Reflection on Pentecost Sunday

by Sister Barbara Ann Bielenberg

The chapel at Pentecost.

As I was growing up, I seldom ever heard about the Holy Spirit. It was most often the Holy Ghost. I also don’t remember being told much about the Holy Ghost. That name seemed rather odd to me. Wasn’t that a very strange name to be given to the third person of the Trinity? Well in those days you didn’t question anything, so I just went along with it the way it was. So now I am very glad that we can say the Holy Spirit. It seems so much more correct and meaningful to me.

Last Sunday we celebrated the Ascension of Our Lord. Just before He left the earth, Jesus promised to have the Holy Spirit sent to the apostles. Today in our readings, how the Holy Spirit came, seems to depend on who is telling the story and/or how that person experienced it. Or it could have been two different incidents. In the Acts we hear that the Apostles were all gathered together when a big wind came, tongues of fire were over their heads, and they began to proclaim God to the big crowd that gathered. In the Old Testament there was a significance in salvation history around the blowing of the wind. It often happened just before God made something known to his people. The tongues of fire over the apostles’ heads, symbolized the strength and courage that was given them by the Holy Spirit, to go forth and evangelize the people. The crowd was from many different countries and each of them amazingly heard the Apostles in their own language.  

On the other hand, the Gospel written by John tells us a different story of how the Holy Spirit came. The disciples were all behind locked doors because they were still in fear of the Jews. Despite those locked doors, Jesus came and appeared in their midst. He first gave them peace. Then he asked them to receive the Holy Spirit and talked of their ability to forgive or retain sins. The latter was important for them to let go of the things that disturbed them in Christ’s crucifixion and the consequent fear that was still there. Seeing Jesus again also helped them in this transition.

So what can we learn from all of this? In Pope Francis’ homily in 2018, he indicates that it was the Holy Spirit that helped change the disciples from fearful men to being bold in proclaiming the word of God. When we get discouraged and frustrated with ourselves, others, and the world, how often do we remember to call on the Holy Spirit for that strength, encouragement, and that sense of positivity that will be given us if only we ask? In this time of Covid-19, the growing amount of violence in our country alone, the total lack of respect for one another in our government on down — we must remember where our dependence lies. I don’t know about you, but I can often roll things around in my mind and act like the changing of a situation depends on me alone. I forget time and again that the Holy Spirit is there for me and wants to be there for me. Despite it all, I have remembered to pray daily a prayer I learned in my very early teens around Confirmation time, that has stayed with me all these years.  I’d like to share that with you.

Breathe in me, O Holy Spirit, that my thoughts may all be holy.
Act in me, O Holy Spirit, that my work, too, may be holy.
Draw my heart, O Holy Spirit, that I may love what is holy.
Strengthen me, O Holy Spirit, to defend all that is holy.
Guard me then, O Holy Spirit, that I may be always holy.

May each of us learn to cherish the Holy Spirit in our lives more each day.

Sr. Barbara A. Bielenberg, OSB