In one of my first years teaching, I was introducing the story of Pentecost to my group of fourth graders. The book had an illustration of the Feast of Pentecost, with the disciples gathered in a room, tongues of fire over each of their heads. They were facing an open door with looks of shock on their faces. One of the fourth graders asked if this was a picture of the first recorded fire drill.
I thought this was a humorous example of a child who clearly didn’t get it, until I started thinking more about it after class. Was a fire drill a helpful image for understanding what happened on Pentecost? Think about it: in a fire drill we hear a loud alarm (a surprise) and move as quickly as we can (take action) to the agreed-upon emergency meeting place. At Pentecost, the disciples were surprised by the strong wind and the tongues of fire, and the Holy Spirit inspired them to take action that would lead people to meeting as fellow members of the Christian community.
Years later, I still like this memory for its reminder that the coming of the Holy Spirit is a day that inspires action; but, just as we have fire drills to practice what we need to do in an emergency, our hearts need preparation to receive the Holy Spirit anew each Pentecost. When we pray, “Come, Holy Spirit, and renew the face of the earth,” we are asking for renewed inspiration to take action to make the world a better place according to the example set for us by Jesus Christ.
Now that I work with seventh graders, I make sure to plan a session to share and explore the story of Pentecost. I read for them the story from Acts 2:1–41, and in doing so try to convey some of the excitement surrounding the event. We talk about how the Apostles were emboldened to speak of their faith in a public way despite the dangers. Then I challenge the young people to live their faith boldly as young Christians. It’s a good lead-in to the year of Confirmation preparation they’ll be starting in just a few months.
Our closing prayer includes the playing of a song that commands the students to “Go light your world.” May the students take up their lights and join together in ways that surprise the world by the actions they take to move the community forward to our agreed-upon meeting place with Christ. May the same be true for us catechists.
Does Pentecost still hold an element of surprise for you? How might you take action to prepare your heart or your students’ hearts for the surprise of Pentecost? How will you respond to the Holy Spirit’s inspiration?