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Baptism by Fire

When we hear Jesus encourage his disciples to go evangelize, often we get discouraged. We reflect on our weakness, our failures, our many unsuccessful attempts to proclaim the word. We fear being rejected, ignored, or persecuted. Sometimes our words fall on deaf ears. When we experience the power of God’s love and want to share it with others, our efforts are frequently frustrated. In today’s celebration of Pentecost, however, God offers us a reality far greater than our own attempts. He offers us the power of the Holy Spirit to proclaim his message of good news and invite others to share in the victory of Jesus.

Context

Pentecost was a Jewish feast before it became a Christian one. It was celebrated fifty days or seven weeks after the feast of Passover and was called the Feast of Weeks or Shavuot (Hebrew for “weeks”). Similarly, Christians celebrate Pentecost fifty days after Easter. The word “Pentecost” simply means “fiftieth.” The Jewish feast entailed special grain offerings and animal sacrifices tied to the grain harvest (Lev 23:15-22). The feast also came to commemorate the giving of the law at Mt. Sinai and Jewish men would come on pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast together. That is why Acts tells us that Jews from every nation had come to Jerusalem for the feast.

A Fiery Prayer Meeting

While Acts 2:1 only tells us that “all” were together in “one place,” we can extrapolate from 1:12-14 that the one place is the upper room and the people present are the apostles, the women disciples of Jesus, and Mary the mother of Jesus. Traditional icons of Pentecost show Mary in the middle of the apostles when the fire from heaven descends. The disciples encountered the Father in all their prayer and Scripture reading. They had come to know the Son as he walked the earth, but now they are visited by the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity. Previously, the Holy Spirit was manifested as a dove (Mark 1:10), but now he comes as a “rushing violent wind” (my translation) and as fire. The sign of wind matches the words for spirit in Hebrew (ruah) and Greek (pneuma), which can be translated as “breath, wind, or spirit.” Jesus even teaches that “the wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with every one who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). Wind is a deliciously appropriate symbol for the Holy Spirit who empowers, impels, inspires, and yet cannot be restricted or captured.

Read more at Catholic Exchange. 

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