Pentecost at Mississippi Abbey
Scripture Readings: Acts 2:1-11; 1 Cor 12:3b-7, 12-13; Jn 20:19-23
Today we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit to us as a community; as the Church and as this monastic community within the Church.
From the letter to the Galatians we see how the Spirit given to the community has affected the development of character, communally and individually. Character is the determination of ourselves formed by having certain intentions and beliefs and not others.” By “Intentions” we mean what we strive for. Paul tells us those intentions can center either on “the flesh”, our choice to live primarily for satisfactions, or on the Spirit, the choice to imitate Christ and live for the good-in-itself, and the good of others. Either way it is what we devote ourselves to for its own sake that will determine our character, the kind of person and community we become. Our character is a gift of the object of our devotion.
The path of least resistance is the flesh. Paul calls to mind people who live for the sake of the satisfactions of the flesh. These are people who are lustful, people who are hateful, who are selfish and who Google themselves. Some become weighed down by their success at getting satisfaction; others despair at their failure. The weight is the multiplicity of satisfactions available to us, all of which eventually lose their charm. What the works of the flesh have in common is that they are not true; they’re fleeting. Character-wise, we become nothing more than that which simply happens to us.
Then we are given the Spirit…the Spirit of Truth. We don’t experience it like we do a good meal or a movie. But it affects us. That it affects us means that we go from indifference to caring. The Spirit affects us in a way that transforms us in an enduring way. When it does, one thing is principally required of us: pay attention to it. The Spirit is the power by which we live the intentions and beliefs of Christian character.
Perhaps the two greatest convictions of such character that the Spirit gives us is that of the goodness of God and the importance of our usefulness to others.
These convictions and the attention we give to them contribute in some measure to making our character development deliberate, to becoming what we decide to be. The effective power, though, is from the Spirit of Christ. It sanctifies us.
Paul specifies the results of the Spirit. The Spirit, through the fruit of faithfulness, gives us some control and consistency in our manner of life. The fruit of self–control empowers us to determine beforehand our future conduct that is not presently under our control. We become more than simply what happens to us. Our community can count on our moral continuity and thus on its own. The Spirit’s fruit of patience enables us to form ourselves by enduring adversity in a particular way.
These fruits of the Spirit affect us because our attention is directed and informed by a story…a true story… lived in a community. It is the story of the gospels and, for us, the RB. It is a major life-decision to form and judge one’s life by a story she did not write. We knew many stories from our previous secular lives, so it is a very serious use of our freedom to decide to form ourselves from the Christian story rather than others. Life in the Spirit doesn’t just affect our actions; it affects our vision, how we see the world around us. As morally serious people—single, married, and monastic—our character has not been left to chance.
So, the story must be true. It must free us. And the Spirit of Christ gives us that freedom for the purpose of carrying out the mission of the Church. It sanctifies us. It affects us in ways that are pervasive, enduring, and deep.
And we find that living this story yields the fruits of joy, peace, kindness and gentleness.
Pentecost at Mississippi Abbey
[Scripture Readings: Acts 2:1-11; 1 Cor 12:3-7, 12-13; Jn 20:19-23 ]
Once upon a time there was a woman in the glens of Ireland who had an only son. He was a proper lad, very fine to look upon. His eyes were bright blue-like the morning sky at sunrise, and when he spoke his voice was like music. Girls watched him smile, and found there was no heart left in them. His equal was not to be found among the isles.
All this he was to his mother and much more. He was her dawn, noonday, and evening tide. But then a war came and he fell. She died, too, not her body, but her heart. There was no end to her grieving. At last the Spirit of God, the Comforter, came to her and offered ways to heal such a wound. First he offered the gift of forgetfulness, but she would have none of that. She never wanted to forget the loveliness of her son's face or the cheerfulness of his heart. Next the Holy Spirit offered her the gift of another child. That would be wonderful, but her heart would still bleed for the one she lost. Finally, the Comforter offered her the extraordinary gift of having her son back. “Yes,” she cried, “I want him back.” The Spirit agreed.
Suddenly, the heavens opened and she saw her boy in an ecstasy of happiness, his face was radiant like the sun itself, shining so intensely she could not see what he was seeing-the vision of the Father's infinite goodness pouring into his Son, and coming back to him with infinite love in the embrace of the Holy Spirit. The body of her boy was arched like a bow pointing upward in the sky, his heart was like an arrow soaring into the midst of God's own happiness. The arms of God's love were wrapped around him, cradling her son with a tenderness she had never dreamed of. Then she saw an angel approaching her son to bring the lad back to her. “Wait!” she cried, “Let him be. Now I know it is I who must come to him, not he to me.” The Holy Spirit said to her, “But, your heart is still bleeding.” “Let it bleed,” she replied, “it only bleeds for me. He is where I want him to be, his happiness in your arms is my consolation. I will feel his absence, and I want to miss him. But I do not want to take his happiness from him. Someday I will be with my son in your embrace. I can wait.”
That day the woman went outside for the first time since her boy was buried. As she passed along the country road and greeted her neighbors, they said to one another, “Did you see her eyes? They are bright blue, like the morning sky at sunrise, and her voice, it is like music in the air.”
Earth is not our homeland, God is. We have received the upward call in Christ Jesus to be like that Irish lad embraced in an ecstasy of happiness. That is our destiny. It is better to suffer the loss of all things on earth rather than lose the gift of the Holy Spirit who makes us partakers of the divine nature.
St. John, remembering the apostles in the upper room, writes, “Jesus breathed on them and said, 'Receive the Holy Spirit.'” From Advent to Christmas, from Lent to Easter, from the upper room on the day of Resurrection to the upper room on the day of Pentecost, all the mysteries of Christ's life have this one purpose: to give us the Comforter, his Spirit, his happiness, who lifts us up to his Father's kiss. Then, we too will be dancing in the heavens.