May 21, 2021
Does “it” come from outside, from a strong wind like the one we have been having for the last week? Does “it” come from within after a lot of prayer and reflection?
The coming of the Holy Spirit is much more than a static piece of art with bouncing tongues of fire. What is really happening?
Have you ever read about or looked into “auras?” All of us have an “aura” — a spirit, an energy that radiates around us. Is it more than our electromagnetic field or is it a luminous presence of God surrounding us? Is that what the tongues of fire symbolize?
Where is our tongue of fire? Where is this spiritual energy? Can it be seen? Many people believe that it can. It is an inner spiritual energy that glows at times, can be seen at times. I believe that is what Christian art has tried to capture in the traditional “halo” around the heads and the faces of the Saints.
Over the years, many people have commented to me about my aura.
I do not even think about it, but it makes a great deal of sense because it recognizes that God has breathed His spirit into us when we become a human being. Is that not what our Baptism recognizes, a spirit that makes us the children of God, a confirmation that we are growing in the Spirit who wants to reach out from our words and actions, a spirit that recognizes our communion with Jesus and his communion with us?
First of all, the feast of Pentecost is a Jewish feast. It marks the time between Passover and spring harvest of wheat — a time to thank God for wheat and bread and the giving of the Torah, the law on Mt. Sinai, a moment to renew a profound respect and a more life-giving relationship with God and His Word.
This is what these early followers of Jesus were celebrating, while trying to understand what they were supposed to do now that Jesus left. Did they go back to the old Jewish practices? How were they supposed to carry on for Jesus? It was becoming clear that Jesus was asking them to carry on and to do what he did. But how?
In today’s gospel, John refers to Jesus’ words: “As the father sent me, so I send you.” But what did that mean practically? He told them to receive his spirit, to find him in their hearts.
A modern day spiritual writer observes: “Jesus’ promise to bestow his spirit upon us can only be limited by our willingness to continue the mission…” The writer expresses a fear and a hope. “The Holy Spirit broadens our plans and wants us to go beyond our narrow imaginations.” How do we unleash love and harmony, reconciliation and forgiveness, and new ways to meet new needs?
Jesus challenges those first disciples who could not fathom what to do next. Jesus told them on the night of the Resurrection: “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” How do we retain people’s sins? By not inviting the people that we know to enter into a spell-binding, courageous, and unconditional kind of life, that sees God’s presence and grace everywhere, spread by our words and actions. By holding ourselves in practicing rituals and saying prayers. Is that all there is? What does it mean to be filled with spirit?
What struck me were the words of a Godspell song originally prayed by my patron saint, St. Richard of Chichester (13th Century) in England.
“O Most merciful Redeemer,
Friend and Brother,
May I know thee more clearly,
Love thee more dearly,
And follow thee more nearly.”
The Holy Spirit calls us to thrive as human beings. As someone else reflected: Pentecost is about our need to communicate and share our experience of God, more than in tongues of languages or like a cosmic google. It is about letting our lives and relationship speak volumes.
Pentecost is more than a cultic performance. Pentecost is about moving out of our fears, out of limiting our goodness and where it should go, or becoming too comfortable with just enough of God, but not too much of God.
There was not much for those early friends of Jesus to do but to sit, to talk, and to pray. They were looking to one another for answers and encouragement, and insight. And then something happened to them. They “woke up spiritually,” a new life and power was given to them. They were filled with a new sense of life and purpose. It felt like they had a new set of eyes and a new lease on life. It was described by St. Luke: “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.” “On fire” is an expression we use. “Enthusiastic” about what Jesus was asking. The Greek word “entusiasmo” means “to be in God.”
What would it be like for each one of us to be in God?
To experience this kind of a jump start, we need a new experience to open us. That is what happened to those of you who experienced a new spiritual lease on life through a Cursillo or Marriage Encounter or some other life-changing event.
These early friends and disciples of Jesus had to go to the next step. They had to step into the life and meaning of Jesus.
What is the problem? It is us. I think it is we who hold back from receiving the Holy Spirit… When we do not want to throw ourselves into unconditional love, when we do not want to breathe new life into the old patterns of life and old ways of thinking, when we do not want to give away the old securities that keep God at a distance. With the Holy Spirit, there are no boundaries, there are no limits.
The first Pentecost was an ecstatic moment, whatever was said was heard in many languages. It was a whirlwind moment. It is too bad that the Roman Catholic Church has become so over-institutionalized and ordered by rules and regulations and lack of creativity. Sometimes, the Code of Canon Law supercedes even the Gospels of Jesus. That is why Pope Francis continues to urge us to read the Scriptures, and catch the Spirit of Jesus. Theology has a place, but it does not replace the heart or the teachings of Jesus.
Something new is happening! It will be a whole new way for the Church to live. No longer from the top down, but from the bottom up. The new Church word is Synod. Which means a gathering of people to plan for the future, lay people and clergy and bishops — the developing of theology and pastoral practice from the ground up and not from the top down, a process of co-sharing, co-dreaming, co-creating a new spirit in communion– everyone together, praying and creating and planning.
A year ago, Pope Francis called for a Synod of Bishops together in October 2022 to discuss, to clarify the Word, the reality. In fact, Pope Francis has made the Synod of Bishops his right arm to lead the Church into the future. This week, he put that Synod off until 2023 so that all the dioceses of the world and parishes would come together in 2022, to listen first to each other, the people of God– where the Church gathers first as the People of God — from the bottom up.
The greatest challenge for a local synod will be to learn how to listen and to respect one another and the Holy Spirit. More than ever before, we will have to free ourselves, to really practice the Gospel spirituality of Jesus, or we will make a mess of where Pope Francis is encouraging us to go. A new Pentecost is about to happen.