24 May 2015
Solemnity of Pentecost (Vigil and Day)
As we progress through the liturgical year, the mysteries that we celebrate become increasingly hard to grasp. In Advent and Christmas, we have pregnancy and birth, new life. We can relate to that. And then in Lent, we can relate to what Jesus did, being in a time of personal trial and self-reflection. We can relate to that.
But then we come to Holy Week, and our imagination has to kick in a little bit. We know what the Last Supper was about, and yet, there’s something deeper there that can escape. The same goes for Good Friday. We might know what physical and spiritual suffering is like, but none of us has been crucified. None of us has been in a grave—except, maybe metaphorically speaking. It’s harder to relate to that dark and good Friday.
And then there’s the Resurrection. We get it. We understand it: Jesus rose from the dead. And yet, who of us has seen a person literally rise from the dead? We know Jesus did. But that reality is out of our field of experience. We celebrate the Resurrection, and then just last weekend the Ascension of Christ into heaven; we celebrate them, but it’s so very hard to relate to them.
And then we come to today: the idea of the Holy Spirit of God coming down upon us. We celebrate it . . . but what in the world does it mean? And maybe that’s the problem: there’s not much in the world to relate it to. Scripture gives us the images of a dove, of tongues of fire, of a “power” (for lack of a better word) that inspires us to seek God, that brings life to dead and dry things; a power that makes us alive and whole again, that brings new things into being.
The only “thing” in the world that does those things and which is symbolized by a dove and fire and power is the Holy Spirit. There’s nothing else like it. We’ve arrived at a time in our liturgical year when the mystery we celebrate is very, very hard to grasp. And perhaps that’s right. The Holy Spirit should be hard to grasp. And that’s because the Holy Spirit isn’t meant to be grasped; he is meant to be received . . . with openness.
As we hear in Scripture, the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary and she was found to be with child, she was found to be pregnant—but only because she said “yes.” She was open to the Holy Spirit, and that Spirit did great things through her—but only because she said “yes.” The Holy Spirit came upon Jesus at his baptism; in his baptism Jesus said “yes” to the will of his Father. When the disciples were all gathered in one place, together in a spirit of prayerful openness to God, the Holy Spirit came upon them and filled them with new life.
The Holy Spirit is meant to be received and never grasped at. The Holy Spirit should be hard for us to get a handle on. This Spirit of God who comes upon us is great mystery, for sure. Who is he? What is he like? Does he look like anything other than a dove or a flame? It’s hard to relate to a mystery. But this “mystery” isn’t something that remains hidden. The Holy Spirit isn’t someone to fear. Instead, the mystery of the Holy Spirit is the fact that we’ll never reach the bottom of all he has to share.
We’ll never be able to enjoy the Holy Spirit enough! That’s the great mystery that washes over us with Pentecost: the mystery of . . . life, the mystery of rebirth; the mystery of God’s peace and joy, his love and patience, kindness and generosity; the mystery of God’s faithfulness to a community of faithful sinners, his gentleness and self-control in the face of criticism and false accusation.
All that’s good comes from the Holy Spirit. And there’s a lot of goodness in the world. The very fact that we exist is from God. The fact that we can wake up in the morning and appreciate the sunrise and the birds chirping; the fact that we can smell the rainfall and look into another’s eyes are gifts from God. Our ability to make music, to go to the ballgame and enjoy family and friends, our ability to fall in love and to be in love is a gift from God, a gift from the heart of God, the Holy Spirit.
The most basic gift of the Holy Spirit to us is the ability to share in God’s power to create and recreate life. All those things: seeing, touching, tasting, loving, crying, enjoying . . . all those things are part of life. But the most important part of life—that is, in the act of creating and recreating life—is when we reach out. When we step outside of ourselves and live and act for the good of others, we create and recreate life . . . both in ourselves and in others.
At Pentecost, we celebrate all the wonders that God has given us and continues to give us. But above all, we celebrate our God-given—Holy Spirit-given—power to love intentionally. That’s at the heart of who we are as a Church, as families, as individuals. It’s at the heart of the New Evangelization. Reaching out to others and saying, “Here I am,” is where life happens.
Today we remember our most basic act of reaching out. We remember that prayer which is at the root of all our hope and all our life: “Come, Holy Spirit.”
“Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created.”