Today is a very special day for several reasons. First of all, it’s Pentecost. Secondly, it’s the Feast of the Visitation. Thirdly, it’s my 45 th anniversary of ordination. These three celebrations may, at first, seem disconnected, but in my mind and heart, they’re linked together in a wonderful way. So, I’ll draw my reflection today from all three.
Pentecost floods my personal, and our communal, imagination with images of power and transformation – a noise from the sky – a driving wind – tongues of fire ecstatic babbling. Let’s begin our reflection by remembering the great theophany on Mount Sinai, the day God spoke with Moses.
“There were peals of thunder and lightning, and a heavy cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast…Mount Sinai was all wrapped in smoke, for the Lord came down upon it, for the Lord came down upon it with fire…the trumpet blast grew louder and louder, while Moses was speaking and God answering him in thunder.” Power. Awe. The voice of God! Let’s continue with the images by recalling the first sentence of the bible. “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss, while a mighty wind swept over the waters.” God spoke a command from within that mighty wind. With that single command, “Let there be light,” the darkness of chaos was replaced by the magnificent order of the cosmos.
Let’s not forget the moment Moses encountered God in fire. “Moses came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There an angel of the Lord appeared to him in fire flaming out of a bush. As he looked on, he was surprised to see that the bush, though on fire, was not consumed…When the Lord saw him coming over to look at it more closely, God called out to him from the bush, ‘Moses! Moses!’”
Lastly, let’s remember what happened to Saul before he was anointed King of Israel. “When they were going from there to Gibeah, a band of prophets meet him (Saul), and the Spirit of God rushed upon him, so that he joined them in their prophetic state.” Ecstasy!
The account of Pentecost merges all these images. We recognize tremendous power and creative energy in the images of the loud noise from the sky and the mighty wind. We see the divine presence linking itself to the disciples through tongues of fire. We see the rush of the Spirit wash over them, throwing them into ecstasy. They begin to pray in unintelligible words – the language of the Spirit.
As I reflect on my fifty-two years of religious life, and forty-five years of parochial ministry, I can see all the elements of Pentecost manifesting themselves throughout those years. Of course, there wasn’t the great drama Moses experienced at Sinai, but that’s not to say that I didn’t experience a little theophany now and then.
In the course of five years of psychoanalysis I experienced several powerfully spiritual moments. Once, while lying on the analyst’s couch exploring an image I had in a dream, I was suddenly overtaken by a profound peace and an overwhelming sense of security. I knew, in the depths of my heart, for a few, seemingly eternal moments, that I was being held by God. I felt the comfort of a mother and a father. I felt absolute, unconditional love. This happened thirty years ago but, even today, when I sometimes speak about this dream, I weep with emotion just as I did that day on the analyst’s couch.
I’ve never fallen into an ecstasy but I know the Spirit was working on me when, on a pilgrimage, I cried for seven days while never experiencing a moment of sadness – only awe and gentle healing. I never saw anything. I never heard anything. I just felt the most gentle embrace of Love.
I’ve never heard God call out my name, but I can identify little whisperings and even nudges. The day I sat on the hill of the Areopagus in Athens looking across at the Pantheon, I was gifted a word of wisdom. I was twenty-four at the time. I had never seen anything so breathtakingly beautiful. The word came as I read St. Paul’s address to the members of the Areopagus. “Men of Athens…the God who made the world and all that is in it, the Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in sanctuaries made by human hands.” I looked again at the beauty of that still magnificent temple. Little did I know at the time that I would be handed the task of restoring and maintaining a church building for twenty-one years of my life! That moment in Athens was a caution. I’ve thought back to that moment often. The Spirit was alerting me. There was to be more to my life than rebuilding and repairing. I was not to think of the church as a building. The Church was living people – good, bad, pleasant and unpleasant. The Church was the People of God ministering to me as I would minister to them.
This leads me to the third element of the day – the Feast of the Visitation. When Mary said, “I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word,” she took a bet on God. She believed she could say yes to the unknown because she trusted God’s goodness and love. Her “yes” didn’t separate her from the world around her. It did just the opposite. It energized her to reach out in loving care to others. As soon as the angel departed, she immediately left her home to support Elizabeth for the remainder of her pregnancy.
I was very aware of the grace Mary received with her “yes” the day I was ordained. I had no idea of what the future might hold for me but I committed myself to say yes to whatever I would be asked to do. My yes brought blessings, challenges and sometimes suffering. But I can ditto Edith Piaf’s “Je ne regrette rien.” I don’t regret a thing. Everything I’ve experienced had a purpose, either for me personally, or for the greater good. I’m thankful for my life and the ministry I’ve experienced.
I’ve brought up these simple but, to me, important Spirit moments to encourage you to reflect on your own history. What were some of your pivotal, Pentecost moments? The Pentecost event continues to unfold in each of our lives. As people of faith, it’s important to discern the Spirit’s activities because it strengthens us, and gives us the courage we need to live our personal mission. There’s a Pentecost waiting for us every day. Don’t be surprised by the loud sound from the sky, or the mighty wind, the fire of Divine love or a prayer prayed without words. We began as a Pentecost people. We will continue as a Pentecost people until “Christ is all in all.” (Colossians 3:11)