The most powerful experience of hearing a scripture reading during Mass occurred several years ago during Pentecost.

I first noticed something different when two lectors approached the front of the assembly, one to the far left, one to the far right of the front of the church. They then began the second reading, in different languages.

As the readers approached the end of the reading, their words coalesced into English as they finished – ‘the word of the Lord”.

This was liturgical theatre at its best, for never in my past, nor since, have I been so moved by a demonstration of the universality of the gospel message.  We all know of the key points behind the event:

  • It is a joy-filled and exciting time. After the initial descent of the Holy Spirit, followers gathered for fellowship with ‘glad and sincere hearts’.  The fear that overwhelmed them at the crucifixion was forever broken with the understanding that death has no victory, that Christ lives.
  • The universality of the church is demonstrated. When the apostles started speaking in ‘tongues’, they weren’t babbling nonsense – they were proclaiming the gospel using terms, language, and messages that resonated with all the major societies in ancient Judea and its enclosing Roman empire. The bystanders were amazed that the apostles were able to reach across language and culture with their message.
  • It completes the miracle of the resurrection. Up to this point, the resurrected Christ appeared to the apostles and to select believers. Everything changed after Pentecost. Our tradition teaches that the Holy Spirit empowered the apostles to move out of the protection of closed, darkened rooms and into the light of the world. It was time to carry the resurrection message to all peoples – to bring Christ to the entire world – making His presence real to all who would listen to the good news of the gospel. For this reason, some refer to this feast as the birthday of the Church as we know it.

I find this is an interesting time to reflect on this feast from two perspectives.

First, I wonder what it would be like today, if we were the visiting bystanders –  if someone were to approach us, telling us to repent our sins.

It is easy to dismiss a message calling for repentance  — the caricature of doomsayers wearing sandwich-boards proclaiming the nearness of the end is fixed in many of our minds.

For the longest time, I equated repentance with sorrow, or regret for doing something wrong. But in a Biblical sense, repentance more accurately means a change of heart, a change of direction away from the behaviors that hold us back, a change towards actions that provide spiritual fulfillment in God’s presence.

When Peter led the apostles into the crowds gathered in Jerusalem for the traditional Pentecost festival, he was talking to a community that in one way or another, through direct persecution or distant indifference, had set down a path away from Jesus’ message. Peter’s call to those in Jerusalem wasn’t so much about asking people to apologize as he was asking them to change the directions of their lives.

Couldn’t we use a room full of apostles in our streets today — asking us not be be sorry for doing things that are wrong, but calling us to change the direction of our lives?  Any how many of us are, in one way or another, headed in some wrong directions? How many of us have let our lives be taken over by materialism, disdain for the poor, callousness towards the immigrant, indifference towards the unborn? How many of us have have let ourselves confuse pleasure with happiness and fulfillment?

I think if many of us were to hear Peter’s call for repentance, for a change in perspective, we would quickly walk past him, only to realize that he is talking to each one of us, asking if we have just a moment to reflect, to find those parts of our lives that are headed in the wrong direction, and finally, to ask help in getting our lives back on track.

I also think about a second perspective of the Pentecost feast.

How can we, the (supposedly) faithful, continue the mission started those 50 days after the first Easter?

To me, the message is clearly about reaching people in a language and manner that speaks to those we reach out to. This calls us not only to cross boundaries of culture, language and belief, but also calls each of us to use our talents to bring the gospel to the world (even if we aren’t multilingual).

The second reading during the Pentecost Mass reminds us that we have all been given different gifts and we are called to use those gifts in service:


There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit;

there are different forms of service but the same Lord;

there are different workings but the same God

who produces all of them in everyone.

To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit

is given for some benefit.


I think we are called to continue the work of Pentecost, not only in how we proclaim the message in words, but how we give witness to the resurrection in actions that allow us to use whatever gifts we have been given.

Our church is blessed with artists, medical professionals, and engineers who can bring a new hope to those in the dark places of the world. In our midst we find persons of limitless compassion, boundless energy, and unrestrained joy. And yes, just like that Sunday when I saw lectors flanking the altar, we have people of faith on the left and right of the political/cultural spectrum.

I think we are always being called to our own Pentecost – called to use any of the talents, skills, and experiences we have been given to help make the gospel something to be experienced, something like the wind that breathed new life and energy into the apostles.

I have never seen a tongue of fire. But I do know spiritual illumination when I see it. And I see it in the faces of those too few people in our Church who take real, physical steps to minister to the poor, the elderly, and the disenfranchised. Those folks are the closest we have to today’s apostles, and we need to follow them.

It’s time for all of us to leave the closed room.




1 Cor 12:4-7