Happy Pentecost! I could also wish you a “Happy Birthday” since Pentecost is also the birthday of the Church. It is also a special time to reflect and meditate on the Holy Spirit. Fr. Isaac Hecker, founder of the Paulist Fathers, and the original Paulists had a strong devotion to the indwelling Holy Spirit, Who guides, comforts, strengthens and leads us to live more Christ-like lives.
According to St. Paul, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal 5:22). That is a BIG order!
In the Gospels there are three images used of the Holy Spirit – a dove, fire and wind. When Jesus is baptized in the Jordan River we are told the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus in the form of a dove (Mk 1:10). You can see the dove in the window depicting the Sacrament of Confirmation (above station 12) and in the window in the Mary Chapel. The dove has symbolisms of peace and of purity, but it is my least favorite image of the Holy Spirit, as it is rather tame and dull. Often representations look like a pigeon and so rather dismissible. There are times, of course, when the Holy Spirit comes to us as comfort, a sense of peace and security, assurance of God’s tender care for us. But to me the dove is the least interesting representation of the Holy Spirit.
Fortunately we have other, stronger, images. In the first reading today we hear of the Holy Spirit descending on the disciples as tongues of fire (Acts 2:3). This is an image of energy, of force, of drive. And in the reading, the result of the gift of the Holy Spirit is that the disciples are driven out of the locked room to go and publicly preach with persuasion and power. It is the Holy Spirit that leads and strengthens us to live out our Christian life and especially to bear witness in our daily lives to Christ. This is a dynamic and powerful image, as anyone who remembers the wildfires in Bastrop and the surrounding areas two Summers ago will instinctively feel. The Holy Spirit can be so overpowering, so all-consuming, that it can almost appear destructive and out of control. Just as one should not play with fire, one should not mess with the Holy Spirit.
Finally the Holy Spirit is compared to wind. In the third chapter of St. John’s Gospel Jesus tells Nicodemus, “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (vs 8). There is a sense of mystery in this image. The Holy Spirit cannot be contained or caused to perform on command. “The wind blows where it chooses,” and likewise the Holy Spirit is eminently free and unfettered by our expectations or demands.
Again, the effects of the Holy Spirit can be very gentle and tender, bringing refreshment and life, like a cooling breeze that suddenly picks up your spirits on a hot, sultry day in the Texas Summer. Ahhhhhhh! But the Holy Spirit can be forceful and display great power, like a tornado or hurricane. Then the Holy Spirit blows into our life disrupting our secure little routines, pushing us to forgive someone we want to continue to hold a grudge against, or to volunteer for some organization that will take away some of our free time, or even push us to respond to a vocational challenge. The experience of the Holy Spirit can be healing and calming, but it can also be upsetting, challenging and even dangerous.
So as we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit this Pentecost I urge you to brace yourself and expect a lot!