23 May 2010. Pentecost Sunday
Acts 2, 1-11; Psalm 104; Corinthians 12, 3-13; John 20, 19-23
I was a young catechist to children when the topic was the Trinity. It was easy for me to draw the image of God, the Father because it was not hard to imagine a father; or God, the Son, because they knew what a son was. But the Spirit? So when I got to describing the Holy Spirit, I was at a lost, until one child said, “Sir, God, the wife?”
Understand the Spirit is quite challenging. In Scripture, they described it as ruah, as a wind. A wind cannot be seen, but can be experienced. When the leaves of the trees move and rustle, we know it is the wind. Now in the peak of the El Nino, when it is so warm, we wish for that breeze to caress us. The Spirit cannot be seen, but its manifestation can be greatly experienced and appreciated.
First, the Spirit is experienced when people become one. Pentecost celebrates community. The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles describes to us that when the time of Pentecost was fulfilled, the disciples were in one place together, and they were filled with the Holy Spirit. And thus, the coming of the Holy Spirit creates a deep bond between persons. Each member who receives the Holy Spirit naturally becomes part of one body. Each member becomes a friend of another. Each member becomes a brother or sister to all who belongs to the community.
Theology has it that Pentecost is the closure of the story of the Tower of Babel. In the Tower of Babel, people were dispersed because they spoke different languages and they did not understand each other. At Pentecost, the disciples spoke in different tongues but the witnesses understood what they were talking about. The Spirit of Understanding builds community.
Furthermore, the second reading affirms that the Holy Spirit accords each one gifts. We may have different ways of service, but we serve only ONE. We may have different ways of praying or a different spirituality (Benedictine, Opus Dei, Dominican, Augustinian, Jesuit, etc.) but we worship only ONE. We may have a variety of talents, but the source is only ONE and the purpose is towards the greater glory of the ONE Trinity. We may trace our roots to a different race and culture, but we are all here at mass because we have one common love for Christ.
Second, the Spirit is manifested when people gain courage to proclaim and live the Gospel. Pentecost celebrates the passion for life. Peter Hans Kolvenbach, the General of the Society, said that passion is timeless. It celebrates the fire of greater desires; to dream dreams and aim high. It celebrates risks and sacrifice. The Holy Spirit gives us the courage to proclaim love, to spread the Gospel without fear. It is the same Spirit that allows us take great risks throughout time. It is what fires our imagination and pushes us to stubbornly pursue our dreams.
The disciples before Pentecost were consumed by fear; they all began to disperse; they began to feel so betrayed and hopeless the way the disciples on the Road to Emmaus felt. But when the Holy Spirit filled their hearts with the fire of love, they became brave witnesses of Christ, glorifying them as Jesus promised in the Gospel today.
We know we have taken great risks and thus conquered our fears: when we have been terrified to ask permission from our parents; or asked to do things we have never imagined ourselves doing; when we have to face the pain of separation from our loved ones; or when we are in a place unfamiliar to us. The courage and strength to jump is a gift of the Holy Spirit.
Finally, Pentecost brings community and risks together. When the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles, everyone understood what they were speaking despite the variety of tongues. But more practically, I believe that the Holy Spirit gives us the courage needed for the most important risk in our lives: that of taking all the opportunities to deepen our relationships with God, with one another and with the entire creation.
Sadly, most of us, do not take risks for fear of losing the very relationship we dream to have. To form community requires great leaps of faith. To deepen friendships requires great risks.
Here are some dilemmas we face when we are at the brink of taking that leap of faith:
1. Have we ever noticed that the worst way to miss someone is when they are right beside us and yet we can never have them…..and when the moment we can’t feel them under our fingertips, we miss them? Have we ever wondered which hurts the most; saying something and wishing we had not, or saying nothing and wishing we had?
2. I guess the most important things are the hardest things to say. They are the things we get ashamed of because words diminish them, words shrink things that seemed timeless when they were in our head to no more than a living size when they are brought out. Let us not be afraid to risk telling someone we love them. If we do, they might break our heart… but if we don’t, we might break theirs.
3. Have you ever decided not to become a couple because you were so afraid of losing what you already had with that person such as friendship? Your heart decides who it likes and who it doesn’t. You can’t tell your heart what to do. It does it on its own; when you least suspect it, or even when you don’t want it to. Will you risk what you already have in order to have a deeper and more meaningful relationship?
4. Have you ever wanted to love someone with everything you had, but that other person was too afraid to let you? Too many of us stay walled because we are too afraid to care too much…. for fear that the other person does not care as much, or at all.
5. Have you ever loved someone and they had absolutely no idea whatsoever? Or fell for your best-friend in the entire world, and then sat around and watched her fall for someone else?
6. Have you ever denied your feelings for someone because your fear of rejection was too hard to handle? We tell lies when we are afraid; afraid of what we don’t know, afraid of what others will think, afraid of what will be found out about us. But every time we tell a lie, the thing we fear grows stronger.
At Pentecost, we learn that the Holy Spirit is experienced in unity in diversity; we feel it when community is make possible.
Moreover, the Spirit teaches us to risk, to be courageous in our mission to love. Don’t be a person who has to look back and wonder what they would have, or could have had. An opportunity of a great relationship with each other is worth any risk. No one waits forever.