Parishioners walking into church this Sunday will immediately notice that the altar has been decorated in red, marking the celebration of Pentecost. Taking place 50 days after Easter, it is one of the most important feasts of the Church’s liturgical year and commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles.
“What I love about Pentecost is that it is the moment when these confused apostles received all that they needed to go to the ends of the earth to proclaim Jesus and His good news,” says Monsignor Michael Heher, pastor of St. Anne’s Parish in Seal Beach. “It was a miracle of the highest order and I still believe it is the Holy Spirit that guides us and gives us the courage we need to keep going and do the things that we know God wants us to do.”
Each person in the Blessed Trinity plays an important role in the lives of all Catholics. The role of the Father is to be provident and to care for us. The work of Christ, His Son, is to redeem us. The role of the Holy Spirit is to inspire us and give us courage.
“The person of the Trinity that brings life to the party is the Holy Spirit,” explains Msgr. Heher. “The Holy Spirit brings the energy that we need to be faithful to the Gospel and to love and forgive each other. I think the Holy Spirit is the principal that keeps everything from getting to be just the same old, same old. It inspires us to do better and to love better and to keep going in tough times.”
In the gospel of John, the Holy Spirit is described as a teacher sent by the Father to teach the apostles everything they needed. In Acts 2, the Holy Spirit was a loud strong wind that descended from the sky and appeared to the apostles as tongues of fire that gave them the ability to speak in a language that allowed others to understand and believe in the good news. “It was like an earthquake, where the message of Christ is passed on to the Church to spread and to heal with and the Church not just brings the sacraments but the message of salvation that Jesus brought as well,” Msgr. Heher adds. Today, the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit continues to influence our world.
“I think that a very good example is Pope Francis,” Msgr. Heher pointed out. “He has the leadership and charisma to get people who don’t usually listen to religious leaders to sit up and pay attention. Another good example is our confirmation retreats. The participants usually come back filled with joy and fellowship that they had together. Some people have told me that kids go to youth ministry to meet other kids. Not to get a lecture from the youth minister. I think that when we do retreats we let them give a retreat to each other and the Spirit is at work in their ministering to each other.”
The presence of the Holy Spirit in the apostles was overwhelming and powerful in that it transformed the apostles into courageous and faithful men who spread the message of Christ in spite of persecution and rejection. “There’s nothing in the storyline of the gospel that gives you the impression that these apostles were going to go and proclaim the message so well,” says Msgr. Heher. “So they got what they needed from the Holy Spirit at Pentecost because they didn’t seem to have it beforehand.”
Pentecost is celebrated every year in the Catholic Church because the event itself and the accounts recorded in scripture – the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles and the ascension of Jesus – remind us of how to be faithful and loving disciples. The greatest sacrifice of Jesus dying for our sins and His resurrection demonstrates the kind of love that God wants us to achieve. The feast also “makes the presence of God real in our liturgical year,” Msgr. Heher added.
There are many published prayers to the Holy Spirit but Msgr. Heher believes that most of us pray in the spirit.
“It is that which gives inspiration to our minds and hearts to know what to pray and it is the Spirit that guides us so that what we ask for is worthy of God giving us that grace.”