A Vincentian View: A Time for Retreat

by | May 8, 2024 | Formation, Reflections | 1 comment

One of the Pilgrimage Festivals of Judaism is Shavuot.  It translates into English as “weeks’ and thus is sometimes called the “Feast of Weeks” as it marks the seven weeks (the “week of weeks”) between Passover and the feast. In Greek (and English), the translation used for Shavuot is Pentecost. This celebration marks the time of the giving of the Torah to Moses on Sinai for our Jewish brothers and sisters.

Christians also count these fifty days which they place between Easter and Pentecost.  We focus attention on the gift of the Holy Spirit. One can understand the giving of the Law in the Jewish Pentecost as comparable to the giving of the Spirit in the Christian Pentecost. Just as the Torah is the instrument of God’s instruction in the Old Testament, so the Holy Spirit is the means of God’s instruction in the New Testament.

Yet, Christians include another day of reflection and celebration during their Easter Season approaching Pentecost. We add the Ascension. Between the Resurrection of the Lord and his Ascension, our Scripture tells many stories of the Risen Lord appearing to his followers, and it also alludes to other appearances.  Perhaps, many more encounters took place, even though we find no mention of them. Clearly, the time between Easter and the Ascension was marked with an awareness of the presence of the Risen Lord. Encounters with this Jesus may well have become expected by the nascent Christian community. But what happens after the Ascension and before Pentecost?

With the Ascension, the resurrected Lord leaves the company of his followers and the earthly realm. He returns to his Father’s side. Then, for another ten days (until Pentecost), the disciples will wait for the promised gift of the Holy Spirit. What was it like for them in that ‘tween” time?

I envision the character of a retreat. The followers of Jesus needed time to process all that had happened in the last weeks and in the past years. How did it all fit together? Perhaps, they had the opportunity to take a step back and remember so many of the things that Jesus had said and done. As they remembered all these, they may have begun to see them in a new way and admit that they had not understood a lot. They would need help to unpack the life of Jesus in order to grasp more fully who he was and what he taught. That capability would only come through the guidance of the Holy Spirit among them. Their awareness regarding what they did not know or comprehend about Jesus made them eager to surrender themselves to the Spirit that he had promised. Everything would not become clear all at once, but the presence of the Spirit would bring about this deeper belief in Jesus.

Jesus had promised this reality many times in John’s Gospel:

The Advocate, the holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name—he will teach you everything and remind you of all that [I] told you.  (Jn 14:26; see 15:26; 16:7)

Saint Vincent de Paul also spoke about the action of this Holy Spirit:

“Yes, the Holy Spirit personally is poured out on the righteous and dwells personally in them. When we say that the Holy Spirit is at work in someone, it means that this Spirit, residing in that person, gives him or her the same inclinations and dispositions Jesus Christ had on earth, and they cause the person to act in the same way–I’m not saying with equal perfection, but according to the measure of the gifts of that Divine Spirit.” (VdP CCD XII, p. 93)

As we celebrate the solemnity of the Ascension, we can also set our eyes on the Spirit who continues to come into our world and dwell in our hearts. And we can summon this Spirit in faith and hope as we celebrate our Pentecost retreat:

Come, Holy Spirit,

fill the hearts of your faithful

and kindle in them the fire of your love.

1 Comment

  1. Tom M

    Very useful and fruitful lineup of the progressions running through this season.


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