By Father Anthony F. Raso
CONVERTS TO THE Roman Catholic faith are always a great blessing to the rest of us who were baptized as babies. Whenever we get to forgetting how inspiring our faith really is, the converts will remind us well by the sound of their voices and the look in their eyes. My father was kind of like that, and this is one of the (many!) reasons he was such a gift to me and my family.
He wasn’t technically a convert but my grandfather forbade his family to practice the faith, so much did he despise the Roman Catholic Church. He was such a tough customer on this that my grandmother had to sneak my father and my uncle out of Red Hook one afternoon and bring them down to St. Anthony’s Church on the Lower East Side to have them secretly baptized! A few years later, she snuck them out again to receive first Communion and Confirmation.
Seeds Were Sown
Needless to say, the two boys didn’t grow up practicing the faith but the seeds had been sown and when my father married my very-much-practicing-the-faith mother, those seeds blossomed well in the Garden of the Lord.
As a result, when I came along he was eager and enthusiastic about telling me what a wonderful thrill it was for him just to go to Mass on Sunday. He gave me coins for the collection. He bought me a copy of “The Little Golden Book of Going to Mass,” and explained every week which Sunday it was. Every year on this feast, I laugh to myself remembering how I could not pronounce the word “Pentecost.”
Long before I went to school, I knew all about the Apostles and Mary gathered together in the Upper Room and the Holy Spirit (although He was still a “Ghost” then) coming to them in fire and wind. So, this has always been special day for me, thanks to my “convert” father.
Other than Easter, this is the most important feast in the Church year because it was today that the Church was “born.” The joy that we read about in the first reading is powerful to encounter, even 2,000 or so years later. The Apostles were ready to go into the world and the world itself, as represented by all of those different nationalities on the streets of Jerusalem that morning, were ready to hear them. Nothing could stop the Holy Spirit then, and today we rejoice in the fact that nothing ever has.
The results of that day still echo in our world. As St. Paul says to the Corinthians in our first choice of second readings today, the Holy Spirit united us as closely as one part of a body is united to the rest. That unity is, simply put, who we are. As he says to the Galatians in the second option for the reading, we live in a world where there are many temptations and pitfalls and he warns them – and us – about them all.
However, the Fruits of the Holy Spirit, given to the Apostles on that first Pentecost, still shine forth in our lives and if we live in the Spirit we shall follow in the Spirit as Peter did, and Stephen and Mary Magdalene and Francis of Assisi and Mother Theresa and John XXIII and John Paul II and all of the saints who will be coming along tomorrow, including hopefully, us.
In our Gospel choices today, Jesus drives away fear from His Apostles and lets them know that, where the Spirit reigns, fear will have no chance. Sins will be forgiven, the Good News will be preached and the power that the Father gave the Son will be shared with the Son’s brothers and sisters then, now and forever, because Pentecost is forever.
Peter and Andrew, James and John, Mary Magdalene and all the rest were sent forth on that first Pentecost to share the Good News with all nations. You and I, if we completely misunderstand the great feast day, can shrug and say that we ourselves are not in that position at all and we should just quietly go to Mass today and think about how nice Pentecost is, remembering all those wonderful saints of long ago. A lot of us have done just that. But not all of us.
I will always identify this day with a young father telling his toddler son all about Pentecost and doing so with such convert-like enthusiasm that I still remember how happy he was about it all and how infectious that happiness was, and still is. Peter had that kind of zeal on that day long ago and the crowd who heard him speak never forgot it. And the faith he sowed grew and flourished.
Well, Tony Raso Sr. had that effect on Tony Raso Jr., and when I offer Mass today I will be remembering him fondly on yet another Pentecost Sunday. When you do and say something good in the name of the Holy Spirit, it doesn’t die or fade or disappear. It is a seed that will grow in the Garden of the Lord forever.
Readings for Pentecost Sunday
Acts 2: 1-11
Psalm 104: 1, 24, 29-30, 31, 34
1 Corinthians 12: 3B-7, 1213 or Galatians 5: 16-25
John 20: 19-23 or John 15: 26-27; 16: 12-15
Father Anthony F. Raso is the parochial vicar at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, Dyker Heights.