Pentecost 2019 : Life and Death of the Mother-Church
In Jerusalem, we celebrate the feast of Pentecost with joy, nostalgia and concern; we fear the extinction of the Church in the city and country where it was born in the year 30 A.D. This worry extends over all the Middle East where Christian presence appears to be threatened more than ever, after the extraordinary Synod of last October, despite all the good will and the efforts exerted, since then, to strengthen the local Christians in their countries.
One of the signs of distress for the mother-church is manifested in the impossibility of celebrating the Eucharist at the Cenacle, because of historic reasons and the unwavering Status Quo.
The Holy Spirit gives us the courage, the strength and the light that would overcome our fears and dispel the darkness. The Fire of his love will burn our imperfections. Like the apostles, paralyzed by fear, we do feel unable to bear witness and proclaim the Gospel. We hope to receive the gift of the Spirit; in Jerusalem and throughout the world, to be “the witnesses of Jesus” and “resist the Evil, steadfast in the faith” (1 Peter 5:9).
Acts (2:1 ff.) describes the “descent” of the Holy Spirit upon the Blessed Virgin, the Apostles, the disciples and the holy women. St. Luke literally writes “When the fiftieth day was accomplished”. The Greek verb “symplerousthai” συμπληρουσθαι, means an accomplishment, a fullness, a period that ends with an important event, a great starting point (achievement in English). The same formula (“the days were accomplished”) announces the end of Mary’s pregnancy and the birth of Jesus (Luke 2:6), as also the beginning of Jesus journey to the Holy City (Luke 9:51).
This event of the coming of the Spirit accomplishes Jesus promises (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4-5, 7).
“The fiftieth day” (Shavuot) seems to have been originally an agricultural festival. As of the 2nd century B.C., Jews celebrated “the descent of the Torah”. For us, Christians, it is the descent of the Holy Spirit to give the Law of love rather than the love of the Law (1 Cor. 16:8; Acts 20:16). Philo of Alexandria as well as some rabbinical traditions associated elements such as fire, tongues and wind to the Sinai theophany; a phenomena that we also find in the apostolic Pentecost at the Cenacle.
“A rushing mighty wind (Greek “pnoè” πνοή) blew … they were all filled with the Holy Spirit” (Greek “pneuma” ,πνεύμα). Another play upon words can be found in the word “glossa” γλώσσα, which means “tongue” (an organ), and “tongue, language, idiom”: “And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, … and began to speak with other tongues”. Later, St. Paul (1Cor. 14:2 ff.) will set the conditions for controlling the glossolalia (the “gift” of languages), so that the faithful do not fall into the incomprehensible and less balanced hallucinations and mumbling. The Apostle of Nations warns: in principle, “For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him”. St. Paul requires interpretation or translation of what is said in unknown tongues that otherwise would remain useless.
Here is what he writes to the Corinthians: “He who speaks in an unknown tongue must pray to be able to interpret… In a gathering, I would rather say 5 words with intelligence, to edify others, rather than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue … If, then, the entire Church is gathered and all speak unknown languages, and some uninitiated or infidels insert themselves, would they not say that you are fools? … Do we not speak different tongues? Be it that we speak two or three at most, and each will have his turn, but let there be an interpreter. If there were no interpreters, then let us keep quiet in the midst of the gathering”. The Church is cautious when it comes to phenomena of glossolalia. It requires, rightly, fidelity to the Magisterium and the Chair of Peter. Actually, there can be no true Pentecost without the presence and veneration of the Blessed Virgin, and outside the apostolic succession.
The Pentecost of the year 30 A.D. confirmed the birth of the Church, and, more so, that of the Mother-Church of Jerusalem. It has had its tough moments in history. Today, also, it has its problems in living and in surviving. It is threatened by many challenges and hostilities. Many divisions tear it up. Many interests and currents rock it. Like many other troubled Churches, it is in need of a rushing mighty wind, of a blazing fire, of an audacious tongue and a heart burning with love in unity. Formerly, the apostolic Pentecost, thank to glossolalia, cleared the confusion and misunderstanding of the tower of Babel. May the Catholic Church, with the union between Rome and Jerusalem, continue to express the “unity of faith” in the love of “one Lord one faith, one baptism” Eph. 4:5).