During Lent, I wrote about directing a day of retreat centered on the people of the Passion – those figures from Scripture who were present during the arrest, trial, and crucifixion of Jesus. Now I am preparing to revisit each of their stories as “part 2” of that retreat takes place. How might each of those characters changed between the time of Jesus’ death and the coming of the Holy Spirit?
The Scriptures provide some ready answers for a few of them. Peter emerges from the experience with an eloquence and conviction that was a far cry from his early verbal gaffes and shameful denials. John is one of the eleven who convenes in the upper room. He probably escorted Mary as part of his promise to Jesus that he would provide for her. It is pretty safe to assume that Mary Magdalene was among “the other women” (Acts 1:13-14) who were also there. The mood among this group must have been electric. They had just witnessed the Ascension of Jesus and were told by him to stay in Jerusalem for the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4-5). Imagine the buzz of conversation, the telling and retelling of stories about Jesus’ apparitions, and the anticipation of what was to come.
It might also have been possible that Simon of Cyrene and the centurion who proclaimed Jesus as the Son of God were also present on that long-ago Pentecost. They might have stood among the crowd, drawn to the scene by the fierce sound of wind and of the disciples proclaiming the Good News in different tongues. Imagine their excitement at witnessing such an awe-inspiring event.
We celebrate the feast of Pentecost as the “capper” to the Easter season. It affirms who we are as the Church – the People of God called to spread the news far and wide of the mighty words and works of Jesus Christ. We may not have the gift of tongues bestowed upon the disciples, but we are endowed with the same grace and guidance of the Holy Spirit. Like those early disciples, we are called to put our own gifts to use each and every day for the realization of the Reign of God. It may not be as dramatic as the original Pentecost, but it is no less effective. Then, like Peter, we, too, can echo the words of the ancient prophet: “You have made known to me the paths of life; you will lift me with joy in your presence” (Acts 2:28).
photo © iStockphoto
With the Gather In My Name Celebrating Pentecost event, participants will be able to explain the importance of Pentecost in the history and life of the Church and identify ways the Holy Spirit helps them to take part in its evangelizing mission. Download the Celebrating Pentecost handouts and access event details!
“Lovely Lady, dressed in blue…” I sang this lyric every spring with my classmates as we festooned with flowers the statue of Mary during the annual May crowning at my high school. This annual ritual was a sweet way to honor Mary, if a bit sentimental. Her portrait in the Bible is quite different. She appears infrequently in the Gospels, but when she does, the scenes are powerful and poignant. As the only person to know Jesus from his birth to his death, Mary offers a unique view of his humanity and a model of discipleship that we strive to emulate today.
It wasn’t until I became a mother myself that I began to appreciate the complexities of her story. It was then that I saw her, not as a lovely lady in blue, but as a flesh-and-blood figure who experienced an astounding transformation over the course of her life. No wonder that women have turned to her over the centuries for comfort and understanding as they struggle with concerns ranging from the routine to the radical.
We often refer to Mary’s “yes” in the account of the Annunciation as the doorway to redemption. She cooperates with the Divine Plan, thus becoming a critical part of the Incarnational event – God become flesh. Her open-heartedness is all the more touching when one recalls that she was just a young girl – perhaps only thirteen – when she received startling news from an angel. Nevertheless, her prayer of praise for a God who has demanded more than she could imagine, is a model of faith and trust. “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my Spirit rejoices in God my Savior…” (Luke 1:46-47). The exuberance in the prayer we call “the Magnificat” is truly an example of her abiding love for God and respect for his Divine Power.
My friend, Father William McNichols, captured her maturation beautifully in an article called “Mary’s Fiat”. “She is a wide-eyed child, spellbound by the apparition of an angel, or a little slip of a girl with a baby almost too big for her arms…A frightened teen-ager being led away from the violence and mayhem in the middle of the night… A frantic mother of a lost child… The perceptive woman who quietly nudges her son out of the nest and into his ministry… The Mater Dolorosa…[who] cradles, once again, her naked child in poverty…” (Jesuit Bulletin. Spring/Fall 1984. Used with permission). Mothers across miles and millennia can relate to the mixture of joy and sorrow, confusion and clarity, anguish and exhilaration that comes with giving birth to and raising a child.
Perhaps my favorite image of Mary is at Pentecost. I picture her sitting amidst the disciples with a wizened and yet expansive heart. She alone knows the experience of the Holy Spirit first-hand, so perhaps she doesn’t flinch in the midst of wind and flame. Does she recall the first time she knew the workings of the Spirit in her life? Does she reflect back on the twists and turns of her wondrous story? And does the same prayer rise to her lips as she recalls once more the “mighty things” her God has, indeed, done for her?
“When Jesus ascended into heaven, where, exactly, did he go?” This question, posed by a friend in a bible study group, took me off guard. Because we associate “heaven” with the sky, it is natural to picture Jesus rising into the clouds. Browse the web and this is precisely what shows up in paintings and illustrations of this mysterious event.
The beauty of Scripture study is the opportunity we are given to gaze at the events, stories, and teachings of Jesus in the gospels through an ever-widening lens. When it comes to the Ascension, new possibilities arise. Perhaps it was more of a horizontal passage than a vertical one, taking Jesus to new heights by moving across time and space into open, yearning, and wounded hearts. Given that the view of the “heavens” in the Book of Genesis is one of a “dome” that separates the “waters above from the waters below” (Genesis 1:7), the account of the Ascension might have held a very different view for the people of Jesus’ time than that of the artists who rendered him sky-bound. Luke ends his Gospel with the account of the Ascension, but begins the Acts of the Apostles with the Pentecost event. In a dramatic depiction complete with wind and fire, Jesus’ promise of the coming of the Holy Spirit is fulfilled, thus depicting his presence in an entirely new way.
One of my oldest and dearest friends recently suffered a massive heart attack and his life hangs in the balance. Each day, as his family and friends await news about his ability to recover, we look for something close and imminent, rather than celestial and transcendent, to bring consolation and hope. As the great feasts of the Ascension and Pentecost draw near, I draw comfort from that dome-like image of the heavens and the warming presence of God’s Spirit. It brings to mind images of Jesus hovering over humankind in an all-encompassing way. Such is my prayer for my friend and all those in need of a sheltering presence.
As the Easter season draws to a close, consider the ways you have experienced the comforting presence of Jesus in your life. Bring this to your class or family prayer this week.
Download my “Litany to the Spirit” and use it with your family or class.
photo © iStockphoto
In this event, participants will come to understand how the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples on Pentecost and empowered them with the mission of evangelization. Participants will learn to recognize and celebrate how, similarly to the disciples, the Holy Spirit also enables us to spread God's word within our own daily lives.
Two options are provided to gather groups in varying configurations. Pick the one that best suits the size, needs, and interests of your parish or school:
For a fully multigenerational event, choose Option 1. It gathers together children, youth, and adults for prayer, sharing, and learning about an aspect of our faith. Use this option as a way to build upon the corresponding chapters about Pentecost in We Believe.
For a multigenerational event with age level breakouts, choose Option 2. Children, youth, and adults gather for an opening icebreaker and prayer service and then break into grade level or cluster groups. The entire assembly reconvenes for a closing prayer.