Pentecost is one of the major dates in the church's calendar, along with Christmas and Easter. Our word Pentecost derives from the Greek word for 50. The feast occurs 50 days after Easter. Pentecost was (and is) a Jewish festival celebrated in late spring, 50 days after Passover. Its biblical name is Weeks (Shebuot in Hebrew), because it takes place seven weeks after Pentecost.

In Jesus' time the Jewish feast of Weeks was associated with the gift of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai. In the Christian tradition, Pentecost is connected with the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Christian community. It is also traditionally regarded as the birthday of the church, since with Jesus' ascension and the coming of the Spirit the church began its missionary activity. Today's Scripture readings remind us that Pentecost is an event of both the past and the present.

The early Church was a very complex and diverse community. Like today they had their struggles with one another. Within a few years of the first Pentecost, there were fights between Peter and Paul over Jewish and Gentile converts. There were people who died for the faith and others who betrayed them to the authorities. Some Christians thought they were for Paul or Apollos rather than for Jesus, and still others thought the end of the world was nigh. Through it all, however, the bass notes played: the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The Second Vatican Council helped us recover the most ancient tradition in our faith, that in various, unexpected and inculturated ways the Word of God has been present in all peoples, in every culture. We now hold that whenever the Gospel has been proclaimed in a new land, it complements the best in that culture as well as correcting aspects of any culture which oppress, demean and diminish the women and men within it.

In this process, what is born between Christ and an individual culture is an inculturated faith, which takes as seriously as the early Church did the context in which our faith is proclaimed and lived.

Pentecost faith holds that while we build our faith on that of all the believers who have gone before us, we have the responsibility to listen to our contemporary culture and put it into conversation with the Gospel. That's why courage is one of the Holy Spirit's pre-eminent gifts. We are not allowed to retreat from the world but are sent out to enter into conversation with it, and hear in this dialogue the symphony God is composing here and now between the treble of our daily life over the continuing bass line of Christ's life, death and resurrection.

In the Gospel, John 15:26-27; 16:12-15, Jesus speaks of the Spirit as 'Paraclete' - again, not an easy term to translate. A 'paraclete' was a person of upright character, highly respected in the community, who you took to court to vouch for you and advise you when you were on trial - a cross between a character witness and a good attorney.

Though Jesus, after his post-resurrection return to the Father will no longer be physically present to the disciples, the Spirit will perform a 'paraclete' role: strengthening, comforting, and advising. In particular, he will lead the community to 'the complete truth' in the sense of continuing the process of revelation begun in Jesus. The teaching office of the Church, guided by the Spirit, has its foundation here.

The reading from Paul's Letter to the Galatians reminds us that the coming of the Holy Spirit is also an essential part in our Christian life in the present. Paul first contrasts the spirit and the flesh as two opposing aspects in the makeup of each human person. The flesh is the aspect that is under the dominance of sin and death, while the spirit is that aspect open to the movements of the Holy Spirit. In naming the "works of the flesh," Paul presents a list of vices or evil dispositions pertaining to sexual immorality, idolatry, failings in interpersonal relations and debauchery. He warns that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Paul entitles his second list "the fruit of the Spirit." Here he refers to the human spirit acting in concert with the Holy Spirit. This list includes nine items: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Instead of labelling them virtues, Paul suggests that these good dispositions are really gifts from God and flow from the action of the Holy Spirit guiding, directing and empowering those who live in the Spirit.

Come, Holy Spirit, kindle in us the fire of your Love.

Fr Gaetan Pereira
College Chaplain