Today we celebrate God’s gift of the Holy Spirit to Jesus’ fledgling community – and to us. This is not the first mention of the Spirit in the Scriptures. The Hebrew word for spirit ("ruah") occurs over 300 times in the Hebrew Scriptures, from the very first chapter of Genesis. "Ruah" means "breath." The beginning of Genesis tells us, God’s Spirit was "sweeping over the waters of chaos and darkness. God forms the first human from the soil and breathes life into it and the human begins to breathe. Later, in the Bible’s Wisdom Literature, "ruah" is identified with wisdom and usually personified as a woman ("Lady Wisdom"). Lady Wisdom is the source of new vision and guidance for judging reality. Wisdom transforms those who receive it.
Since it is Pentecost our three readings and Responsorial Psalm highlight the diverse activities and manifestations of the Spirit. Today’s gospel passage from John recalls the opening words of his gospel, which announced something new is about to happen, "In the beginning was the Word...." John echoes and reminds us of the first words of Genesis, "In the beginning...", when the Spirit of God hovered over the dark and chaos and God spoke, "Let there be light..." and it happened. God’s Spirit was with the struggling Israelite community from its beginning, sustaining their faith. Jesus’ resurrection is a new first day, when the Word of God is breathing into a fallen humanity to raise them up to a new creation.
The Acts of the Apostles describes the gift of the Spirit with dramatic images of wind and fiery tongues, manifestations of power and new life. John shows another side of the Spirit, as a quiet and gentle breath; a another allusion to the Creation account. With his creative breath the resurrected Jesus breathes over and creates new life in his timid disciples. His breath transforms the disciples huddled in fear to become a unified and courageous community sent forth to preach forgiveness and reconciliation between God and among all peoples. Pentecost is not a once-for-all feast, but an ongoing celebration of the gift of God’s Spirit, who is always with us, inseparable from believers.
Jesus breathed the Spirit in his disciples and offered them peace, not just for themselves, but for a very concrete purpose, to make peace among those who have sinned and are alienated from God. John assures us today that the Spirit will always be with disciples – as present as their own breath. The Spirit enables us to do what Jesus promised: "I solemnly assure you the one who has faith in me will do the works I do and greater far then these" (14:12).
The Scriptures give us insights into the activities of the Spirit. It is as gentle as breath, because some situations require us to pause and take a breath – as a reminder of the ever-present breath of the Spirit – then to speak and act. Other situations, like peacemaking, forgiving, working tirelessly for the poor and the work of justice, require what Acts also tells us about the Spirit: it is with us like a "driving wind," and gifts us with language – just what we Christians need for the long haul in a sometimes-resistant church and world.
Fire, another sign of the Spirit’s presence, animates and helps us be energetic, passionate and consumed by our mission to the world. The Spirit’s fire enables us to see by shedding light on dark and abandoned places. It helps us accomplish big tasks in God’s name – like the food pantries we have in our diocese that receives large donations from individuals and stores. The Spirit’s fire motivates the volunteers who come out during the pandemic to stack shelves at the pantry and respectfully guide the needy in their choice of food for their families. The fiery Spirit helps us do what Jesus did by his compassion for the least. You can see the obvious signs of the Spirit’s presence in animated, wind-driven Christians who, with the Spirit’s light, see what needs to be done and are on fire to do it.
Jesus, just risen from the dead, does not reprimand his disciples. Instead, by his simple gift of peace, reconciles them with himself. Then, he addresses the "business at hand," telling them: you go and do likewise, be apostles of forgiveness driven by the wind of the Spirit.
This has been a stressing year for so many. Our spirits need a refreshing touch by the Spirit of God, not just to survive, but thrive in faith. As individuals and a believing community, we long for a renewed sense of God’s tender and comforting love for us. We also need to be assured of God’s unfailing care. That is the work of the Spirit, who urges us to reach out in confidence for the gifts we need to guide us through these extra-difficult days. When we return to a regular routine, will our faith have withered during this year’s desert journey? Or, will our spirits have grown under the tests we have encountered; grown because we have yearned for and been open to receive the ever-new influx of the Spirit, who bears what Paul calls, "Different kinds of spiritual gifts… Different forms of service… Different workings, but the same Lord"? He also assures us, "To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit."
As we celebrate this Pentecost we can follow Paul’s pointing and ask: "What manifestations of the Spirit have I received over these months?" Since the Spirit has not only given gifts for our individual needs, we might also take Paul’s lead today and ask, "How can I use the gifts of the Spirit for the benefit of others in my worshiping community and the broader world beyond?
As an aside: there is a question of the numbers. Traditional artistic renderings of the Pentecost event show the descent of the Spirit’s tongues of fire on the Blessed Mother and a small group of the apostles. Those paintings are lovely, but do take a limited perspective. Luke tells us, "When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled they were all in one place together." Who were the "all"? Earlier in Acts he estimates 120 men and women disciples gathered in prayer (1:14-15). Is that a suggestion that the Spirit wasn’t limited to a few, but to a larger community who, through the Spirit, is sent out to the world to proclaim the gospel? Subsequent chapters in Acts will show how the Spirit-gifted community went out beyond their traditional Jewish roots to manifest and share with the world the fruits of the Spirit they received on Pentecost.
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Whenever the question of "how" is raised in the early Christian writings, the answer comes back: by the Spirit. The Spirit who brooded over the waters of chaos, the Spirit who indwelt Jesus so richly that it became known as the Spirit of Jesus: this Spirit, already present within Jesus’ followers as the first fruits, the down payment, the guarantee of what is to come, is not only the beginning of the future life, even in the present time, but also the energizing power through which the final transformation will take place. The early creed spoke of "the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life." That is exactly true in the New Testament.
---Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church by N.T. Wright (New York: Harper Collins, 2008. Page 163)
"How varied are your works, Lord! In wisdom you have wrought them all; the earth is full of your creatures."
Psalm 104: 24
The headlines are alarming to anyone who cares about our common home, the Earth: "Nature’s Dangerous Decline ‘Unprecedented’. . .Species Extinction Rates ‘Accelerating’. . . Current global response insufficient. . .‘Transformative changes’ needed to restore and protect nature. . .Opposition from vested interests can be overcome for public good. . . 1,000,000 species threatened with extinction." These warnings come from a landmark report by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), April 29 -- May 4, 2019, issued in Paris.https://www.ipbes.net/news/Media-Release-Global-Assessment
We are destroying God’s works, the biodiverse creation, consisting of all living variations, from genes and traits, to species, to ecosystems, from oceans to prairies, mountains to swamps, trees and vegetation, mammals, marsupials, reptiles, birds, fish, crabs, mollusks, corals, sea grass, sponges, worms, insects, fungi, algae, an innumerable variety of microorganisms and other life unnamed. In his encyclical, "Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home," Pope Francis devotes a whole section to God’s biodiverse creation. He writes:
33. Each year sees the disappearance of thousands of plant and animal species which we will never know, which our children will never see, because they have been lost forever. The great majority become extinct for reasons related to human activity. Because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence, nor convey their message to us. We have no such right.
36. Caring for ecosystems demands far-sightedness. . .Where certain species are destroyed or seriously harmed, the values involved are incalculable. We can be silent witnesses to terrible injustices if we think that we can obtain significant benefits by making the rest of humanity, present and future, pay the extremely high costs of environmental deterioration.
42. . . .Because all creatures are connected, each must be cherished with love and respect, for all of us as living creatures are dependent on one another. Each area is responsible for the care of this family. . .
As we close Laudato Si Week, may this be the start of the defense of our biodiverse creation. Act by advocating.
-----Barbara Molinari Quinby, MPS, Director,
Office of Human Life, Dignity, and Justice Ministries
Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral, Raleigh, NC
Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.
From today’s Acts of the Apostles reading:
And suddenly there came from the sky
a noise like a driving wind,
and it filled the entire house in which they were
Some situations, like peacemaking, forgiving, working tirelessly for the poor and the work of justice, require what Acts tells us about the Spirit: it is with us like a "driving wind," and gifts us with language – just what we Christians need for the long haul in a sometimes-resistant church and world.
So we ask ourselves:
"Our witness to respect for life shines most brightly when we demand respect for each and every human life, including the lives of those who fail to show that respect for others. The antidote to violence is love, not more violence."
U.S. Bishops, 1998
This is a particularly vulnerable time for state and federal prisoners. Conditions, even without the pandemic, are awful in our prisons. Imagine what it is like now with the virus spreading through the close and unhealthy prison settings. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of the inmates listed below to let them know we have not forgotten them. If the inmate responds you might consider becoming pen pals.
Please write to:
----Central Prison, 4285 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-4285
For more information on the Catholic position on the death penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network:http://catholicsmobilizing.org/resources/cacp/
On this page you can sign "The National Catholic Pledge to End the Death Penalty." Also, check the interfaith page for People of Faith Against the Death Penalty: http://www.pfadp.org/
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