I have been rather wordy this time around -- so many thoughts have surfaced, especially around the urgent need for spiritual renewal both at the local parish level and at a global level. Paul VI, echoing the sentiments expressed by John XXIII, once declared that "the Church needs a perpetual Pentecost" -- and so it does! If we welcomed in the Holy Spirit, our churches would be filled with joy, celebration and festival -- and with worshipers of every age, from every background! All would be welcome and faith would be contagious!
And so I invite you to join me in preparing for Pentecost, just as the First Community did more than two millennia ago. You may find the following prayer useful:
Spirit, Holy Spirit, God’s Spirit, hovering over the void of uncreation, waiting to create. Spirit, Holy Spirit, giver of life to dry bones, of unity to a scattered people, of one language –TRUTH—to the babblers of Babel. Spirit, Holy Spirit, giver of dreams to the old, of visions to the young, giver of prophecy. Spirit of God descending like a dove on Jesus, the Son, the Beloved. Sudden Spirit, powerful Spirit, vociferous Spirit, intoxicating Spirit, giver of wisdom and knowledge, of faith and healing, of miracles and tongues and interpretation, giver of many gifts and of the ability to recognize them. Spirit, Holy Spirit, searcher of hearts who utters the prayers we cannot verbalize because we do not know they are there. Spirit, Holy Spirit, river of living water, mover of us all. Spirit, Holy Spirit, Christ’s two-fold gift of Paraclete and Peace, of Befriender and Indweller. Spirit, God’s Spirit, hovering still to re-create the face of the Earth, kindle in us the fire of your love….
When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled,
they were all in one place together.
And suddenly there came from the sky
a noise like a strong driving wind,
and it filled the entire house in which they were.
Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire,
which parted and came to rest on each one of them.
And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit
and began to speak in different tongues,
as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.
Though the Spirit comes "suddenly," the First Community in Jerusalem is not caught "off guard" but has been preparing for this moment with prayer and fasting. Jesus, of course, had promised the coming of the Advocate, the Spirit of Truth, during the Last Supper narratives (Jn 14:16-17, 26; Jn 15:26-27; Jn 16:4-15) but it is most likely only after his resurrection that the disciples are fully able to grasp his meaning. In Lk 24:49, right before his ascension, Jesus reminds his friends of this promise and instructs them to stay in Jerusalem:
"And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you, but stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high."
We learn in Acts 1:5 that they will be "baptized with the Holy Spirit" and will then be his witnesses "to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8). Once he is lifted from their sight, they joyfully return to the upper room to await the fulfillment of his promise. With the eleven apostles are "some women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers" (Acts 1:14); one verse later, we learn that there are a total of 120 people present who, under Peter's leadership, elect Matthias to replace Judas Iscariot. Then when they are "all in one place together" (Acts 2:1) the Pentecost event takes place.
SPIRITUAL IMPLICATIONS FOR THE CHURCH
The Church is born in fire, in Spirit and in Truth. This creative act is no less dramatic than the creati0n of the world: just as a mighty wind once swept over the primordial waters in Gn 1:2 preparing the world to sustain all life forms, so God's mighty wind sweeps through the First Community, filling the entire house. There is no distinction between one person and another. All are filled with God's Spirit; all are inflamed with God's Love; all are empowered to do the work God has entrusted to them, that is, to continue the mission of Jesus.
This Spirit is neither a Spirit of timidity nor a Spirit of conformity, but a bold Spirit, an intoxicating Spirit, a Spirit that calls us into fearless discipleship, and away from mediocrity and being "lukewarm." This Spirit demands that we leave behind all that is rote (especially rote prayer) and that we allow the very power of God to be our power, our voice, our actions in this world. Our greatest sin against the Holy Spirit as an institution is that we have sold our soul to the
and have ceased to be a revolutionary force for the good. Instead of being a prophetic presence in the world, we have aligned ourselves with worldly powers, becoming an agent of the state rather than a counter-cultural reality. We are the church of "Bingo" rather than the Church of the Holy Spirit; we are the "social club" that demands our members are "in good standing" if they are to receive a welcome; we are the
Church of Decades Past
that has failed to meet the spiritual needs of Baby Boomers, Millennials and iGen. We are the Church that has ignored the call of the Spirit to be the power of God in this chaotic world.
Perhaps this is because our practice of infant Baptism and the western practice of reducing Confirmation to an 8th Grade rite of passage have diluted our understanding of what actually happened at Pentecost and what it means to dwell in the Spirit of God:
"The practice of baptizing infants with a minimal amount of water has done little to evoke the hazards of embracing Christianity, or the radical dying to self that it requires of each of us.
The Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults
(RCIA) with its emphasis on personal choice and spiritual formation within the context of a worshiping community invites a more costly commitment -- one more in line with that undertaken by the first catechumens. Even so, those whose names were written in the Blood of the Lamb would have difficulty comprehending rites of initiation tamed into social events where the primary symbols are minimalized and all suggestions of real dying are tastefully avoided"(Stewart,
Jesus the Holy Fool
Only in those parts of the world where Christians live as a persecuted minority is it clear that there is a price-tag for being immersed into the Death and Resurrection of Jesus.
For the most part, Western Christianity has tamed the Holy Spirit into Comforter and Guide but we would do well to remember the Holy Dynamism that not only desires to renew the Church but also the face of the earth.
SPIRITUAL IMPLICATIONS FOR CHRISTIANS
In Jn 6:7, Jesus tells his disciples,
"It is better for you if I go. For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you."
These are strange words indeed, but it seems that Jesus is saying that as long as his disciples focus on his physical presence and leadership, they will not undergo the transformation that will come when they receive the Holy Spirit. As long as he is in their midst, his followers will naturally depend upon him; when the Spirit comes, however, they will know the Mind of Christ and experience the Indwelling Trinity -- at least, this is how I interpret Jn 16. When this happens, the disciples will know Truth, be filled with joy and experience the all-encompassing love of God. In effect, each of them will "become the Christ," so that his Presence will be "multiplied" in the world and in generations to come....
Like the first Christians who "became
" on Pentecost, we are living in
The Age of the Spirit.
The Holy Spirit, however,
rather than conscripts. If we are to participate in God's work of making all things new, we need to prepare ourselves just as the First Community did, through prayer, fasting and alms-giving. We cannot co-operate with God if we stubbornly cling to the old ways of doing and being, or if we are too afraid to surrender ourselves to the Holy One in reckless abandon. Nor will we be capable of doing much good if we remain indifferent and self-serving. Like the prophets, we need to pray,
"Here I am ... Speak for your servant is listening!"
(Sam 3:7-11). Then God will pour God's Spirit on humankind and young and old shall prophesy, see visions and have dreams...