The First Penetcost at Jerusalem; in the Upper Room
It was for me, a pilgrim to the Holy Land, an unforgettable Passover experience to have spent Holy Week, from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday, in Jerusalem - in the footsteps of the Master. At the end of that week, however, I felt that my pilgrimage would be incomplete unless I returned forty days later to spend the Pentecost Novena, the nine days from Ascension Thursday to Pentecost Sunday, in the footsteps of the Apostles, to relive their incredible Pentecost experience too
Waiting for the Promise of the Spirit
For it was during these forty days after his Passover from death to life, after his Resurrection, that the Lord appeared frequently to his apostles, firstly, to prove to them that he, though dead and buried, had now risen and was alive, to reassure them that, though he would be returning to his Father, he would still be present with them always and in a equally real but far more effective way, his last words being, "Know, I am with you always" (Mt 28:20), and above all to live within them with his own new and risen life now flowing into them, even as he promised, "We will come to him and make our home with him" (Jn 14:23).
Secondly, his authority to preach and to heal would be handed over to them, his body (Acts 10:38; Lk 9:1-2), with the guarantee that "He who believes in me will also do the same works that I do myself; and greater works than these will he do" (Jn 14:12). It is not that the work of Jesus would first be over, and then the work of the Church would begin; but rather his very same mission was entrusted to them and would become their mission: "As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you" (Jn 20:21), there being an uninterrupted flow and continuity from the mission of Jesus to the ministry of the Church.
Thirdly, the same power the Father gave Jesus, he would give to the Apostles, as Peter declared, "Exalted at God's right hand, he first received the promised Holy Spirit from the Father, then he poured this Spirit out on us" (Acts 2:33), and, as Paul wrote, "so his power is now at work in us" (Eph 3:20). For Jesus had both warned and assured the Apostles in their attempts to dissuade him from leaving them, "Most assuredly, it is for your own good that I go away, because unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I do go, I will send him to you" (Jn 16:7). And so he insists on them not leaving Jerusalem but to "wait for the promise made by my Father" (Acts 1:4), and he reassures them, "You shall receive power, when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses.... to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8).
Praying with Mary our Mother for the Spirit (Acts 1:14):
And so after Jesus was taken up from them into heaven, the Apostles, leaving Mount Olivet still somewhat confused but yet hopeful, returned to Jerusalem, and went to the upper room, where they now waited patiently together with Mary for the coming of the Holy Spirit, and they all joined in continuous prayer for the gift of the Spirit during the ensuing nine days till the morning of Pentecost (Acts 1:2,9,11-14).
They must have recalled to mind Jesus' own example of constant and effective prayer, which had intrigued the disciple who then asked him to teach them to pray (Lk 11:1-2). They must have remembered Jesus' own teaching on prayer, as he elaborated on both what they should pray for and how they should pray, ending with the assurance: "How much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" (Lk 11:9-13). They would thus not easily forget Jesus' promise to them at the last supper: "Whatever you ask the Father in my name, he will give it to you, for the Father himself loves you" (Jn 15:16; 16:23-24,26-27).
Furthermore, the Apostles had Mary to inspire them, both by her testimony (Lk 1:46-55), and her example (Lk 8:21; 11:28). For it was in having opened herself in prayer, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word" (1:38), that the promise made by the angel, "the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you," was fulfilled (1:35).
Consequently, because the Father's greatest gift to his children is the Holy Spirit, whom he is always ready to give immediately, freely and joyfully, so, firstly, the main object, in a way the only object, of our prayer should be to be given and to receive the Holy Spirit; and, secondly, all that we, as his children, need to do is to ask for it from the Father with expectant faith, confident that we will receive (Lk 11:9-12).
Praising God our Father for the Spirit (Acts 2:11):
After nine days of waiting in prayer, united as one family with Mary, the mother of Jesus, the Day of Pentecost arrived and the promise of the Father was fulfilled. The Holy Spirit came upon them, like a powerful wind rushing from heaven and filling the whole house, and as tongues of fire coming and resting on each one of them, "And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit" (Act 2:1-4).
Straightaway there came forth from their mouths a current of praise to God and they began glorifying him exuberantly, even in other tongues, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (Act 2:4-8,11), as if to underscore that the first and immediate effect of the outpouring of the Spirit was shouting out and singing aloud the praises of God (Acts 10:44-47), and that this outburst of praise was not formal and stereotyped but spontaneous, taking the form of 'free praise' and of 'tongues'. For "God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us" (Rom 5:5), and "God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, 'Abba! Father!'" (Gal 4:6), thus empowering us to articulate our appreciation of and love for God in the prayer of praise, which the Charismatic Renewal has restored to the prayer life of the individual and of the community.
Proclaiming Jesus our Lord, the Baptizer in the Spirit (Acts 2:14,36):
The final event on that first Pentecost day and the third element of that first Pentecostal experience was the proclamation of that Event and the interpretation of that Experience to every nation. That same Peter, who had denied Jesus before, (Lk 22:56-58), now stood with the eleven, no longer behind closed doors out of fear (Jn 20:19), but united as one body, the Body of Christ, and spoke loudly and boldly (Acts 2:14; 4:13), - "we cannot stop proclaiming what we have seen and heard" (Acts 4:20). For the Lord had bidden his disciples not to be anxious about what they were to say, "because the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say" (Lk 12:11,12).
And as Jesus had promised, the power of the Spirit behind Peter's words brought about a double conviction: convincing his listeners of the righteousness of Jesus, the promised Messiah, sent by a loving Father to die for our sins, who though crucified was now risen, victorious over death, sin's greatest consequence, and who, having received the Holy Spirit from the Father, had in turn poured out the same Spirit upon them all to give them a new life; and convicting them of their own sinfulness, thus leading them to repent, to call upon and be baptized in the name of the Lord, and to ask for the Holy Spirit which they would then all receive, irrespective of sex, age or nation. Peter's first ever Pentecostal proclamation cuts them to the heart and evokes an immediate and unbelievable response. That very day three thousand were added to their number. A mighty breakthrough of the Spirit had occurred in human history, the Church of Christ was born and the Kingdom of God had begun. (Act 2:14-21,32-41).
(Those crucial and precious nine days (novena) in the upper room, between the Ascension of Jesus to his Father in heaven and the Descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles on earth, spent in waiting with Mary and praying together and constantly for the gift of the Spirit, thus culminated in their joyful praise of God the Father for the bestowal of this Gift of the Spirit, and concluded with the grand finale of the dynamic proclamation to the people by the power of the Spirit, that the crucified Jesus is now the Risen Lord, Saviour and Christ, the Baptizer in the Holy Spirit, and the initiator of a New Age. Almost 20 centuries later the handed down memory of that first Pentecost at Jerusalem became for me a lived experience of the New Pentecost in Rome - exactly 30 years ago, 16 to 19 May 1975, of which the following account is a factual report and a personal testimony.)
The New Pentecost at Rome: in St. Peter's Basilica
On the feast of Pentecost 1973, Pope Paul VI proclaimed the beginning of a Holy Year for 1975, and asked the Holy Spirit to initiate a new movement, really pneumatic, that is charismatic, which will drive believing humanity in one direction. In response to this invitation, Rome was, firstly, chosen as the venue of the first truly International Conference on the Charismatic Renewal in the Catholic Church and, secondly, the two purposes of the Holy Year, 'Renewal and Reconciliation', were adopted as the theme of the Congress. The International Conference thus turned out to be a Holy Year pilgrimage to the Eternal City, where I had studied for the priesthood, while at the same time proving to be a vivid testimony of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal's fidelity to the Church, a gesture of loyalty to its visible head, the Pope, and a clear expression of its desire to be used as an instrument, not apart from the Church but as a part of it, for the renewal of the whole mystical body of Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Ten thousand members of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, came from 61 countries, on Friday 16th May 1975, to Rome, the Eternal City, the city of Peter who represents the authority and the structural aspect of the Church, the city of Paul who represents its charismatic dimension, and the city of the Catacombs, the burial place of so many martyrs who witnessed by living and dying for their faith with joy. In welcoming the participants, Cardinal Suenens, the Pope's trusted advisor to the Renewal, pointed out, "There is no better place than this to renew your faith and hope, and to love as you never did before". Referring to the Pope's Apostolic Exhortation on Christian Joy, brought out on Pentecost, he exclaimed, "Show by the radiance on your face that Jesus is risen indeed." Reports were then given of the impact of the Charismatic Renewal in various countries, I spoke on India, and testimonies were shared of the transformation brought about by the Renewal in individuals, families and even entire parishes.
Participating in the six workshops on Saturday morning brought us in close contact and fellowship with international leaders about whom we had only heard or read about. One of the most touching scenes of the Congress was the participants praying over one another and especially over the sick in small groups. The main focus that Saturday evening was on renewing our commitments made in Baptism and Confirmation and appropriating in a deeper way the life of the Spirit received in these sacraments. The evening ended amidst joyful singing and dancing to the hit tune of the conference, the Spanish 'Alabare' of Puerto Rico.
On Pentecost Sunday, May 18, morning, the 10,000 Charismatics were joined by the participants of the Marian Congress and the other Holy Year pilgrims at the Pentecost Liturgy celebrated by the Pope in St. Peter's Basilica. It was not by mere chance that the two International Conferences, Charismatic and Marian, were being held simultaneously in Rome, and that their common presiding prelate should be Cardinal Suenens himself, who, when he was consecrated Bishop in 1945, took for his motto 'In Spiritu Sancto', - for was not Jesus conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary, and was not the Church born when the same Spirit came upon Mary and the apostles waiting in the upper room? On Sunday afternoon there were six more workshops, the most popular one being the Bishops', which was both entertaining and illuminating. The featured speaker at the evening general session was Cardinal Willebrands of the Vatican Secretariate for promoting Christian Unity, who spoke on 'The Holy Spirit and the Church', publicly supporting and encouraging the Renewal. He urged every Christian to appropriate the gifts of the Spirit and to manifest them in his personal life and as a member of the community.
The Congress came to an end on Monday, 19th May, morning with the Mass celebrated by Cardinal Suenens at the Papal altar, and with the special Papal audience expressly for the 10,000 participants. The twelve Bishops, reminding one of the 12 apostles, and the thousand priests, dressed uniformly in a plain white alb and a full length simple red stole, concelebrating with the Pope's official representative, were a public witness to the priestly involvement in the Catholic Charismatic Renewal. After Mass the people were waiting for the Pope's arrival, singing 'Alleluia' continually and in tongues, in harmony with the traditional organ and the modern guitar, and still both with decorum and with power, as I had never till then heard in St Peter's, so that the venerable Papal Master of ceremonies, who had earlier warned us priests in the Sacristy, "Behave yourselves, - no 'tongues' in the Basilica", told us later with tears in his eyes, "You have taught us how to pray in St. Peter's Basilica this Pentecost". Again as on Sunday the participants welcomed the Pope a second time not with the usual clapping but with hymns and alleluias, - and even with praying in 'tongues'.
It was in his address at this particular audience that the Pontiff overwhelmed us by pointing out how "this spiritual renewal could be a 'chance' and an opportunity for the Church". Quoting St. Paul in his letter to the Thessalonians, he exhorted those concerned not to quench the Spirit, but to test everything (1Thess 4:19,21). He then outlined three principles from St. Paul's teaching on Spiritual Gifts in his first letter to the Corinthians, as both limits and guarantees of the Charismatic Renewal: to be faithful to the authentic doctrine of the Church, to use all the spiritual gifts for the common good of the community and to look upon love as making a perfect Christian, for as St. Fulgentius has it, "The Holy Spirit can give every kind of gift without being present himself, on the other hand he proves he is present by grace when he gives love.
After reading out his official speech, the Pope put it aside, looked around and began speaking extempore and in Italian, which took everyone by surprise, referring to, as he put it, "the other pilgrims (which were mainly Italian) not belonging to the Charismatic movement", but who were present at the audience. "They too should unite with you to celebrate the feast of Pentecost", he told the charismatics, "in order that they too might nourish themselves on the enthusiasm and the spiritual energy with which we must live our religion". "And we will say only this", he concluded, "Today either we live our faith with devotion, depth, energy and joy or that faith will die out." The Pope then departed with evident joy on his otherwise serious face, while the participants themselves left the new Upper Room rather reluctantly, embracing one another, dancing on the majestic floor and singing the Congress favorite numbers: 'You are my God', 'Alleluia, He has risen' and 'Sing to the Lord a New Song'
At a Press Conference attended by 50 reporters, six of us each from the six continents, with myself representing Asia, gave our impressions of the Congress and expressed our hopes for the future. In calling us to the spiritual combat against the forces of alienation in the world of today and in confiding to us the mission of witnessing the Christian joy in the same world, a joy which will renew the face of the earth, the Pope, we felt, was not only expressing the Church's love for us, but was giving an official recognition to the Charismatic Movement for renewal in the Catholic Church, something we did not expect to come so soon. Pope John XXIII had opened the window of the Church to the Holy Spirit, and now Pope Paul VI opened the door, thus setting an epoch making landmark in contemporary history, a New Pentecost for the Church. For me this first ever International Charismatic Conference I attended was as if the First Pentecost in Old Jerusalem had come alive - an anticipation of the Eternal Pentecost in the New Jerusalem, a foretaste of what Heaven must be like.