The Feast that makes you want to get up, get out and share.
The feast of Pentecost, the sending of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles, is the climax of the Easter season. Some regard it as the birthday of the Church. I’d rather take my birthday from the crucifixion of Jesus. One of the early Church Fathers, St Ambrose, taught: From the side of Christ as he slept the sleep of death on the cross that there came forth in blood and water the wondrous sacrament of the whole Church. A Christian’s life has a double origin. We come from our mother’s womb, our physical life and from the side of Christ, our spiritual life. Our eternal origin is Divine Love. For me, Pentecost is the activation of the Church. The Church breaks out of its inhibitions and goes on the road, it leaves the upper room of fear and never goes back. The Church is animated. Its sole aim is to share God’s life giving love, a love that is close up and personal. Pentecost is about intimacy. It is teaching us that the very breath of God given as the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity is constantly breathed into us sustaining God’s Life in us. But ‘being’ is not necessarily ‘doing’. Pentecost is a call to enduring practical love in action.
The Apostles in the upper room are the beginning of the Church. But they are inactive and not fit for purpose. Something has to change for the small band of Jesus’ friends to become what Jesus wanted His Church to be: the public disseminators to all of God’s Good News of His victory over sin and death. The Church is the communal instrument to invite others to believe and belong and to live; to selflessly serve generously sharing God’s love and compassion; to point humanity to Heaven. Without Pentecost, all this will never happen. It will remain in a locked room and fizzle out. We would not have known each other! If I wanted a word to sum up Pentecost for me, it would be change. The Spirit comes as wind, the wind of change. The Spirit blows away the cobwebs of the old and clears the shelves of our lives giving a spring clean that removes all that inhibits and undermines our faith. The all-powerful Holy Spirit cannot be constrained and He blows where He wills. The Spirit comes as flame, burning out and purifying our lives making way for the One Who makes all things new. He brings new and fresh approaches to long existing issues. Both wind and fire can deal with our locked doors, our barriers which hold us back, resist God’s will or inhibit His love flowing through us.
Knowledge: This is a gift of the Spirit. It was given to the Apostles. There is nothing vague, ill-defined or optional about the Christian faith. It has definite content: The Person of Jesus Christ. All our Doctrine and teaching is a window on the Mystery of Jesus, what He taught us about God, humanity’s origin and purpose, His Plan for the salvation of the world and how it must be achieved. At Pentecost the Apostles become the message, their lives are given over to evangelization. They become the proactive Body of Christ, the carriers of the Lord’s life and compassion to live and to share Jesus. It is the first thought in their mind when they wake and their last thought as they go to sleep. Mission isn’t something we do, it’s what we are. This is not easy. The Apostles were teachers of the Truth and had to take on ignorance and point out error each new day. They identified what could be built on and what had to be removed. This is the daily challenge of ourselves also. We must sensitively enlighten.
Courage: The opposite of faith is not doubt, it’s fear. There were doubters, hesitators in the apostles when Jesus ascended to Heaven but He still gave them the task of continuing His work. St. Thomas, labelled for his doubt, came out with the title that does justice to Jesus: “My Lord and my God” Doubt, God can work with. He just asks us to trust Him when we are not sure, or hesitating in the face of trial, uncertain our faith is up to the task. Jesus will hold our hand through every trial, He will reassure us that He is in control no matter how it seems to us. Fear is another matter. It is destructive to the Good News. Fear is like acid, it is corrosive, it gradually eats away at us and seeks to neutralise our Christian life. It seeks to intimidate us and break the bond between us and our loving God. Jesus gave His Church courage at Pentecost. The upper room pre-Pentecost was a room filled with fear and its effects are clear. The apostles will be the mouth piece of God but they are silent, trapped in their own selves and destructive thoughts. They are to be the first community of faith, but they are scared individuals with only their loss of confidence in common. They are to be God’s joy bringers but they are sad and down cast. The people outside the upper room are the potential receivers and believers in the Lord and His victory, but they are seen as the enemy and the doors and windows are firmly locked. This is what fear does. We must be aware of this in our own time and meet the world with courage. We will meet with resistance and be surprised and even hurt by the response of others. People will tell us to keep the Good News to ourselves for their own reasons. To mind our own business. The Truth challenges their freedom to live as they like, it questions false values. We are told everything is relative, all life approaches are equally valid and Christianity is not special, just another option. It should be kept in Church behind closed doors and not affect the comfort zone of personal choice. It is outdated and its morality is archaic and puts limits on the pleasure ethic many want to live by. The world will defend its nihilism its ‘secular material religion’ often with the media and using powerful forces it seeks to silence you and gang up on you when you speak out, embarrass or ignore you. We are told we are not politically correct. Everything is interchangeable. The world is a library, why buy a book. Remain flexible and don’t commit, leave the door open to the latest. There is a lot of this out there. This causes us to hesitate before we say what God wants us to say; we experience fear. It is not easy to be the only voice of Truth in a room crowded with error. This can decaffeinate our faith, so to speak. It looks like faith but the stimulant is taken out, the get up and go factor is removed. I love the words of the Benedictus, Zechariah’s canticle: “He swore to Abraham our father to grant us, that free from fear, and saved from the hands of our foes, we might serve him in holiness and justice all the days of our life in his presence”. Fear is never far away as we are frail and life is challenging. But we must allow the presence of God to overwhelm our fears. Maybe, one day, it will be for us as Zechariah prayed and we are free from fear, what a day that would be.
Archbishop St. Oscar Romero said that Pentecost is not a one off event but the start of every day for a Christian. We may not ask for it, but God gives us the anointing of the Holy Spirit anew as we reengage in daily Christian life. When I was going out to school, my mother had packed my lunch. I got used to this and often I would go to leave without it and mom would put it in my satchel. My mind was elsewhere, I just accepted it without a thought. God would never let our inattention leave us without the resources of the Spirit to succeed. These graces, gifts and their fruits, become more effective if we are conscious we have them and believe we have the wherewithal to do justice to the call of love in our dealings with those around us. I’d be the first to say I take so much of God’s blessings for granted, but He doesn’t fall out with me, thankfully, like my dear mother, He puts His power and Spirit given assistance into my hands and preoccupied mind. God knows what the day will ask of me and gifts accordingly.
We are the people who believe in miracles. God intervenes constantly in our lives for the good and nothing is impossible to Him. What happens to others happens also to believers. We are not immune from the troubles of life. In fact, being a believer in the contemporary climate can bring us difficulties because it challenges people to change for the better. We have to believe the Christian life is worth living. That we are making a difference. To believe it is worth the struggle, to hang on in there irrespective. Only God quantifies success and failure. In John’s Gospel, Jesus is asked what is it to do God’s work? Jesus tells them to: “believe in the One God has sent. To believe, to have faith, to see Jesus as real is doing powerful work in the Kingdom of God’s love”. The sick and housebound ‘do not get out and about’ yet do wonderful work for God. Do not look for obvious results and go up and down in relation to how well or poorly you feel you are doing. God doesn’t want us on that rollercoaster. If at the end of your day you feel you have short changed God, just say the Creed.
St. Peter makes three thousand converts in his first sermon after Pentecost. This can make us feel out of our depth. But it is the same Spirit that is in us as in Peter. Remember St. Teresa of Calcutta said the only ability God seeks and powerfully uses is availability. Just saying: “I’m here – use me, Lord”, is the base where the Spirit starts to minister through us. Mother Teresa also said, “God asks us to be faithful, not successful.” What a pleasant surprise we are all going to have when we see all the treasure in Heaven we have stored up. We sometimes quietly think how we will be as we stand before the Lord: we tried to pray and serve as best we could, we needed God’s mercy again and again to pick us up, our life was so ordinary; did it achieve so much in God’s eyes – yes, it did! Don’t you let the evil one tell you otherwise. The Devil would love to take the wind (Spirit) out of your sails, to put you on the defensive. But the Devil is fighting a rear guard action. The battle was won on Calvary; we are daily living out that victory in our unspectacular but nonetheless wonderful lives.
This feast of Pentecost wants us to do as the prayer to the Spirit says, to invoke anew the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity: Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth you Spirit and they shall be created and you will renew the face of the earth. Let the Spirit blow the ember we often feel into a flaming torch of love.
Tongues: The Holy Spirit at Pentecost gave the Apostles the gift of tongues. The gift of effective communication and proclamation. When they left the upper room and its attendant isolation and fear, they spoke intelligibly and convincingly of the love and victory of Jesus. Everyone understood. Love is the universal language everyone understands. In prayer, ask Him what to say, with courage go and proclaim. Ask the Holy Spirit to blow through your spiritual vocal chords to be God’s voice to people. When what we say is of God’s love it will impact on people, some more responsive than others. Like the seed sowed by the Sower in the Gospel. Some are resistant at first but need time. Others, for life circumstances to change sufficiently for them to allow God’s Word given through us to reach them. People have memory, they can revisit what you said. Isaiah stated that God’s Word does not return to Him until it attains its purpose. Christians are God’s mouthpiece and we should be optimistic as to the outcome of what we say in His Name. In the Old Testament, God’s spokespeople, the prophets, saw few immediate results of their proclamation and met with immense obstacles and persecution. God’s encouragement was necessary to keep them on task. So get the message out there. Lay it on the table for all to peruse. Many will pass by one or two might hover, pick it up and put it down. We seek to engage; the Holy Spirit enlightens. The Spirit will do all the hard work. Nothing ventured nothing gained!
Wounds: Vitally, we see that the resurrection didn’t remove the Lord’s wounds. Wasn’t the resurrection a comprehensive healing? This we must take to heart and ponder. Jesus is telling us to avail of His wounds. First, let us place all our issues into His wounds. Jesus’ wounds have the capacity to absorb our hurt, disappointments, life demands and such; hand it all over to Jesus. “Deep in thy wounds, Lord, hide and shelter me”. Second, look for Jesus among the wounded in life, He is among them sharing their pain. When Jesus showed the Apostles His wounds, He indicated their prime sphere of activity. I recall a story. A young woman went into a drapers store and sought material for her wedding dress. The assistant brought out rolls of beautiful cloth soft, comfortable, eye catching etc. No, she wanted the noisiest material that the assistant had. Her reason: her fiancé was blind, and she wanted him to hear her approach and know where she was as she walked up the aisle so that he could step out unprompted to join her side to make their promises. The bride is sensitive to her loved one’s wounds. The bride’s facilitating love speaks through her sensitive choice of dress material in a way we can all understand whatever particular language she spoke. No doubt her wedding was the happiest day of her life. Joy is a compelling and attractive fruit of the Holy Spirit. To live in joy is to be in step with God.
Witness: What is given by God is always to be shared. The Spirit Who is given at Pentecost is the Spirit of Truth. The resurrection has happened, it is a fact, it is true. The Holy Spirit fills us with the conviction of the reality of God’s eternal all-embracing love and life. Witness is not just telling others that Jesus is risen. This doesn’t create faith. The soldiers at the tomb told their superiors that Jesus was gone, but it didn’t bring them to faith; their reaction was denial and deception. The Spirit must be in our words and example. The Spirit changes hearts, calls people to repentance and creates belief in the Lord. The Spirit makes us bold, brave and faithful. People tend to live from the outside in. They soak up the world, are focused on events, situations and challenges meeting all with their finite personal resources. People live under the primary influence of the world. Often people are more influenced by the world than the world by them. Christians, however, live from the inside out. As of Pentecost, the followers of Jesus see their primary formative influence as the Holy Spirit, Who lives in each of us and of Whom we are a Temple. The Spirit inside us forms us, not the world. In the Our Father we say: Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. We are here to change the world for God, not the world change us. Our witness is to help establish a human family of love, mercy, selflessness and faith, a Heaven on Earth.
Pentecost asks us to move forward, be renewed, feel empowered, anointed anew. This must involve a certain leaving behind. Let this feast undermine our uncertainties and confirm our faith. The Holy Spirit is given in the sacraments through the gesture of the laying on of hands. Let us not be afraid to give our hands over to God to use as He wills. Remember, they are connected by your arms to your shoulders. The latter being the load bearing structure. The Spirit gives us the shoulders to match the demands of the hands. We’ll get the job done. Jesus is yoked to us, we labour together. I’ve always admired President Roosevelt. He said in his first inaugural speech during the Great Depression that he called for a New Deal, and the only thing they had to fear was fear itself. In due course the New Deal empowered the powerless, lifted lives and occupied idle hands with the dignity of labour beginning the road to recovery by restoring a nation’s confidence. If Pentecost can banish fear or at least break the ice for it to begin to melt away, it will have been a good feast for all of us. We can then approach others in their state of fear and have something wonderful to offer them in a language they will understand. This Gospel suggests we offer the gift of peace which was the Lord’s greeting in the upper room. Let our lives say: “Peace be with you” in all that we say and do. This is a powerful gift to our anxious world. The feeling of peace is a universal longing and we are entrusted with its promotion. Let us be like the wedding dress, making the appropriate noise for God that lets others know love is coming their way. Happy feast to you all.
God bless, Fr. Gerard x