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Pentecost: Detonation and Fulfillment, Humility and Unity

On the Readings for Sunday, May 23 2021, Pentecost Sunday

“The Descent of the Holy Spirit" (1885) by Mikhail Vrubel. (Image:

• Acts 2:1-12
• Ps 104:1, 24, 29-30, 31, 34
• 1 Cor 12:3b-7, 12-13 or Gal 5:16-25
• Jn 20:19-23 or Jn 15:26-27; 16:12-15

“The Christian Church is the detonation of that explosive for which a train had been prepared through the centuries,” wrote Monsignor Ronald Knox in a collection of essays titled Stimili (Sheed & Ward, 1951). “Everything that happened before the day of Pentecost was a kind of dress-rehearsal for the day of Pentecost.”

Many of the Church Fathers contemplated how Old Testament events foreshadowed or pointed toward the dramatic outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the Upper Room and the events immediately following.

This was interpreted by some of the Fathers as a reversal of the Tower of Babel (Gen. 11:1-9). Responding to man’s arrogant attempt to build a tower “with its top in the heavens”, God came down and confused the language of men so that they could not understand one another. Without the ability to communicate, mankind was scattered “abroad upon the face of the whole earth.” At Pentecost, God again descended and again caused confusion—but it was confusion caused by awe and astonishment, for men “from every nation under heaven” could understand one another.

“The church’s humility,” wrote St. Bede, “recovers the unity of languages that the pride of Babylon had shattered.” Man cannot, by his own efforts and intellect, achieve heaven; it is a grace and gift granted by the power of the Holy Spirit.

A second foreshadowing was the span of time between the first Passover and the arrival of the Israelites at Mount Sinai. The book of Exodus does not provide an exact time, stating the people arrived at Sinai on “the third new moon” (Ex. 19:1). Later, however, the feast of weeks, which was celebrated seven weeks after the first harvest was cut (cf., Dt. 16:9; Ex. 23:16; Lev. 23:9-21), was connected with the Exodus. Eventually, a span of fifty days was reckoned between the Passover and the feast of weeks, also known Pentecost (Greek for “fiftieth”).

Christ was the final and perfect Passover lamb who had, in fact, died during the feast of the Passover; by his Resurrection, he was also “the first fruits” from the dead (1 Cor 15:20). Therefore, Pentecost was the celebration of the divine harvest, brought about by the work of the Holy Spirit.

Finally, Pentecost had become associated in Judaism with the giving of the Law and the establishment of the Mosaic covenant at Sinai. The parallels here are both evident and significant: the new people of God, the Church, is formed by Christ (who is the New Moses) and filled by the Holy Spirit (who is the soul of the Church). The new and everlasting covenant is established by the law of Christ—that is, the law of Love—which in turn we are able to live because of the grace and gifts of the Holy Spirit.

The Church, St. Paul states in today’s Epistle, is the Body of Christ, having many parts but being one by virtue of one Spirit and one baptism (1 Cor 12:12-13).  The Church was not an afterthought or a Plan B, but was at the heart of the Father’s plan of salvation from the beginning; it was, the Catechism notes, “the goal of all things”, because it is the household of God, in which man enters into saving communion and is filled with the divine life (CCC 760).

Pentecost, then, is the birthday of the Church—a birthday giving new birth to mankind, regardless of race, sex, or social status. We are meant, Monsignor Knox wrote, “to find ourselves as members of a Spirit-filled, Spirit-actuated Body; if we remain in its unity, we know that the life of the Spirit, is, however imperceptibly, expressing itself in us.”

That unity, however, is often threatened by the temptation to save ourselves and to achieve wholeness apart from God. The feast of Pentecost reminds us that we have been saved from the land of sin by the Son, filled with divine life by the Holy Spirit, and called to the Promised Land by the Father.

(This “Opening the Word” column originally appeared in the May 31, 2009, edition of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)

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About Carl E. Olson 1197 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.


  1. “Pentecost, then, is the birthday of the Church—a birthday giving new birth to mankind, regardless of race, sex, or social status”

    At Pentecost, The Spirit of God inspires the Apostles and sends them on their mission; while all the Baptized are asked to do the same. As those who receive the Holy Spirit are also empowered to give witness to Jesus Christ in the world, while He the Holy Spirit sanctifies our hearts in creating a dwelling place for Himself (The Divine Presence) to reside within us.

    After the Crucifixion in the Upper Room, we see those who had traveled the road of enlightenment/self-realization with Jesus (The Word Made Flesh) hide in fear of the Jewish leadership, while now knowing the full reality of their brokenness (Betrayal and cowardice) before our Father in heaven. It could be said that their hearts were now readied to receive The Holy Spirit as a humble heart is His dwelling place, as in

    “I am leaving you with a gift–peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid”

    Prior to the Pentecost, we see Man’s understanding of the righteousness of God manifest by Prophets, such as in Elijah’s murderous blood bath of the vile prophets of Baal, with all their wives and innocent children. He then hides in fear because “I have been very zealous (Ruthless) for the Lord” Similar to St Paul’s zealous murderous persecution of Christians, while James and his brother John wanted to call down fire on a Samaritan town; they were rebuked by Jesus. Prior to this rebuke, Jesus called James and John, Boanerges, which meant “sons of thunder” (Mark 3:17) – probably a reference to the positive side of their bold and zealous personalities.

    A Personal understanding of 1 Kings 19:11-12
    A wind there was (of Pride), rude and boisterous, that shook the mountains (Heavens) and broke the rocks (Holy precepts) in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not to be found in the wind (of my bluster). Nor in the storm (High expectations of life) and earthquake (Of self-made foundations/delusions) leading to the Fire (of suffering/Reality of the selfhood) and after the fire, the whisper of a gentle (Uplifting) breeze

    For men of good intent on the Worldly plain It is natural to want to prevail over evil (especially in others) to call to account and punish those who do evil, this desire comes from a worldly feeling of self-righteousness but as seen by Elijah’s inspired self-realization, God is known through His gentleness, as in a gentle breeze.

    Jesus says “Learn from me for I am meek and humble of heart”

    So, the battle has to be fought on the Spiritual Plane if it is to bear lasting fruit, we do this when we walk with the Holy Spirit in humility. (St Bernard, Humility; a virtue by which a man knowing himself as he truly is, abases himself) .

    At Pentecost, we see the Holy Spirit descend and then separate onto the Apostles conferring within them (and now to those who serve Him) the power of Truth. The Truth bears witness to Itself and needs no embellishment, as those who are of the Truth hear His voice. It could be said that authority comes with Truth and those who serve It. (As manifest in a humble heart)

    So, mankind needs to see the light of the Holy Spirit dwelling/working within us, as only a humble Priesthood/Church can lead mankind away from evil, as a humble heart (Church) will never cover its tracks or hide its shortcomings, and in doing so confers authenticity (Holiness), as it walks in its own vulnerability/weakness/brokenness in trust/faith before God and mankind. It is a heart (Church) to be trusted, as it ‘dispels’ darkness within its own ego/self, in serving God (Truth/Love) first, before any other as the Holy Spirit (Divine Presence) cannot dwell in an untruthful heart as “The Truth” will not permit evil to hide itself. We are ALL sinners, but been honest with ourselves and others permits us to walk in humility (friendship) with the Holy Spirit, where no deception or lie is tolerated within ourselves or between each other.

    Christ reveals that the Holy Spirit will “convince the ‘unbelieving’ world of sin, and of justice and of judgment;” he will “teach…all truth;” and will “glorify” Christ.

    Words of condemnation have their place, but it is the whisper of a gentle breeze’ bearing witness to the Truth, in a humble heart, which glorifies God as it permits others to see and believe in His merciful gentle ‘living’ Face/heart, which leads others to contemplate/know/follow Him in humility also.

    “Father forgive them they know not what they do”

    Here we see His understanding of the human heart and the compassion that He had for all of mankind. Reflected in Isaiah 42:3 “He won’t break off a bent reed or put out a dying flame, but he will make sure that justice is done”
    There is no self-righteous anger, rather a call for mercy and insightfulness for all those sinners who dwell in darkness. Which was manifest in His total self-giving on the Cross, for all men.

    As with the Centurion who stood facing Him as He hung on the Cross “The people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them, a light has dawned” The divine spark had been ignited within the Centurion, a new understanding had commenced as he exclaimed

    “This man was indeed God’s Son.”

    We can look to St Mother Teresa as a modern-day example of Christian Charity in the way she spread the Gospel through works of charity and her confrontation with a fallen sinful world. In her confrontation with the promotors of abortion (The Clintons) it was not in a ranting emotional bluster, driven by self-righteous indignation. See the link

    An extract from the article given via the link, the parts highlighted in bold text emanate from a gentle humble (Loving) heart, which is what my post is all about.

    “This was not the end of the relationship, which Hillary has always looked back upon with fondness. In the short time she had left on earth, Mother Teresa continued to try to change Clinton’s view on abortion. According to Hillary, “she sent me dozens of notes and messages with the same gentle entreaty. She dealt with the first lady with patience and kindness, but firm conviction: “Mother Teresa never lectured or scolded me; her admonitions were always loving and heartfelt,” wrote Hillary, adding that she had “the greatest respect for her opposition to abortion.” Mother Teresa saw in Hillary a potentially huge convert to the pro-life cause, and never gave up, but to no avail”

    I take umbrage with the statement “to no avail as only God knows the full long-term effects that her firm conviction and the persistent actions of Mother Teresa will have had on Hilary Clinton and those around her, as those who walk with Holy Spirit, produce good fruit, the seeds of which are often sown unseen within human hearts, at the time of their encounter with Him.

    Mother Teresa will have known this and trusted in the workings of the Holy Spirit knowing that all enlightenment comes from God and because of this she would not have been driven to distraction or bitterness as the peace that He gives to His true Disciples, cannot be taken from them.

    It could be said that these actions by Mother Teresa spring from “a gentle breeze” living ( Dwelling ) within her loving humble heart.

    “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” – Mother Teresa

    Father! with tongue and flame give us unity again.

    kevin your brother
    In Christ

  2. Thank you for these things to contemplate Mr. Olsen.

    The divine harvest…and the reversal of Babel.

  3. Novena of the Holy Spirit by St Benedicta of the Cross, Edith Stein
    Who are you, sweet light, that fills me, and illuminates the darkness of my heart?
    You lead me like a mother’s hand, and should you let go of me, I would not know how to take another step.
    You are the space that embraces my being and buries it in yourself. Away from you, it sinks into the abyss of nothingness, from which you raised it to the light.
    You, nearer to me than I to myself, and more interior than my most interior, and still impalpable and intangible and beyond any name: Holy Spirit eternal love!

    Are you not the sweet manna that from the Son’s heart overflows into my heart, the food of angels and the blessed? He who raised himself from death to life, He has also awakened me to new life from the sleep of death. And he gives me new life from day to day, and at some time his fullness is to stream through me, life of your life indeed, you yourself; Holy Spirit eternal life~!!

    Are you the ray that flashes down from the eternal Judge’s throne and breaks into the night of the soul that had never known itself? Mercifully relentlessly it penetrates hidden folds. Alarmed at seeing itself, the self makes space for holy fear, the beginning of that wisdom that comes from on high. and anchors us firmly in the heights, your action, that creates us anew; Holy Spirit ray that penetrates everything

    Are you the spirits fullness and the power by which the Lamb releases the seal of God’s eternal decree? Driven by you the messengers of judgment ride through the world and separate with a sharp sword the kingdom of light from the kingdom of night. Then heaven becomes new and new the earth, and all finds its proper place through your breath; Holy Spirit victorious power.
    Are you the one who created the unclouded mirror next to the Almighty’s throne , like a crystal sea; in which Divinity lovingly looks at itself? You bend over the fairest work of your creation, and radiantly your own gaze is illuminated in return. And of all creatures the pure beauty is joined in one in the dear form of the Virgin, your immaculate bride: Holy Spirit Creator of all!
    Are you the sweet song of love and of holy awe that eternally resounds around the triune throne, that weds in itself the clear chimes of each and every being?
    The harmony, that joins together the members to the Head in which each one finds the mysterious meaning of his being blessed and joyously surges forth, freely dissolved in your surging: Holy Spirit eternal jubilation!”

  4. The type of humility that draws God into us is described in 1Peter 5:5-7 which says: “Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.”
    It is more of an abandonment toward God than a friendship.

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