“This weekend, there is gonna be FIRE!”
This was the call from the pulpit we heard at our local church last year at this time, as Pentecost Sunday approached, and it brought a smile to everyone’s face. “The Holy Spirit is coming! He is giving us the tongues of fire (like he did for the apostles) and we are going to CELEBRATE all weekend!” The zealous invitation gave me goosebumps and I felt like had better mark off the whole weekend from my calendar.
The year before, we walked into the same church for Pentecost Sunday (although we are not actually members) and the whole congregation was wearing RED! The bright red of the parishioners’ clothing was stunning next to the stark white church walls, and along with the altar cloth and the vestments (robes) of the priest, not to mention all the flowers…RED! Apparently, we should have attended the week before when everyone else seemed to get the memo that the following Sunday’s attire would be in reference to liturgical celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit with FIRE among the apostles.(I make sure to check that church’s bulletin for announcements before we go there now).
Well I am looking for my favorite red shirt today, because here comes the FIRE! The Holy Spirit! Pentecost! Now that I know what I am going to wear, it’s only appropriate we spent the morning at our Encounter With Christ prayer group getting our hearts ready for the Holy Spirit as well.
On the evening of that first day of the week,
when the doors were locked, where the disciples were,
for fear of the Jews,
Jesus came and stood in their midst
and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side.
The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you.
As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them,
“Receive the Holy Spirit.
Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them,
and whose sins you retain are retained.”
Peace Be With You…
Several of us felt particularly moved by this line of the gospel. Jesus imparts peace twice to the disciples, who were in hiding for fear of their lives behind locked doors, followed by the sight of the risen Christ which must have been bewildering. He shows the apostles his wounds straight away, so they will know it is actually him.
When we think about the peace of Christ as it appears in our daily lives, we tend to look for it as a pretty, snug, or clean-looking thing. But among the chaos of our family life and busy schedules, sometimes it may appear messy. Seeing the wounds of Christ wouldn’t be the first thing you may envision when you think “peace”, but the apostles knew that it meant “It’s me. I am here. Even in the midst of your anxiety; even with this human messiness, I am with you.” Christ may be showing his wounds to me, so that I understand that his peace may accompany the messiness in my life, and is not mutually exclusive from all that may not, at first, seem to be “tidy” as we might envision peace to be. Where do I need to find the peace of Christ in my life? Where is Jesus showing me his wounds, among the human messiness of my life and asking me to be assured of his presence?
Whose Sins You Forgive…
As Catholics we refer to this scripture often because it is the Jesus instructing the first confessors. Confession is a powerful freeing sacrament of the church and Jesus is telling these first priests of the church that they have the duty and responsibility to go out and forgive others of their sins. He is not speaking to a crowd or to the masses; he is speaking directly to these disciples on Pentecost, giving them the Holy Spirit.
They receive the Holy Spirit when Jesus “breathes” on them; when we spend time praying with this passage, we can place ourselves in the scene and try to imagine what that looks like. Does he go from one to other of these men breathing on them, or a collective breath over the room of his devoted apostles? We use a method the church calls Lectio Divina, in Latin, “Divine Reading“. One important way to place ourselves in the presence of Christ can be to spiritually accompany him through the gospel by opening our minds to the scene that is playing out before us.
Every Sunday morning at the same 8 am mass, from the same pew where she usually sits, a member of our group noticed that sunlight comes in through a large circular window directs a beam of light directly on the crucifix. Just as mass begins, the priest uses the incense and the “smoke” from it rises and curls up so visibly in the sunlight before the cross, beautifully depicting the lifting up of the spirit to prayer. To experience prayer together through so many senses; smell of incense and candles, sound of music, sunlight and sacred art, and positions of kneeling and standing representing respect with our physical self; all contribute to the great experience of being in the presence of God on earth in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
A Recipe For Loneliness
We discussed the case of a lonely widow who desired companionship. She decided, instead being victimized by her situation, to reach out to those around her and invite them over. Extending an invitation to neighbors, she would inform them that every Saturday she would be making pancakes, and there would be plenty for anyone who wanted to come over and enjoy some together.
The past few weeks, the Holy Spirit has been showing us some very simple ways we can reach out to others, be present to them, share joys, and help to carry burdens. Seeking to focus on the needs of others when we are hurting is demonstrating faithfulness to the foundation of Christian living.
Conversely, if we are in a busier part of life, running around and taking care of family members, we may not be able to host a Saturday pancake party, as fun as it sounds. We can always extend an invitation to others to join in on our family activities (already in progress), or as this week’s resolution suggests, we can respond to an invitation. Sometimes we take for granted the extension of being invited into someone’s life or home to celebrate something with them, and we opt out for some easier option of what to do with our time.
Apostolic Resolution: Extend or accept an invitation in the next two weeks (thereby sharing in the fellowship of someone who may be feeling lonely or requesting to share a celebration with you).
Spiritual Resolution: Prayer to Saint Martha
Jesus’s told Martha (sister to Mary and Lazarus) that she was focused on the many things she needed to accomplish, and then redirected her to be less anxious and more prayerful;
“Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42 there is need of only one thing.” (Lk 10:38-42).
Identifying with St. Martha in our busy ways, we decided to ask for her help in growing deeper spiritually, while adding a specific intention (in the silent prayer area) where we need particular help;
O blessed St. Martha, your faith led Jesus to proclaim, “I am the resurrection and the life”; and faith let you see beyond his humanity when you cried out, “Lord I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God.” With firm hope you said, I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him, and Jesus called your brother Lazarus back from the dead. With pure love for Jesus you welcomed him into your home. Friend and servant of our Savior, I too am “troubled about many things.” (Pause for silent prayer.) Pray for me that I may grow in faith, hope and love, and that Jesus, who sat at your table, will hear me and grant me a place at the banquet of eternal life. Amen.