Back in 2008 (I simply cannot believe it was seven years ago), Bill and I took the trip of a lifetime. We spent three-and-a-half months traveling around much of western Europe, including spending one full month living in an old rectory in Tuscany. Simply lovely.
We took a cruise ship from Galveston, Texas, to Barcelona, where we set off late in April on our adventure. We spent three or four days in Barcelona. Because it was our first stop, we were still quite inexperienced travelers. I can’t tell you exactly why, but we really never got the hang of Spain, though we certainly love Barcelona, especially La Sagrada Familia, the magnificent church designed by Gaudi that has been under construction since 1882. Not speaking any Spanish was definitely a hindrance, but we couldn’t speak French or German, and only enough Italian to get by, and that didn’t seem to cause us problems. In looking back, I think it was just the initial intimidation of being in a foreign country.
Anyway, every Sunday throughout our adventure we would attend Mass at the big cathedral of whatever country we happened to be visiting. We, of course, couldn’t understand a word, but since one of the many benefits of being Catholic is that the Mass itself is the same because it’s a universal church. So we were always able to follow along even if we couldn’t respond to the proclamations. In Barcelona, we attended the Barcelona Cathedral. The only thing I remember is that it was Pentecost Sunday and after Mass there were all sorts of activities going on in the square in front of the church, including traditional dancing and a puppet show.
We stayed in a truly dreadful apartment in the gothic section of Barcelona. The walls were thin and the floor was literally sinking. I prayed that it wouldn’t completely collapse before our visit was over. It was, I’m happy to tell you, the only really bad accommodation we had during our entire trip. Anyway, seeings as the walls were so thin, we could hear everything that went on above and below us. That Sunday night, I was awake all night long listening to partying going on outside our window. That was bad enough, but I also had the misfortune of hearing what I’m quite certain was an abusive man fighting with his wife/partner. It was very disturbing. I kept thinking, “Don’t these people have to get up and go to work tomorrow?”
The next day – Monday – Bill and I were up and out of the apartment early to begin our walking tour of the city. We noticed it was very quiet, but attributed that to it being so early. We couldn’t find a single place to eat breakfast. Nothing was open. We finally went back to our apartment, thinking we would go out later when things were lively.
Early afternoon, we set out again. But still, nothing was open. We, being so very clueless, decided that things were closed because it was siesta time, and were certain businesses would open soon. But after seeing no activity after a few hours, we finally decided we were missing something. So we stopped at a tourist booth on Las Ramblas and asked (using much sign language as the booth attendant didn’t speak much English) why nothing was open. We finally realized that it was some sort of national holiday. Again, using sign language and my language book, I asked what holiday they were celebrating. The woman asked her coworker how you would say the name of the holiday in English. The answer: Second Easter.
After thanking her, we set off, and suddenly the answer occurred to me. I quickly took my Rick Steves guidebook out of my daypack and looked it up. Sure enough, Pentecost is a national holiday – celebrated on Monday – in Spain.
This is a long story before I finally can get to my point. I love the feast of Pentecost. In the Catholic Church, the tradition is to wear red, something I NEVER remember to do. The priests and deacons wear beautiful red vestments and the altar servers wear red belts with their white robes.
But beyond the pretty colors, I love the idea of celebrating the existence of the Holy Spirit who I believe guides us in our faith. He certainly guided Peter and the other apostles, who received strength from the divine spirit on the feast of Pentecost, shortly after Jesus ascended into heaven. It’s true, the Holy Spirit is an enigma, hard to understand in a way that God and his son Jesus are not. But it is through the Holy Spirit that we truly experience our faith.
The feast of Pentecost is important enough to warrant a holiday, at least in Spain!
Nana’s Notes: The artwork in the picture above is by Brother Mickey Mcgrath, a Roman Catholic brother and an accomplished artist. Many of his works feature the Holy Spirit in some form or another. His website is http://bromickeymcgrath.com/