Monday, May 28, 2012
Yesterday was the feast day of Pentecost.
And in spite of knowing the day was approaching, I confess I had not given it much thought. Certainly I've read the Acts story countless times throughout the years, but it hadn't held particular or personal interest for me--beyond appreciating that something pretty amazing happened to the apostles once Jesus ascended into Heaven. Centuries ago. I suppose I didn't necessarily see how this story might apply to me.
Looking back, as a Bible-believing Evangelical Protestant, I was always searching and studying and seeking to understand how the stories in the Bible applied to me. I believed the accounts found in scripture, I believed in God the Father and in the Holy Spirit and in Jesus' divinity. All those things I believed, so naturally the Bible was very important to me. Even so, Pentecost was, to me, merely a day in ancient history when Peter gave a sermon and the Holy Spirit showed up to indwell the believers.
But now, being Catholic, there is a historical and ecclesial context within which to understand Pentecost. After all the crazy stuff happens and the Holy Spirit comes, Peter--upon whom Jesus founded the Church--stood up and addressed the crowd with authority. He spoke of Jesus' resurrection, stating it as a fact. He tells the crowd that they must be baptized, and that they will receive the Holy Spirit, and extends this command to their children and to anyone, anywhere, who will listen. As a result, countless people were baptized, and began following the apostles' teaching.
It makes sense then that Catholics sometimes refer to Pentecost as the birthday of the Church. Because on this day all those years ago, the apostles began spreading Jesus' message, with Peter at the helm, and making converts. This may sound strange, but I actually find myself identifying now with the men and women who were listening that day. After hearing Peter cite Scripture and historical evidence about Jesus and salvation, they were "cut to the heart" and responded with "What shall we do?"
Which actually kind of reminds me of being cut to the heart myself, back when we were two Protestants reading unlikely Catholic books by Cormac Burke and Scott Hahn, Mother Teresa and Thomas Howard. Kevin and I eventually reached a point where we cautiously set our respective books down, looked at one another across the room, and asked the million dollar question, What shall we do?
Everything had changed. All of it. The missing pieces to the puzzle had appeared, even as some of them also seemed trickier to fit together now. At any rate, a case based upon history, Scripture, and natural law had been made that we simply could not ignore. And, it was unsettling. Because even as we asked our question, we knew the answer. We knew it lay in following the apostles' teaching. We knew it meant submitting to the Church Jesus had founded, with its unbroken line of successors to the very apostles whose words we'd studied--and tried to follow--for the past three decades. We didn't know any priests. We didn't know any Catholics. But we were cut to the heart, and we had to do something about it.
Our priest spoke in his homily yesterday about being openly Catholic, regardless of scandal or misrepresentation in the media. He spoke of how Jesus loves His Church, and about how Jesus told us there would be difficult times. How often I forget these things. While I am ever aware of what a gift the Catholic faith is, it is all too easy for me to feel uneasy when a stranger asks where we go to church, or when my Catholic kids genuflect and make the Sign of the Cross on the rare occasion we're in a Protestant religious setting. But reading Acts now through Catholic eyes? What an amazing (and corrective)encouragement it is, this story of Jesus and His Church, of Baptism and conversion and following after the apostles' teaching. It is huge. Huge. Life-altering, game-changing, revolutionary, uncomfortable, compelling, all-encompassing, beautiful. So, so beautiful.
How wonderful it would be if I could pursue that very same wide-eyed and humble conversion each and every day, in my vocation as wife and mother. Because while Pentecost is, on the one hand, a story about a precise point in time when some Very Big Things happened, it is also one of change and growth and single-minded obedience, something we can carry with us and embrace as we live out our respective callings.
I've simply come to love everything about this story. It means something to me now. From the Holy Spirit's coming to the Church just as Jesus promised, to Peter's message of hope and history and salvation, to the vulnerable yet reasoned response by the crowds.
Who were cut to the heart.
Wanting to know what they should do.
Holding steadfast to the apostles' teachings.
Posted by Brianna Heldt at 6:30 AM