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Pentecost Vigil: Jewish and Catholic

This year, Jewish Pentecost (Shavuot) fell on the same day as our Christian Pentecost. Going back and forth between Catholic and Jewish sites, we realized how much our feast is rooted in the Pentecost that Jesus grew up with!

All began here at Emmaus, site of the Breaking of the Bread, with a solemn Vigil Mass and buffet dinner. The Holy Spirit gave us a pleasant surprise: American guests! A priest from Detroit brought ten of his seminarians, and another priest came with two seminarians and three SPO campus missionaries from Arizona/California. After Fr. Franz’ moving homily, we took time to pray in small groups to invoke the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, in this Land, and beyond.

After Eucharist and a festive buffet, we headed up to Jerusalem to share in the night of study and early morning prayer that is customary for the Jewish celebration of Pentecost (Shavuot).

A Jewish friend, Udi, welcomed fifteen of us for an hour of study. We learned about the Gift of the Torah. Udi told us that the Jews spend all night studying in an intimate way, receive a Law of love, like a marriage covenant between God and his People.

The Israelites received God’s Teaching, his Law, in a “naive” way when they all said, “We will do and we will hear.” Udi explained that Jewish sages of Jesus’ time took this to mean that they said, “We will follow the law, and then later we will seek to understand it.” However, as they fell back into sin just after pledging their obedience, they weren’t ready to keep the covenant. They needed time to train, to grow. They perhaps were following the Lord out of fear, not out of freedom.

We realized that we too are embarking on a process of learning this faith, this trust in the Lord, trying to follow him into the powerful experiences here, seeking little by little to understand and to enter deeper into a free, loving relationship.

Udi walked with us to the Old City, where he would spend the rest of the night studying with a rabbi. We took in the aura of the glowing stone ramparts, and the streams of Jews, dressed up for the holiday, heading to study sessions. One couple eagerly asked us if we weren’t Jews. “Well, no!” “So you can help us!” they exclaimed. They’d forgotten to adjust their synagogue light timers in order to study through the night, and the law prohibits them to push any electric switches. We were able to hit the buttons for them :)

Down in the Jewish Quarter, a couple Jews were rather annoyed to find Christians—idolaters—in their plazas during the holy time. Up on Mt. Zion, we drew near to the Upper Room, situated above David’s Tomb. It was 3am and the place was packed with Jews praying and studying. One rabbi by the name of Yehoshua (Joshua), was delighted to find us, and he sat down and discussed with us some Scriptures and the spiritual ways that the Lord works in our hearts.

We then squeezed into the crowds chanting morning prayers at the Western Wall, before heading up to the Holy Sepulchre for Mass, meditating on how Jesus “gave over the Spirit” as He perished on the Cross.

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