The Solemnity of Pentecost
[Scripture Readings: Acts 2:1-11; 1 Cor 12:3b-7, 12-13; Jn 20:19-23]
On the masthead of the New York Times in the upper left-hand corner you find
the words: “All the news that’s fit to print.” Given the content of the paper,
you would wonder what’s not fit to print? One thing might be good news. Good
news doesn’t sell. When have you ever read, “Boy Scout helps elderly women
cross street?” But you might see, “Boy Scout helps elderly woman cross street
then robs her.”
Stories like this tell us how bad things are becoming, tell us what a mess
the world is in. Consciously or subconsciously they bolster our self-image as
honest, good people. We would never do anything like that. What’s the world
coming to? Bad news helps us measure our goodness. But evil is not the proper way
to establish the good. Besides, the world we live in is not so clearly
defined. The good and the bad are not so easily separated. Life is a mixture of good
and bad, visible and invisible, matter and spirit. We live in the world of
ambiguity where certitude evades us. So when a story comes along that is very
good or very bad, it helps us find certitude, but it is short lived because it is
not true to life. Life is a struggle-a series of layers of trust-of stepping
into the unknown-of fulfillment and disappointment-of meaning and confusion.
What is it that keeps us going in such a capricious world?
Today we are celebrating the Feast of Pentecost. Just approaching the Feast
from a personal level we can say we are given a helper-an advocate-a
councillor-a divine presence that directs us-shows us the truth in our life. Shows us the
meaning of it all. Gives us answers to the deepest questions about our
life-fulfills our deepest longings. Certainly this is good news-fit to print-to
proclaim. It is more. It is a saving message. A message to live by-to experience-a
message you can trust. This doesn’t necessarily mean our life will be easier.
If anything it might be harder, because we can’t explain in simple terms what
this Holy Spirit is. What or who is the Divine Presence in our life? To
believe calls for a leap of trust-a leap of faith. When all evidence-all
explainable evidence points in one direction, we still must say, yes, but there is more
to the picture than we can see. There is another dimension to life.
All the news that’s fit to print gives us a pretty sordid picture of life.
But our life does not read like a newspaper. It reads more like the Bible-an
interchange between human and divine events.
One of the hardest things we have to do is to reconcile what our eyes tell
us, and what our heart tells us. Our eyes tell us the world is a mess. Our heart
tells us God is still directing the world to his own ends. Our eyes tell us
this or that sad event was bad luck or tragic or disastrous and maybe it was,
but our faith tells there is a purpose-there is a person behind it all-that our
life is a “series of moments filled with distinctly willed events.” We are
not subjected to impersonal forces. God wills our existence and every moment of
Jesus was human and divine. When He ascended into Heaven, what was visible in
Jesus passed into the sacraments-what was divine came to us in His spirit.
Our very life becomes a sacrament-human and divine. Everything Jesus did on
earth-His teaching, His healing, His loving and caring and suffering carry over
into His church-His body. It is now in our hands-it is our mission to carry on
the ministry of Jesus in the world. Our mission to witness to the Divine
Presence in the world.
The Solemnity of Pentecost
[Scripture Readings: Acts 2: 1-11; 1Cor 12: 3-7, 12-13; Jn 20: 19-23 ]
None of us has ever seen God the Father, God the Son, or God the Holy Spirit. Yet each Divine Person is intimately involved in our life. God the Holy Spirit is called in Scripture the Paraclete. This is translated variously as Advocate, Counsellor, Intercessor, Comforter, Defender, Protector. It is God assisting us in all these ways.
The Holy Spirit is also our Sanctifier. The Father created us, the Son redeemed us and the Holy Spirit sanctifies us. St. Paul says the same power that raised Jesus from the dead lives in us. This is the power of the Holy Spirit.
I once made a workshop for leaders. One of the exercises we had to do was to write down in the order of importance our top seven or eight values. Being children of our culture, we all pretty much had similar values — love, service, compassion and, since we were all religious, there was a sprinkling of obedience and humility. No one, as I recall, listed power as a value. This was the object of the exercise. The moderators pointed out that religious people have abrogated their power. They have given it to the politicians and corporations. Power, authority and leadership are values for justice in the world.
Each of us is called to express the power of the Holy Spirit in our life. Each of us has a leadership role — an inner authority to exercise, a mission. We think of ourselves as ordinary folk and leadership is for the extraordinary. Granted today’s account of the descent of the Holy Spirit is extraordinary and granted many of the lives of the saints come to us through extraordinary stories. But the saints seemed to have grasped the situation and expressed themselves with great freedom of spirit. I especially like the desert fathers. Such freedom of expression! Take Simon Stylites for example. He sat on top of a pillar for decades. He drew a crowd; people still talk about him and scratch their heads. He makes you wonder — but that’s just the point! These extraordinary events and people bring you to wonderment. What is going on here? Are these people drunk? Why is this old man up on a pillar? If we tried that, there would be all kinds of complications. First of all we would need permission from the abbot, — or, if you are married, from your spouse. They might say, “Okay, but you have to come down for the noon meal,” or “Okay, but only in the morning; you have to go to second work.” Also the State would get involved. “That pillar must have a flashing red light.” This could be very distracting to prayer!
Now most of our lives are not so extraordinary. The whole Church is now shifting to “Ordinary Time.” And in fact our monastic life is described as “ordinary, obscure, and laborious.” (Not something we advertise.) But you don’t have to join a monastery to experience this side of life. So where is the Holy Spirit in this?
In today’s Eucharist we invoke the power of the Holy Spirit to transform very ordinary bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. The Holy Spirit is the power that sanctifies each of the sacraments. We live in the sacramental system. Marriage, birth, nourishment, sickness, death, ministry, forgiveness — all ordinary human events of life sanctified, made holy, sacramentalized.
Each of our lives has a wonderment about it. No matter how ordinary, obscure or laborious it may seem, there is in it a power, a sanctifying process going on — a mystery: something we cannot imagine or put into words. Once a Japanese artist was asked to explain his work. He turned to the questioner and said, “No matter how well you describe the dinner you ate last night, I will never taste it.”
We cannot taste or touch or see the Holy Spirit, but our life is His work of art — an expression of the power of God. There is more to it than we can fathom. Even our death is sanctified, not an end but a beginning, a coming to the place where we meet the one who knows us better than we know ourselves, who loves us more than we love ourselves.