A Reminder of our Jewish Roots — By Fr. Rich, O.P.
Every now and again, if we take the time, we are reminded of our Jewish roots. Our feast of Pentecost coincides with a Jewish feast of the same name. This feast celebrates the giving of the law on Mount Sinai, traditionally 50 days after Passover. Here is the short story, from Bible History Online:
“Then it came to pass on the third day, in the morning, that there were thunderings and lightnings, and a thick cloud on the mountain; and the sound of the trumpet was very loud, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled. And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was completely in smoke, because the LORD descended upon it in fire.” Exodus 19:16-18
Out of this momentous encounter came the covenant between the Lord and Israel, including the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20:1-17). In giving the Law to the Hebrew people, Moses taught the Israelites what the Lord expected of them — that they were to be a holy people separated from the pagan immorality and idolatry of their surroundings. Here the foundation of Judaism was laid.
In the unfolding of God’s plan we are brought to the upper room. Beginning with the Eucharist in the Passover, remembering of the immolation of the paschal lamb and then reaching a crescendo in the Resurrection, 50 days come and go. The followers of Jesus are gathered in the upper room, afraid, unsure what to do or where to go.
Acts 2:1-11: “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly a sound came from Heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.”
The Holy Spirit is given to all who are baptized into Jesus Christ to enable us to live a new way of life — a life of love, peace, joy, and righteousness (Romans 14:17). The Holy Spirit fills our hearts with the love of God (Romans 5:7), and he gives us the strength and courage we need in order to live as faith-filled disciples of the Lord Jesus. The Spirit helps us in our weakness (Romans 8:26) and enables us to grow in spiritual freedom — freedom from doubt, fear and from slavery to our unruly desires (2 Corinthians 3:17; Romans 8:21). The Spirit instructs us in the ways of God and guides us in living according to God’s will. The Spirit is the source and giver of all holiness. Isaiah foretold the seven gifts that the Spirit would give: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord (Isaiah 11:2).
This parallel reminds us that as Catholics, we are grounded in rich tradition of ritual, scripture and covenant. We are strengthened in our faith when we search out and acknowledge its roots. The eternal love of God for his people nourishes us in the Eucharist just as the Passover meal nourished the Chosen People at the start of their journey in the desert to the Promised Land.
As we celebrate the moment when the Spirit descended on Jesus’ followers, we can gain strength from that same Spirit for our own journey to the Promised Land.