Happy Birthday

Friday, May. 17, 2024
Happy Birthday + Enlarge
By Marie Mischel
Intermountain Catholic

On Sunday we celebrate Pentecost, which is considered the birthday of the Catholic Church. The first Pentecost was when the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples, gathered in Jerusalem, with “a noise like a strong driving wind” and “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,” as we read in the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles.
The noise drew a large crowd, people from throughout the Roman Empire, who were astounded to hear Galileans speaking in all the various languages that were represented.
Then Simon Peter, who not too long before had fled in fear of being persecuted for following Christ, stood up and preached his first homily. His words that day converted 3,000 people to what now is known as Christianity.
It has always surprised me that we Catholics don’t make a big deal of the Solemnity of Pentecost. For Christmas, when we celebrate the birth of Christ, we have four different Masses, each with distinct readings that highlight different aspects of the Nativity. Outside of church, we give gifts, throw parties and have weeks of good cheer. 
Similarly, at Easter, when we commemorate the Resurrection, we first have a week of solemn liturgies that relive the events leading up to Christ’s death. Then, on the vigil, we have a solemn Mass filled with symbolic rites that remind us that Jesus is the Light that came into the world, and a Liturgy of the Word that takes us through salvation history. Then we welcome new members into the Church with the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation. Throughout this all is soul-stirring music, beginning with the Exsultet. For the first time in 40 days we sing “Alleluia.” Traditionally, women would have a new bonnet for Easter, there would be Easter egg hunts, and the family would gather for a special meal.
Pentecost has none of these special attributes. Yes, there are different readings for the Vigil Mass and the Mass during the Day, but they’re nowhere near as strikingly different as at Christmas and Easter. And yes, we have the “Veni, Sancte Spiritus,” but again, that’s basically just one extra prayer. And after Mass? We pretty much just go our own way; there’s no family gathering, no special traditions, no gift-giving.
I wonder if this is because the message of Pentecost is that now it is up to each of us to carry on the work begun by Christ. From Christmas to Easter we celebrate his coming into the world and the salvation he brought, but with Pentecost we are reminded that through our Baptism and Confirmation the Holy Spirit has come upon us just as it did the disciples 2,000 years ago, and like them we are called to carry out the Great Commission given by Jesus: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.”
That’s a tremendous task, and one that I often shirk from. I need to be reminded that when I received the Holy Spirit, he bestowed on me not only the seven gifts of wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord, but also a particular grace and charism. 
In his homily last year at Pentecost, Pope Francis suggested that we ask ourselves whether we are willing to be shaped and changed by the Spirit, or whether we pursue our own projects. When I fall from the path, I need to meditate on what I have been given, and ask the Spirit to guide me to make use of my gifts in the way best suited to show my love for God and neighbor. This will be my own personal celebration on Pentecost; my prayer is that it will bear fruit in the coming year.
Marie Mischel is editor of the Intermountain Catholic. Reach her at marie@icatholic.org. 

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