The Gospel for Sunday, May 15th, 2016: Pentecost Sunday, Mass during the Day
Pentecost Sunday celebrates the descent of the Holy Spirit to the disciples, initiating Christ’s new body on Earth, the Church. It is more than just a birthday celebration; rather it is opportunity to explore the nature and mystery of our faith, since the Holy Spirit is mysterious, lacking both the human incarnation of Jesus and the recognizable, relational understanding of God the Father, the first member of the Holy Trinity. What is the role of this manifestation of God that is purely spiritual and lacking in human characteristics?
I would like to reflect speculatively on this question in light of personal experience, rather than from research of doctrinal or theological perspectives. One of the reasons for this personal approach is it highlights the ability of the Holy Spirit to speak to each us personally. Consider the ability the Holy Spirit imbued in the disciples after its descent, the capacity to speak in “different tongues” to “Jews of every nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem” (Acts 2: 4-5). Mediation on this aspect of the Holy Spirit calls to mind two reflections. First, I think of the value of its invisibility among us; second, Its ability to counsel, one of Its seven gifts.
One problem of faith I encounter fairly regularly is the sense that God is distant. This is wrong-headed, unhelpful, and dangerous. Indeed, it is a notion closely associated with the heresy of Gnosticism. Nevertheless, the feeling is understandable. Jesus no longer walks the earth to experience in face-to-face encounters (although the Church gives us access to His grace through the sacraments, prayer, and service). Likewise, God the Father is in Heaven, which could be construed as analogous to an absent parent who lives far away and not involved in his child’s daily life (Keep in mind, I’m just speculating here). As so we are left with the helpless sense captured beautifully by the Negro spiritual “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child.” The words go, “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child…a long way from home.” To counter the loneliness brought on by this lack of a human face of God in our midst, Jesus sent us an invisible face of God among us, the Holy Spirit. Granted, the Holy Spirit takes the form of many symbols such as a dove, fire, and water. However, those symbols suggest to me God in all His natural creation, which surrounds us daily. My point is we don’t need a visible face of God to believe in His nearness because we know He is invisibly present in the Spirit. The descent of the Holy Spirit is an invitation to relate to God spiritually, rather than relying on the inadequate senses of sight and hearing, as well as limited experience of human communication, which together lead us to wrongly imagine Him distant or absent entirely.
Once the invisible presence of the Holy Spirit is embraced, not only is God near, but also available to help with our needs immediately. It is the divine customer service plan. We can ask for the guidance and counsel of the Holy Spirit for every problem that arises. Counsel is a gift of the Holy Spirit along with knowledge, wisdom, understanding, fortitude, piety, and fear of the Lord. I remember during reconciliation telling the priest I was holding back on witnessing my faith to others because I was afraid to say the wrong thing. His advice struck me as so radical: He said simply say “come Holy Spirit” over and over again and the words would come. I never understood the Holy Spirit in this way, as a first option for help. Since that day I have realized this is what the early Apostles did as they worked out their mission from Jesus without Him there bodily as before. Often in the Acts of the Apostles, decisions were announced as being the counsel of the Holy Spirit. For example, at the Council of Jerusalem over the issue of whether Christians needed to be circumcised. Some translations of their decision use the wording, “For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and us…” (Acts 15: 28-29). If calling on the Holy Spirit was good enough for the Church fathers, why would it not be good enough for you and me? So on this Pentecost Sunday, I pray that we may all recognize the invisible nearness of God in the Holy Spirit and call on His counsel daily by asking the Third Person in the Holy Trinity to guide us. For as Jesus tells us, the Holy Spirit will teach us everything and remind us of all He told us (John 14: 26).