of the Pentecost, said:
In this extraordinary event, we find the essential and qualifying characteristics of the Church: the Church is one, as was the community of Pentecost gathered in prayer and ‘agreement’: ‘the community of believers was of one heart and mind’ (Acts 4:32). The Church is holy, not because of its own merits, but because it is animated by the Holy Spirit, it keeps its gaze fixed on Christ, so as to become one with Him and his love. The Church is Catholic, because the Gospel is destined for all peoples, thus from the very beginning, the Holy Spirit makes it so it is announced in all tongues. The Church is apostolic, because it has been built upon the cornerstone of the Apostles, and is the faithful custodian of their teachings. (27 May 2007)
On this day, the Church as ‘a community of Christians who worship the Father, follow the path of the Son and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’ was born. On this day, the little mustard seed began its process of growing into a mighty tree. On this day, the Word was given anew.
READ: A Poem on Hope – Wendell Berry
WATCH: Pentecost – The Birth of the Church
CONSIDER: St Kevin and the Blackbird – Seamus Heaney