Seeing Red

7fa6c4dae8070e069915e71a14ef253cThe second I walked into church on Sunday, I knew that once again I had blown it. I looked at the bright red banner that draped the ceiling above the altar, the red ribbons that festooned the front pews, and then looked down at my white sweater and black pants. Just like every Pentecost Sunday of my life, I forgot to wear red.

I don’t know why it’s suggested we wear red on Pentecost. Corpus Christi I could understand.  You know, the Blood of Christ. Pentecost, I don’t know; it seems a stretch. It apparently is to represent the fire of the Holy Spirit, but to me, fire is yellow. But no, we wear red. As it happens, even if yellow had been the color of Pentecost, I would still not having been appropriately attired. Sigh.

I tell this story every Pentecost, but it’s my blog, so I can tell it again! Eight years ago we were in Barcelona on the Monday following Pentecost. We didn’t know, however, that it was Pentecost. We had, in fact, attended church the day before, but it being in Spanish and all….. Well, what can I say?

So we wandered around town for almost three-quarters of that Monday wondering why nothing was opened. We finally approached a tourist information place and, in very rudimentary Spanish, asked that very question. And in very rudimentary English, she told us it was second Easter, and so, a national holiday. We nodded as if we understood, but really didn’t. And then I began leafing through my Rick Steves guidebook and learned that in fact, Pentecost is (or at least was) a national holiday in Spain, so important, in fact, that the holiday continues on the Monday after Pentecost. Who knew?

And it wasn’t until this past Sunday that I finally understood why the young women called it second Easter. Easter Sunday is the beginning of the Easter season, and 50 days later is the official end of the Easter season, according to the Catholic Church, and many other churches. So what I believe the young woman was saying was not that Pentecost was in any way Easter, be it first or second, but that it was the END of the Easter season.

As I contemplated Pentecost on Sunday, and my not-red-clothes, it occurred to me that up until the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles, the friends of Jesus had sort of sputtered around, unsure of what to do next. Jesus knew they needed a little boost to get into the, well, spirit of their task. And the bible tells us that the Holy Spirit came down to the apostles looking like tongues of fire. Whoa! That must have given them a start. And then there was the whole idea that they were speaking in such a way that everyone could understand them no matter from whence they came.

I’ve never quite understood the Holy Spirit. God is complex and mysterious, but understandable. Jesus is easy to figure out as long as you have faith. But what about the Holy Spirit? What’s up with that?

And yet, it’s the Holy Spirit to whom I pray whenever I’m asking for help in something that seems insurmountable, which is, frankly, every day. Holy Spirit, give me courage to face the next obstacle. Holy Spirit, bring my boy back to his faith. Holy Spirit, give me strength each day to accept Bill’s Parkinson and bear my own health issues. Holy Spirit, help us to love one another and give me the patience to forgive.

I think I pray to the Holy Spirt because somewhere in my faith, I believe – just like Jesus’ apostles – that I need a little boost, and the Spirit is the one to give it.

Holy Spirit, help me remember to wear red next Pentecost.

Second Easter

The Holy Spirit, as depicted by Brother Mickey Mcgrath, a Roman Catholic brother and accomplished artist. Many of his works feature the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit, as depicted by Brother Mickey Mcgrath

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.

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