[Scripture Readings: Acts 2:1-11; 1 Cor 12:3-7, 12-13; Jn 20:19-23]
What is the most obvious fact or feature of the Holy Spirit? It is so obvious that the answer is irrefutable. The fact is that the Holy Spirit is invisible. It is obvious. It is not that we are unfamiliar with invisible reality. We all have a visible and invisible side to us. William James once said that whenever two people meet there are really six people present—there is each person as she or he sees themselves, each as the other sees them and each as they really are.
Four of these six are invisible. The last two are especially intriguing; who we really are. How do you know who you really are? St. Paul writes, “Your life is hidden with Christ in God and when Christ appears you will appear with him in glory” (Col. 3:34). At this point we will appear for the first time as we really are. In the meantime the Spirit of Truth is revealing the truth of who we really are. What exactly is being revealed?
The Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of Truth. But there are many types of truth. In Greek orthotes means correct representation. The word orthodoxy comes from this word and orthopedic shoes that correct your feet. This type of truth is important and guides our daily life. But there is a more basic truth called alethia in Greek and this is truth as reveled and disclosed to us. It is at the heart level, being claimed by the truth, being apprehended. Wherever you have truth you have the presence of the Holy Spirit just as wherever you have love there is God. So even thought the three persons in God are invisible we apprehend their presence in the world through truth bearers and acts of kindness and love. On this day of Pentecost the whole church was commissioned to go forth and bear witness, to preach the good news and this is one of the best ways to fulfill our mission.
But back to the question, what is the Holy Spirit revealing in us or disclosing to us so we can apprehend who we really are? Last week at Lauds we sang a hymn to the Holy Spirit and one verse went like this, “Spirit of Grace, reveal in me my savior that I may gaze upon his mirrored face till I reflect it in my whole behavior.” So I am not a single, isolated person; the Holy Spirit is revealing to me a presence that is more myself than I am. Thomas Merton in a mystical moment wrote, “Since the inmost I is the perfect image of God, then when the I awakens it finds within itself the presence of one whose image it is and by a paradox beyond all human expression God and the soul seem to have but one simple I, (The Inner Experience, page 15).
St. Paul says we are God's work of art but we will not be complete until Christ reaches full stature in us. Right now much is hidden from us but if we have love and truth in our life we know the invisible Sprit is present. We long to gaze on the mirrored face of the savior in us but the mirror is cloudy and our eyes are weak. Someday when Christ appears we will appear with him.
If my savior is being revealed in me he is also being revealed in you and so we form a community of searchers for the truth. Searching and finding, searching and finding until we are found, longing to possess until we are possessed. All the words of Sacred Scripture, all the teachings of the fathers and mothers of our faith, all the hours of lectio, all the bearing of each other's burdens, are ways to polish the mirror of our soul that we may gaze more clearly at the face of our savior whose image we are. When Abraham's slave girl, Hagar, was driven into the desert she had an experience of God and she said she had seen the one who sees her. So we too gaze on the one who sees us until we become one with what we see.
There is an ancient Paschal homily that we usually read on Holy Saturday describing Jesus descent into hell. There he meets Adam and says to him, “I order you, 0 sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be a prisoner in hell. Rise up work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated,” (Breviary).
[Scripture Readings: Acts 2:1-11; 1 Cor 12:3-7, 12-13; Jn 20:19-23]
Many years ago in the 1960’s Psychology really hit the religious life with a vengeance. There were sensitivity sessions, there was the book, “On Becoming a Person” by Carl Rogers that you just had to read and there was a popular little book entitled, “Why I am Afraid to Tell You Who I Am“. I suppose to read the book would have been an indication that you were one of those who was afraid, so you did not want anyone to see you reading it which again only reinforces the fact that you were afraid to tell people who you were or are or will be. We can express who we are by sharing intimate things about ourselves or by simply giving our name and where we are from . We do this at meetings sometimes and an indication that you are afraid to tell people who you are is the nervousness with which you await your turn to give out your nameit is worse if you have to stand up and do this. Very few of us like to be the focus of attention this way. Someone described it as being like a deer caught in the head lights of a car. We want to vanish into the safety of the woods or fade into the background or the wall paper, as it were.
One gets the impression that the Apostles were something like this after the death of Jesus. They hid out, didn’t want to be seen, sort of snuck around Jerusalem and met behind closed doors or dispersed. They were not about to tell anyone who they were. This all changed with Pentecost. We read they were given the power to express themselves. The exact words are, “…the Spirit gave them the power to express themselves”. This is quite remarkable because everyone there, and the text makes it clear there were people from many different nations and languages present, could understand what was being said. But, to me what was more remarkable was the content of what was being said. It was not a teaching or a sermon. It was a prayer, an ecstatic prayer of praise, a preaching, the text says, about the marvels of God. Remember, what we are attending to here is the birth of the church. The narrative is telling us what is the essence of the church. It is the prayer of praise, it is worship of the Father by the Son in the power of the Holy Spirit; it is the celebration of the marvels of God, it is the liturgy of the church or what Benedict calls the work of God.
The tongues of fire in the story represent the presence of the Holy Spirit. Fire is also the symbol of love. The Sacred Heart is always shown surrounded by fire. The message is that at the heart of God, at the heart of the Church and at the heart of each one of the Baptized is the fire of love. When the disciples were given the power to express themselves this fire burst forth in praise and worship of God. This praise and recounting of the marvels works of God is still the heart of the Church. It is still powered by the fire of love called the Holy Spirit. This is the mystical church where the lack of love by one is made up for by the burning love of another. In this way a lonely, forgotten widow who is bearing her cross in love can be supplying more to the church than a world renown theologian. At the heart of the church only love counts. As St. Paul says love alone endures.
The church of course has many dimensions and functions but when the community gathers to worship we are brought into the essence of the churchthe church at prayer. St. Augustine spoke of the “vox totius Christi“, the voice of the whole Christ. This is the worshiping community, this is what the church was founded to doto praise the wonderful works of God and in doing that to praise God Himself.
As a consumer society we have in the background of everything we do the little voice saying, “what’s in it for me“? When we come to the liturgy this gets translated into, I don’t get much out of itit doesn’t appeal to me. Today’s feast is telling us what we get out of it when it says, “…the Spirit gave them power to express themselves“. This is a tremendous gift. We can find ourselves by expressing ourselves and here we mean at the deepest level of our existence. When we praise and worship God in the power of the Spirit we are actualizing our true and essential nature as being who are a communication of God. God expresses himself through us and we express ourselves through the Spirit.
Truly, Pentecost is the birth of the Church and the birth of our deepest and truest self.
[Scripture Readings: Acts 2:1-11; 1 Cor 12:3-7, 12-13; Jn 20:19-23]
Not long before I entered the monastery, I was learning how to play tennis and was practicing one day, in a city park with little courts where you could practice your swing, hitting balls against a wall. Each of these little courts was equipped with a basketball hoop as well. As I was practicing, these two big burly guys got out of a car with a basketball, and were annoyed to discover that all four courts were occupied. Seeing me, a not very big burly guy, occupying one of the courts, they decided they would use my court, and, in a friendly, rather cursory manner, informed me that they were going to practice basketball for a little while; thanked me for my cooperation and moved on to the court. I don’t have an athlete’s body, but I have a will, and when I realized what the two men were doing, I became very angry and then, a moment later, surprisingly calm. I was calm, because I had made a decision. It was clear, as these two big athletic guys moved on to the court, it was time for me to leave. I decided I would stay. Taking my tennis ball, I hit it once against the wall, and then again, and so resumed practicing my tennis just as if the two basketball champs weren’t even there. At about the same time they commenced their one on one basketball game, and so, a rather curious contest began.
It’s not easy practicing tennis in the middle of a basketball game, but I was determined to give it a try. Once or twice one guy accidentally, or not so accidentally, collided with me in the middle of the court, and at one point I felt what I believe was a basketball bounce off the top of my head, but I was determined to carry on just as if I were all alone on the court. I don’t know when it happened, but at one point, the two men left. Without a word of complaint and without saying good-bye, they simply moved on. A man, standing off to the side, he reminded me of one of those passive bystanders you read about in stories of New York City muggings, walked up to me looking very happy and with his face flushed said: “Good for you young man! I wasrootin for ya!”
I wasn’t sure exactly what this man was so happy about, and I wouldn’t want you to think I came away from this incident feeling like I had proved something. I did not. The fact is two men had been physically aggressive with me and I was not physically strong enough to defend myself, or even to defend my personal dignity and as a result, for five or ten minutes, I was made the subject of a humiliating spectacle. My susceptibility to this sort of thing has always been a source of anxiety for me. I am aware that I cannot compete physically, and this is a wound I carry inside. On this occasion, that wound was put on public display. I came away from the experience feeling exposed and a little humiliated. Sowhat was this man on the sidelines so happy about?
In the gospel for this feast of Pentecost, Jesus appears to his disciplesappears three days after he died. Immediately upon appearing in their midst, Jesus shows them his wounds; those terrible wounds by which he was tortured and killed on a cross. Interestingly, the disciples look at these woundsand rejoice. As with the man beside the tennis court, it is hard for me to understand why the disciples would look at the terrible wounds in Jesus’ hands and side and rejoice.
Maybe we should take a closer look at those wounds ourselves. The wounds Jesus is showing us at this moment, are more than bodily. The holes in Jesus’ hands and feet are a reminder of his humiliation suffered on the last day of his life and witnessed by a large crowd. The death Jesus died was the most awful and shameful death that could be suffered by a subject of the Roman Empire, and he was naked when he died. Moreover, the humiliation Jesus suffered on the cross was the culmination of the humiliation he had suffered all his life. The problem with Jesus is that he was always small; he was always weak and vulnerable. Like the Jews from whom he descended, Jesus was always a target, and all his life, even at his birth was largely defenseless against the violence of men around him more powerful than he. In the world’s eyes, Jesus had always been a weakling. Now, three days after his terrible death, Jesus appears to his disciples, and shows them the wounds which are reminders of the vulnerability and weakness that characterized his entire life. Seeing the wounds, the disciples rejoice.
Brothers and sisters, the Holy Spirit whose coming we celebrate on Pentecost Sunday is God’s Spirit; the Spirit of Love, and, this morning, as Jesus shows us the wounds he suffered on the cross, he is inviting us to reflect on the mystery that this Love of God, is born of suffering and weakness in the person of Jesus His Son. Our vocation as a church and as individual followers of Christ is to manifest in our lives this love born of vulnerability. Pope Benedict the XVI has said repeatedly that we may expect in the years ahead the Catholic Church will be smaller and less influential in the world. To unbelievers, this sounds like bad news for the Catholic church, but we know these words of the pope forecast great things for the church of Jesus Christ whose founder the world considered small and weak. When we are weak we are strong, and it is the abundance of love and strength afforded to the weak of this world that is the cause of our rejoicing
on Pentecost Sunday, the birthday of the church. Today, tongues of fire descend from heaven on our heads. Rejoice at the gift of these flames, but be mindful: what these flames touch they burn, and what they burn, they transform.