“When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.” Acts 2: 1-11
We have all likely encountered a storm that literally shook our house it was so intense; rain pelting the windows horizontally, the darkness pierced by momentary flashes of lightning revealing the full power of the storm. We may have huddled together with family wondering what comes next. Will the sirens sound? Then as the skies clear, perhaps brief silence, followed by the return of other sounds – maybe neighbors coming together visiting about the fierceness of the storm.
Mary and the Apostles had gathered together as Jesus instructed them at the Ascension.
“And behold I am sending the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” Luke 24:49
They were behind closed doors on Pentecost, waiting anxiously after Jesus returned to the Father. What would come next? What did Jesus mean when He said they would be clothed with power? The events of the previous 49 days and especially the last nine were a lead-up to a perfect storm on this 50th day – the arrival of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Church! This storm was different. No flashes of lightning or rain, but still a driving wind and “tongues of fire” which emboldened them to praise God and preach the good news.
As we reflect on scripture, some insights are more apparent than others. Here we see the birth of the universal Church. The power of that day is shown in the number of people who heard the Apostles praise God and by Peter’s simple exhortation to repent and engender love in return. It remains accessible to this day through a shared faith in the power of the same Holy Spirit. This narrative also illustrates a remarkable expression of solidarity demonstrated by Mary and the Apostles in following Jesus faithfully, and to those coming to faith by the thousands who participated in a moment of spiritual enlightenment on Pentecost. Now in our times and on our journey of faith, we are called to solidarity in the midst of difficult circumstances.
What does this solidarity, this coming together, look like? Pope John Paul II wrote in his encyclical about the concern of the Church for the social order, “[Solidarity] is not a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people, both near and far. On the contrary, it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say, to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all.” On Social Concern (Sollicitudo rei Socialis) #38
The early Church defied expectations. Christians banded together to help those in need even in the face of persecution. They loved one another and helped one another. Even as they struggled with their understanding, dealt with their differences and while being persecuted, they sought a common bond in Jesus Christ. This was a true gift of the Holy Spirit and an expression of the fruit of charity.
Now the question remains. In the midst of the storms and challenges of our lives, do we open ourselves to living in the Spirit? Do we take care of those in need? Let us pray together the Sequence of Pentecost for hope and direction.
Come, Holy Spirit, come! And from your celestial home shed a ray of light divine!
Come, Father of the poor! Come, source of all our store! Come, within our bosoms shine.
You, of comforters the best; You, the soul’s most welcome guest; sweet refreshment here below;
In our labor, rest most sweet; grateful coolness in the heat; solace in the midst of woe.
O most blessed Light divine, shine within these hearts of yours, and our inmost being fill!
Where you are not, we have naught, nothing good in deed or thought, nothing free from taint of ill.
Heal our wounds, our strength renew; on our dryness pour your dew; wash the stains of guilt away:
Bend the stubborn heart and will; melt the frozen, warm the chill; guide the steps that go astray.
On the faithful, who adore and confess you, evermore in Your sevenfold gift descend;
Give them virtue’s sure reward;
Give them your salvation, Lord; Give them joys that never end. Amen.
Stephen Hilliard is Executive Director of the Catholic Charities of Kansas City-St. Joseph Foundation.