I’ll never forget my first experience of celebrating Pentecost. It was shortly after I had graduated college and a local group of Catholic young adults had invited me to join them for their yearly birthday party for the Church. I had never heard Pentecost described that way, but the trip sounded fun, so I was in. We took a ferry to a nearby island, rented bikes, and spent the day enjoying good food, good wine, beautiful scenery, and each other. I haven’t been back to that island since, but every year I try to do something to celebrate.
This year, as I made my plans, I was drawn to the first Pentecost. Why is it called the birthday of the Church? What exactly happened? In the answers to those questions I found not only some inspiration for my party, but also a couple birthday gifts waiting for me to open.
Why is Pentecost known as the Church’s Birthday?
Pentecost is the day the Holy Spirit came, the day the Holy Trinity was fully revealed, and the Church could not and cannot exist without God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit, “by his coming, which never ceases,…causes the world to enter into the ‘last days,’ the time of the Church, the Kingdom already inherited though not yet consummated.” (CCC 732) Pentecost is the Church’s birthday because it is the beginning of the time of the Church. The time after the death and resurrection of Christ, but before the second coming of Christ. We are living in this time, and it all started with the first Pentecost.
What Exactly Happened at the first Pentecost?
Scripture tells us that on the first Pentecost, Peter and the other apostles were all together, sitting in a house. I wonder what they were doing? What plans did they have for the day? Did they plan on getting up and leaving the house? Or were they content sitting, doing nothing, playing games or talking about the weather? Were they still scared for their lives? Were they still pondering why Jesus left them? We may never know this side of Heaven, but what we do know is in just a few moments, their lives were about to change forever.
“Suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house…And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance…And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered…amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’” (Acts 2:2-13)
Woah! Can you imagine? A loud sound, fire “resting” on everyone, I would expect some screaming. Everyone began talking, but it wasn’t out of fear, it was filled with peace. It wasn’t gibberish, it was clear, understandable to everyone. What a scene! And it didn’t stop there. A multitude just “came together”, all of different languages and from different places, and they all were able to hear and understand what the apostles told them about the works of God. They must not have been in the house any longer since we read that Peter stood up, lifted his voice, and spoke to a group of at least 3,000. And what did he say? He shared the Gospel. And what happened? Three thousand people were baptized, received the Holy Spirit, and began living the Christian life. What a day!
The Party and The Gift
So what does this tell us about celebrating Pentecost today?
1. Pentecost is about bringing people together
Pentecost is the reversal of the Tower of Babel. In Genesis, we hear of the whole earth having one language. The people used it for evil and gathered together, putting themselves in the place of God. To save them from themselves, God confused their language and scattered them. At Pentecost, God reversed what happened at the Tower of Babel. He brought his people together not for evil, but for good. They sought to know, love, and serve God. Their language was once again understandable to all. As we celebrate Pentecost this year, let us mark the occasion by bringing others together. I plan to host a BBQ and invite several of our friends who don’t know each other to join us. What will you do?
2. Pentecost is about receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit
When Mary received the Holy Spirit, she conceived Jesus. When the apostles received the Holy Spirit they begin speaking in tongues. We discover at the first Pentecost Peter saying “Repent, and be baptized…and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38) If you are baptized, you have received the Holy Spirit! And in living the Christian life, we continue to receive the Holy Spirit in the sacraments and in prayer. The Catechism even tells us that “Christ awaits us to enable us to drink of the Holy Spirit…in the events of each day, to make prayer spring up from us.” The gift of the Holy Spirit is the birthday gift given to us through Pentecost. Will you unwrap it this year?
I recently attended a retreat on the Holy Spirit that helped me further open myself to the particular charisms He has given me for the service of the Church. If you are a student at a FOCUS campus, you may consider attending one of our Spiritual Impact Bootcamp Retreats aimed at inviting this “New Pentecost” into your life. If you haven’t been to confession in a while, I would encourage you to seek the Holy Spirit there. Go and invite Him to pour out his graces and come anew into your life. Or maybe you can begin unwrapping the gift right now with a prayer to the Holy Spirit like this one.
3. Pentecost is about sharing the gift of the Gospel
I didn’t quote it here, but if you read the story of Pentecost in Acts chapter 2, most of the text is Peter sharing the Gospel message with those the Holy Spirit has brought together. In Acts 10:44 we again find Peter preaching the Gospel and the Holy Spirit shows up. Wherever and whenever the Gospel is preached, the Holy Spirit is there. Could you share the Gospel message in two minutes or less? Can you easily call to mind the main points? When is the last time you heard the Good News proclaimed to you, simply, clearly, and to the point? Pentecost reminds us of the power of sharing the Gospel. To pray with the Gospel and further receive this gift in your own life, check out this article from Foundations for Discipleship. For more on sharing the Gospel with others, look here. This Pentecost, I hope to speak more with others about the relationship God made us for, our fall, Christ’s coming, his offer of new life, and his invitation to follow him. How about you? Will you proclaim the Good News to all the nations? Will you give others this gift of Pentecost?
However you spend this Pentecost, I hope it is a time of celebration, community, and a generous outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Happy Birthday Church!