St. Augustine, one of the most important Church Fathers of the West, was an early Christian Philosopher and Theologian. As a young man, he was very wayward; his conversion is attributed to the prayers and tears of his mother St. Monica. He has many sayings which writers and public speakers quote to this day. One of his famous sayings is, “Give me chastity and continence, but not yet.” Another one is, “You have made us for yourself, Oh Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” The saying that appeals most to me is “He who sings well prays twice.”
One day after his conversion, he was walking through a part of town he had frequented in his younger days. A prostitute with whom he once had an intimate relationship recognized him and called “Augustine! Augustine!” Augustine ignored the call, so she cried out again: “Augustine! Augustine! It is I!” But Augustine slowed down and with a newfound confidence in Christ; he replied, “But, it is not I, I am not the same Augustine you used to know.”
Today is the solemnity of Pentecost. On this day, we mark the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles, which is also the birthday of the Church. This mystery is the third of the five glorious mysteries of the Rosary. The Liturgy of Pentecost brings the Easter Season to a close. After today, we shall return to the ordinary time of the Church’s year, and we shall switch from praying the Regina Coeli to the Angelus.
The word Pentecost is originally from the Greek he pentekoste hemera, which means “the fiftieth day.” It is called so because it falls on the fiftieth day after the Passover. It began as a harvest festival among the Israelites. It is one of the three great Jewish festivals to which every male Jew living within twenty miles of Jerusalem was legally bound to attend (cf. Exodus 23:14-17; 34:22-23). The three annual feasts that bring all adult male Jews to Jerusalem include the Passover, the Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles. The crowd that gathered when the apostles received the Holy Spirit were not in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit; they were there for their annual Pentecost Celebration to mark fifty days after Passover and to commemorate the anniversary of the giving of the Law at Sinai. So, Pentecost was first observed as an agricultural or harvest feast, later the Jews began to celebrate Pentecost to mark the giving of the law to the Israelites through Moses on Mount Sinai. For us Christians, we celebrate Pentecost fifty days after the resurrection as the day the Church was given birth to through the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles.
One of the effects of the Holy Spirit on the apostles was the reversal of what happened in Genesis 11:1-9 (the story of the Tower of Babel), where God confused human language such that human beings could no longer understand one another. In the case of Pentecost, the apostles spoke of the mighty works of God, and people understood them in their different languages. The Holy Spirit, therefore, is the principal agent of peace and unity.
It is important to note that Pentecost did not remove all human problems. The truth is that it brought about new challenges. The presence of the Holy Spirit brought about more gifts. The more the presence of the Holy Spirit, the more gifted and talented the people of God; and the more gifted the people, the more some tend to be envious and jealous, some aggressive or pompous, and others defensive. It is therefore not surprising that after Jesus breathed on them and gave them the Holy Spirit as in today’s Gospel passage, he immediately granted them the power to forgive sins. He knew right from the beginning the challenges that the gifts would pose, and so to enable them to rise above the challenges, he gave them the power to forgive sins.
The Holy Spirit brings about transformation in our lives. When Augustine gained his conversion through the power of the Holy Spirit, he was able to confidently say to his former prostitute, “It is not I; this is no longer the Augustine you used to know.” The timid apostles received the Holy Spirit on Pentecost day, and there was a significant transformation in them, as they proclaimed the power of God without fear. As we celebrate Pentecost today, may we open ourselves to the transforming power of the Holy Spirit as we say, “Come, Holy Spirit, strengthen us, enlighten us, encourage us, and make us the true witnesses of Christ, living and reigning with you and the Father, God forever and ever. Amen.”