Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
A Pentecost primer
by Mary Cronk Farrell
(From the June 10, 2004 edition of the Inland Register)
My family began asking questions in the car on the way to Mass Pentecost Sunday. Pentecost is over for this year, but it’s never too late for reflection on the Spirit’s work in the world. So I’ve included the questions and answers here. It pays to be ready. Any minute a child could start asking you questions.
• Why do we wear red today? The church has designated symbolic colors to mark the different seasons and some feast days of the liturgical year. You’ll see the priest dressed in these colored vestments, as well as possibly draperies in the church or table clothes or candles in people’s homes. The red of Pentecost symbolizes the fire of the Holy Spirit that came upon Jesus’ disciples in the upper room at the first Pentecost.
• Why didn’t the tongues of flame catch the disciple’s heads on fire? Think Moses and the burning bush that was not consumed. With God, all things are possible. If this answer doesn’t satisfy, you may go on to explain how Catholics don’t necessarily take the Bible word for word. Some stories are metaphorical, meaning the words imply a truth too big or mysterious to completely understand. The power of the Holy Spirit can be seen in how the disciples became filled with the courage to go out and live and preach the Good News, but it cannot be completely defined. Imagining the disciples on fire with God’s love is one way of trying to describe this power.
• What does Pentecost mean anyway? Pentecost is a Greek word for 50th, and came from the Jewish spring harvest festival, which was celebrated on the 50th day after Passover. The Israelites marked the end of the wheat and barley harvest at this feast and brought their first fruits to the temple as offerings to God. In the time of Jesus, Pentecost had also become a celebration of the giving of the covenant law to Moses. The Christian Feast of Pentecost celebrates the gift of the Spirit as the first fruits of our inheritance as children of God, as well as the new covenant we have in Christ.
• What is the Holy Spirit? In the Hebrew experience and Scriptures, the Spirit is the life-giving breath of God which comes upon a person, renewing her from within, and making her responsive to God’s Word. Before Jesus’ ascension he promised to send the Spirit which would make his teachings clear to his followers and give them the courage and wisdom to continue his work. The Book of Acts describes this coming of the Spirit that came to be known as Pentecost: “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 among them tongues of fire, which parted and came to rest on each of them. And they were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues” (Acts 2:2-4). The Church defines the Holy Spirit as the third person of the Trinity, the power that enables faith and unites us to God and each other.
• Is the Spirit still around today? The Spirit of God takes no vacations. Looking around we do see division and discord in the Body of Christ. We’re not only separated into different Christian denominations, but the Catholic Church itself is divided by scandal, and polarized into conservative and liberal camps.
But it is the Spirit at work with each step we take toward reconciliation. When we choose to listen to one another and believe the other is acting in good faith, that is the Spirit. When we refrain from quick, easy answers and accept a life with tension, that is the Spirit. When we are willing to risk our deepest fears and share our pain, that is the Spirit. When we stop trying to convince others that we’re right and begin to search for mutual understanding, that is the Spirit.
I also like to think the Spirit is at work as I struggle for answers when my kids ask me questions.
© 2004, Mary Cronk Farrell
(Mary Cronk Farrell is a Spokane free-lance and
children’s writer. She is a contributing author to the book Daughters of the Desert:
Stories of Remarkable Women from Christian, Jewish and Muslim Traditions, from
Skylight Paths Publishing.)
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