Pentecost is not for Pentecostals—anymore than baptism is for Baptists. Pentecost is specifically a Catholic feast; in fact Pentecost is the birthday of the Catholic Church and it won’t be wrong to ask us to stand and sing Happy Birthday to Mother Church. I say that it is the Birthday of the Catholic Church with every intentionality. One thousand nine hundred and eighty seven years (1987) is the count. That’s how long it has been since the Catholic Church came to birth. Before that first Pentecost day, the Church had lived in the ‘womb’ of the Spirit and had undergone varied stages in her development. These stages are represented by different images as: a covenant people, a pilgrim people, a troop of God, people of God or Israel, and finally as the Catholic Church.
The Greek word pentekoste or hemera (Hebrew) means in English fiftieth. Pentecost is historically and symbolically related to the Jewish harvest festival of Shavout, which commemorates God’s giving of the Ten Commandments, fifty days after the exodus, that is, the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. In the New Covenant, Easter is our own exodus, when we were liberated from sin by Christ’s redeeming death and resurrection. On this fiftieth day after Easter, we gather for our own harvest festival; the harvest of regeneration when God gives us, not just stone tablets of some commands to observe, but his indwelling spirit which gave birth to the Church. Your heart should be filled with wonder and praise to learn that you belong to this one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.
As they became aware of this indwelling presence, a great fire was kindled in the apostles and they courageously went out speaking about Jesus to peoples of diverse race, language and nationality who, in turn, understood them as if they spoke their—the hearers’—native languages. This miracles was called “glossolalia,” also described as the undoing of Babel. At Babel, human pride brought about the confusion and division in language; at Pentecost, God’s Spirit reversed Babel and brought about unity. The Spirit taught the universal language of love that all could hear. Babel resulted in the disintegration of the human family. Pentecost brings all peoples together and unifies them under one family—the Catholic Church. This is why we say “welcome home” to the initiates.
It was as catholic that the Gospel could be preached to the whole world. St. Paul, writing to the Romans affirms this fact: “Your faith is proclaimed in all the world” (Rom 1:8). And to the Colossians, he wrote: “The Gospel which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world is bearing fruit and growing” (Col 1:5-6). The feast of Pentecost is a wakeup call to all of us to put teeth into our Confirmation commitment to renew the face of the earth. We thus pray that the Holy Spirit will fill us with His gifts of wisdom, understanding, counsel, knowledge, fortitude, piety and wonder so that we may produce fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, generosity, self-control, kindness, faithfulness, modesty, gentleness and chastity. The Spirit pours these gifts on our laps and we can open our hearts to receive them or close our hearts in rejection.