Last week, in our reading from Saint Luke’s Acts of the Apostles, the apostolic band was left with mouths agape staring at the sky after Our Lord had ascended to sit at the right hand of the Father. Our reading for this feast of Pentecost follows that account nine days later. Jesus had left his followers with the promise that he would send the Holy Spirit to empower them so that they might continue his saving mission in the world. But those first followers of Jesus didn’t stand on the mountain-top for those nine days looking up to the heavens waiting for the promised gift. Saint Luke tells us that they were all together in one place. Our Lady, the Apostles, and the disciples of Jesus gathered together in the same upper room where weeks earlier Jesus had celebrated the Last Supper, where three days later he appeared to them passing through locked doors, where a week later he revealed himself to them again, this time with Saint Thomas.
They were, in a sense, sheltered in place, as we have been for the past eleven weeks. In their expectancy, they may have been frightened—frightened that the gift might not come or might not be what they hoped for. In these days, too, many of us have been frightened—frightened of contracting the virus, of infecting others, of the economic impact the pandemic will have, and of so many other things.
But there in the cenacle, in that upper room, the nascent Church did not spend their time worrying or panicking. They spent those nine days in common prayer waiting for the Lord to make good on his promise, putting their trust once again in Jesus. (Incidentally, this period of time, these nine days, is what gave rise to the practice of novenas.) They fervently prayed for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and when the day of Pentecost came, the Lord fulfilled his promise—as he always does.
So, too, for us, into our homes and into our hearts this Pentecost, the same Holy Spirit who filled the hearts of the early Church comes to us. Our Lord did not let locked doors bar him from appearing to his Apostles, neither does the quarantining and physical distance pose any barrier to the Holy Spirit coming to us. He has already been given to us in the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation, and he continually desires to make each of our hearts his dwelling place, to speak to us, give us comfort, peace, strength, and all his gifts.
“Suddenly,” Saint Luke tells us, their lives were changed. The Holy Spirit descended upon each of them and strengthened them to be witnesses to Christ. Indeed, before his Ascension, Jesus said they would be his witnesses “in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” The rest of the Acts of the Apostles chronicles that progression. We see that radical transformation from those nine days of seclusion in quiet, fervent prayer to full-throated proclamation that Jesus is Lord. In fact, we already heard Saint Peter’s sermon given on that first Pentecost as our first reading on the Third Sunday of Easter, a few weeks ago.
We can see in this a sort-of phased evangelization, in ever expanding circles, first locally to Jerusalem, then reaching farther in the surrounding areas of Judea and Samaria, then finally to the ends of the earth.
As we celebrate the feast of Pentecost this year and begin our own phased return to the normality of life, let us remember that wherever we are—whether still at home because of age, increased vulnerability, or apprehension or slowly beginning the return to work and recreation—we are called to be witnesses to the risen Lord Jesus. It has been an Easter season like we’ve never known before (and hope to never see again), but the reality of Jesus risen from the dead is as true today as it was on that first Easter Sunday, and the reality that the Holy Spirit has been poured into our hearts is just as powerful as when he was into the hearts of the early church. This day and always, let us proudly proclaim our Catholic faith!