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Pentecost: A feast of fire

In the Jewish calendar, Pentecost was originally a harvest feast. Since the powerful events of the first Christian Pentecost recorded in today’s first reading, Pentecost celebrates the Christian harvest when the Holy Spirit descended in tongues or pieces of flame upon the apostles setting them on fire with courage, zeal and strength to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is very much the birth of the church as a church.


We tend to associate the Holy Spirit with great ecclesiastical events: ecumenical councils, the election in conclave of a pope, the appointment of a bishop and as the inspiration behind new and bold initiatives in the church. The Holy Spirit is indeed present in these events.

More commonly, however, the Holy Spirit enters our lives in quiet ways to bring repair, courage and renewal. The sequence read on Pentecost Sunday captures these actions of the Holy Spirit. It speaks of them as refreshment for the soul, rest for the weary, solace in the midst of woe, healing for our wounds, renewal of our strength, dew in our dryness, the bending of the stubborn heart, the melting of the frozen heart, guidance for steps that go astray and the way to joys that never end.

While we naturally tend to focus on the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit, we must also appreciate the ordinary gifts of the Spirit. In today’s second reading, St. Paul refers to the different workings of the Holy Spirit.

The Jesuit poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, composed a famous poem titled “God’s Grandeur.” This magnificent poem can be applied to our world as well as to our life. “The world is charged with the grandeur of God…And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil; And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell; … ”

Then he sounds a trumpet call of hope, “And for all this, nature is never spent; There lives the dearest freshness deep down things; And though the last lights off the black West went … morning ... springs — Because the Holy Ghost over the bent World broods with warm breast and with…bright wings.”

We can expand Hopkins’ striking image of hope. As the morning sun signals a new day, our world can always be renewed. The presence of the Holy Spirit means that our politics can be redeemed, our divisions can be healed, our economic policies can be refreshed, our tensions can be remedied, our family life can be reborn, our work can be sanctified, our devotion can come to life, our ideals can be revived, our faith can be revived, our charity can be rekindled and our hope renewed.

We can live by these promises because like the sun each morning, the “Holy Ghost over the bent World broods with warm breast and with … bright wings.”

Each morning the same sun brings light and warmth to the lawyer and to the laborer, to the janitor and to the teacher, to the parent and to the office manager, to the writer and to the builder, to the homeless person and to the hedge fund manager, to the soldier and to the diplomat, to the priest and to the agnostic, to the researcher and to the farmer, to the sales person and to the president. The same sun warms all.

So it is with the Holy Spirit. We all can know renewal because the “Holy Ghost over the bent world broods with warm breast and with … bright wings.”

Pentecost is not only about history. It is also about the hope that a new world is always waiting to be born.

Fr. Krempa is pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Winchester.




© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017