I became a catholic when I was a young adult, barely out of my teens and I remember my very first year as a part of the Church very well. In particular, I remember really getting into Lent, giving it the works—fasting, praying, going to daily mass—and I remember too the joy of the Easter Vigil and the excitement of this feast, of Pentecost. By the end of that first year I thought I had got it all—a full dose of the Spirit, full to the brim. So much so that when my second year as a catholic came round I was completely floored to be facing Lent again—what was I supposed to do this time when I’d done it all last year? What was the purpose of Easter if I’d already experienced the resurrection and what was the point of Pentecost if I’d already been given the Spirit a year ago?
These days I love the fact that the Church has its seasons and that they come round with regularity, one after the other. There are two things going on in me to make the difference. First is that I get a chance to grow, to go deeper into something that I haven’t found the bottom of yet. I’ve learned I need to grow layer by layer, inch by inch, all my life. And the seasons help me. In Lent I discover again my own unwillingness to be loved by God. At Easter I realise it doesn’t matter since God is greater than my stubbornness. And here at Pentecost I’m reminded the Spirit has something for me to do no matter how badly I’ve done it in the past—to be a witness: a witness to truth, a witness to love, a witness to life.
The second reason I love Pentecost coming around each year is that it reminds me, underlines for me, that the Spirit of God isn’t a thing. I don’t know about you but, while Father and Son are easy to imagine, Spirit is elusive. It escapes me. We tend to think of doves, or tongues of flame, or rushing winds and if I try to think what spirit means beyond those metaphors I end up imagining a kind of thin, disembodied, soup with no qualities at all apart from being there.
I’m tempted to think of spirit as something I can have—as if the Holy Spirit were a fluid I could be filled with or have emptied out of me. Or perhaps I think it’s like petrol I can get topped up once or twice a year but then it gets used up and I run out of steam.
But you can’t have the spirit in the same way you can have a full tank. The spirit isn’t something you have but something you do. The spirit is life, is a way of being alive. It’s a way you or I can be alive. It’s a way our communities can be alive—or can be dead. St Paul has the list of the ways the spirit can die among us: jealousy, quarrels, disagreements, factions, and all kinds of falling out and falling apart. But he also has the list of all the ways the spirit can be alive in us. “What the spirit brings is very different: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness, and self-control”.
The way we are alive, the life in us, is what our witness is to God. We don’t have to be preaching from street corners or speaking in tongues to be alive in the spirit and giving witness to God. We give witness to God by letting the Holy Spirit bring us to life. There are always different spirits ready to make us miserable: maybe we feel we are unworthy of God, or unlovable, or maybe we feel heavy with a guilt we won’t have forgiven, or a resentment we won’t forgive. There are lots of inner voices telling us lies to get us to give up the ghost and let the spirit die in us. But God’s voice in us always wants life for us, real life. We are made for life for love, for joy, for peace. And, when we listen to God’s voice in us, the Holy Spirit comes alive in us, burns like a flame in us, fills us with a breath of fresh air, and makes us patient, kind, good, trustful, and gentle.
Every year I forget that, but every year Pentecost makes me remember and pray: “Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love”.

One reply on “Pentecost”

  1. Rob, I hope you don’t mind … I posted a bit from this homily on Pentecost for my friends at the scripture study blog (and gave you credit and a link) … we’re talking about the Holy Spirit and this seemed very apt.

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