Happy Pentecost! It is hard to find good pictures or statues of the Holy Spirit, because it is hard to picture or to imagine the third Person of the Most Holy Trinity. We have all these insubstantial, amorphous images of the Holy Spirit: fire/ breath/ wind / dove = they are all not very impressive, not physically commanding, not substantial like a rock or iron. And yet, they are images of something very powerful; something influential.
In the Gospel Jesus breathed on them and said: "Receive the Holy Spirit." A mere breath, so small and seemingly inconsequential; and yet so powerful, so potent! This breath gave new life, and changed everything.
I had a powerful experience of this one year when I was in Alaska. My first priestly assignment was at St. Nicholas Church in North Pole, Alaska, near Fairbanks. Just like the Summers here in central Texas are loooong, so the winters in the interior of Alaska are loooooong. I know, I lived through four of them. It is bad enough that it is dark most of the time, with only three hours of available daylight in the Fairbanks area on the shortest day of the year. And it is bad enough that it is darn cold all the time, and just to go outside requires a major effort of putting on coats and boots and masks and gloves and so on. The coldest I ever experienced in the time I was there was 62 degrees below zero. That’s cold.
But Alaskans, like Texans, are tough. The Alaskans can handle the cold and the dark. The worst is the ice-fog. Ice-fog is the frozen exhaust from people and building and cars that forms a very thick, impenetrable cloud, thicker than any fog you see here in Texas. And it builds up. You cannot see in ice-fog, even with your lights on. It makes driving very dangerous. Schools never cancel in Alaska due to the cold, but they do cancel when the ice-fog builds up. You feel trapped, confined, hemmed-in, because you can never see very far. Usually this lasts only a short while, until the first little breeze comes along, which blows the ice-fog away. But the winter in the Alaskan interior can be very still; deadly still.
The snow builds up for inches on telephone wires, because there is no breeze to knock it off. And when the mercury drops below 20 below zero, and there is no wind or even the slightest breeze for days and days, then ice-fog builds up.
One year was especially bad. People got depressed, irritable, feeling blue and down. School was canceled. It was dangerous to go out. You felt cooped up. Hemmed in. Trapped. There was not a breath of air, not the slightest breeze. And the ice-fog got thicker and thicker.
Finally, there was a slight breeze, a breath of wind, and the ice-fog suddenly and totally disappeared. Everyone’s mood abruptly changed: instantly, dramatically and for the better. I have never seen such a big change in an entire community, all because of a mere breath of air. So insubstantial, so amorphous, and yet so very powerful.
That is what the Holy Spirit is like. That breath that blows away the fog, allows us to see and understand, to be free to go out to live again, that lifts up our hearts and spirits.
It is the Holy Spirit that gives us the ability to comprehend and see God’s love for us, to understand what is really important in this life. The Spirit gives, not just intelligence, but wisdom; the ability to know what matters in life. The Holy Spirit enables us to hear the other, to keep an open mind, and the greatest miracle of all, to change our hearts.
The 2nd Eucharistic Prayer for Reconciliation puts it beautifully: "…by Your Spirit you move human hearts (so) that enemies may speak to each other again, adversaries join hands, and peoples seek to meet together. By the working of your power it comes about, O Lord, that hatred is overcome by love, revenge gives way to forgiveness, and discord is changed to mutual respect." That is powerful!
The Spirit is nebulous, insubstantial, almost tenuous, but has the power to enter into the very fiber of our hearts and souls, and change us from within. The Spirit seems fragile and inconsequential. A mere breath, flimsy and feeble as a soap bubble, but so very, very powerful. Jesus breathed on them, (blow bubbles) and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit."
A mere breath. (Blow bubbles). And yet beautiful and oh, so powerful.
¡Come Holy Spirit! AMEN.