The fifty days of celebrating Easter have come to a conclusion with the Feast of Pentecost and the descent of the Holy Spirit.
In the reading from the Acts of the Apostles in the liturgy for Pentecost, we listen to Luke’s astounding portrayal of the descent of the Holy Spirit and the powerful effect that it had upon those in the Upper Room as well as those gathered in the streets of Jerusalem from all over the then-known world. The tongues of fire and the driving wind of the Holy Spirit purified and strengthened all who preached as well as all who heard with a new awareness that changed their lives forever and would eventually uplift humanity in its relationship with God.
There is a lesson to be learned in the Church’s decision to present two different narratives of the sending of the Holy Spirit. Certainly Luke’s presentation in the Acts of the Apostles is the one commonly understood to be what actually took place. However, the Johannine Gospel of Pentecost offers us the narrative whereby Jesus enters the Upper Room on the very day of his Resurrection, breathes on the disciples his Spirit, and sends them forth to preach the Good News.
These two narratives relate two totally different experiences of the gifting of the Holy Spirit, which could cause problems for the precise details-seeking Western mind but not a problem for the more adaptive and broad-minded Biblical Christians, as Raymond Brown declared. As we look back we realize that different and even at times contradictory theologies were presented by different Christian communities. Patricia Datchuck Sanchez tells the story of how the then Jesuit Father Avery Dulles in his 1969 St. Louis University Bellarmine Lecture, “The Contemporary Magisterium,” looked up from his notes and made a shocking observation: “Had there been a Holy Office at the writing of the four Gospels, we Catholics would have just one Gospel in our Bible: Mark. But we would have references in our church history books to three notoriously early Christian heretics named Matthew, Luke and John.”
The Spirit blows where she will and enlightens the minds and hearts of believers in Jesus the Christ. We believe that this will never stop happening. Certainly, Paul reminds us in his first letter to the Corinthians that we are incapable of saying “Jesus is Lord,” except in the Holy Spirit. The Spirit enlivens all of us in this community of faith with various gifts, each different yet necessary for the good of the entire Body of Christ, and all these gifts are given for the common good. We have experienced this, most particularly, in the decrees of the Second Vatican Council: calling forth the Church primarily as the People of God. In the Church’s return to the Scriptural sources we are reminded of Jesus’ words to his disciples in his farewell address at the Last Supper: “I have called you friends.” (John 15:15)
This expectation of Jesus for his community of disciples seems to be threatened in our times because of the expansiveness of the church with its loss of interpersonal sharing among Christ’s followers. The clergy child abuse scandal and cover-up has undermined the trust of the faithful and caused countless departures from the church we love. Along with this the recent accusations against the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) have caused untold suffering to all the hard-working faithful women religious of our country. These challenges plead for a new Pentecost of tongues of purifying fire and a howling, blowing wind to refresh the Body of Christ and help us to focus on the gifts of the Spirit in our midst.
May a Spirit of Understanding and Wisdom permeate our Church community in these challenging times!