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What does Pentecost mean?

BY SR HILDEGARD RYAN OSB

This text (John 15:26-27 and 16:12-15) recounts the event which happened on the 50th day after Easter.  The 50th day is what the word “Pentecost” means. It was the name given to the Jewish Feast of Weeks, which occurred on the fiftieth day after the Passover. 

First (Deut 16:9), it was the day when the first fruits of the corn harvest were presented and celebrated and later it was the day when the giving of the Law of Moses was remembered.  The Church used the term Pentecost, because the event occurred 50 days after the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

The presence of so many nations in Jerusalem is an example of how the Jews of the Diaspora travelled to the holy city to celebrate the giving of the Law to Moses on Sinai.  It is significant that these nations are mentioned because they heard the apostles speaking in their own language.

This is the reversal of the Tower of Babel, the sin of pride, which shut nations off from one another and scattered peoples into the foreign ‘space’ of no communication, alienation from one another.

One-ness of human language is again re-established through the power of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost . . . . .. 

Let us pray with the Holy Spirit, the creative breath of God: “Breathe on me, Breath of God”. 

I am prompted by the Holy Spirit to respond to the Mystery of Pentecost by receiving the Spirit as the Breath of God – that is, allowing the Breath of God to breathe on me again, and fill me with Divine Life.  St. Hildegard of Bingen prayed:  “Holy Spirit, Breath of all holiness, fire of love, awaken us.” 

She also describes the Holy Spirit as the “balm of all wounds” and “an unquenchable fire which enflames all humankind.”  Pope John XXIII saw that the Church, which is constantly renewed by the breath of the Holy Spirit, does not identify itself with any one culture, but honours all peoples and all cultures. 

This, for me, is another way of understanding the miracle of tongues at Pentecost.  The Holy Spirit proclaims the Gospel in all languages, and to all peoples.

Sr Hildegard Ryan OSB is cloistered at Jamberoo Abbey 

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