Sunday, May 19, 2013
John 20:19-23 (or John 14:15-16, 23-26) (Good News Translation)19 It was late that Sunday evening, and the disciples were gathered together behind locked doors, because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities. Then Jesus came and stood among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. 20 After saying this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples were filled with joy at seeing the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I send you.” 22 Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive people's sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven. ”
In a similar way to what happened on Christmas Day or the celebration of Easter, Pentecost is also a very rich liturgical celebration as far as the readings from the Scripture are concerned. Not only do we have a mass for the Vigil (in which we can choose from four different readings from the Old Testament), but also in the mass during the day we have two choices for the New Testament and the Gospel. This liturgical complexity is but a sign of the importance our celebration has for the Church. We are not simply dealing with what has traditionally been termed “the birthday of the Church,” but with something which goes beyond the mere limits of a word, a commemoration or a remembrance. The event recorded in such different manners as the storm of wind and tongues of fire in Acts (2:1.11), or the calm, intimate event narrated in John’s Gospel (20:19-23), has its mysterious roots in Jesus’ death. Much too often overlooked, mistranslated or even misinterpreted, John’s words provide us with the key to understand the whole process of the birth of the Church, and also the starting point toward its adulthood: “Jesus… said, ‘It is finished.’ Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (19:30). Jesus’ death on the cross is but the beginning of his apparent estrangement from the first community. Jesus’ death and ascension are two moments in which the disciples seem to be left alone, all by themselves. In the case of his death, all of the disciples either “stood at a distance to watch” (Luke 23:49); or fled, frightened at the loss of their Master. That atmosphere is only interrupted to bury Jesus. Perhaps the two who go to Emmaus are, in fact, escaping the dire consequences and persecution that could follow the crucifixion. Maybe in their minds there was an echo of the Lord’s words: “If people persecuted me, they will persecute you too” (John 15:18 – 16:4). As for the disciples who stayed in Jerusalem, they “were gathered together behind locked doors, because they were afraid” (John 20:19). The situation is not much better in the moments that follow the ascension. The disciples stand gazing up at the skies, as if nothing had happened, hesitant about the steps to take and the way in which they should face life and reality now that the Lord has left them behind. So stunned they were, that they have to be told to go back to Jerusalem to wait for the return of the Lord. An even if they take some measures like electing Matthias to complete the number of witnesses to the resurrection, all of them lead a more or less hidden life in common, praying and remaining together, without any special external sign of the mission or proclamation of the message with which they have been entrusted. Only when the Spirit rushes into their lives do they understand their mission and the message they have to communicate. And it is then that we, too, can understand the meaning of Jesus’ words: “It is better for you that I go away, because if I do not go, the Helper will not come to you” (John 16:7). From that moment onward, their eyes will be opened, the Spirit will speak to them about Jesus, will reveal to them the truth, will comfort them in distress, give them courage to face persecution and bravely proclaim that Jesus is the Lord. The change has happened, the Church is born, the newborn Body of Christ, just like any other toddler, will hesitate, stumble and fall. But they will announce that Jesus is the Messiah whom the Fatter has sent to save the world.
Do not feel disappointed because of my short list of items to consider today. Think by yourself about other dimensions: to what extent do you act like the disciples? Are you still in a period of “fear” of living according to your faith, “hiding in the dark,” or do you dare to humbly and bravely proclaim that Jesus is the Lord? How docile are you to the “wind” which should inspire you (if only we would let him enter into our souls!)? Are you able, willing and ready to share your spiritual experiences with your small community? How far have you gone in your commitment to the group of Christians to whom you belong?
If you could find the hymn of the Holy Spirit (perhaps in your mass book, or in your church’s bulletin), think of his gifts, and pray that they may be granted both to you and to anyone in need of them. The Spirit offers soothing peace for those who are troubled in their hearts; warmth for those who live in the cold winter of their faith, numbed by routine; refreshing water of hope for those who feel their lives are a barren land; light for those who go through a period of darkness and lack understanding; healing of their wounds and strength for those who feel hurt or feeble in their souls and bodies; fire of charity for those who live in indifference or aloofness about the problems and suffering of others. The list, both for petitions and for reasons to feel thankful, has no end. Do not be afraid; let the Spirit inspire you: “For we do not know how we ought to pray; the Spirit himself pleads with God for us in groans that words cannot express…” (Romans 8:26).
I offer you something very simple for this coming week. Do not discard it, even if it seems childish. Remember the traditional image used to describe the Spirit: a dove. Look for a simple prayer or phrase in the many readings of today’s liturgy, and have it as your “spiritual motto.” Repeat it whenever you can, as if it were the cooing murmur of the Spirit in your heart.
Reflections written by Rev. Fr. Mariano Perrón, Roman Catholic priest, Archdiocese of Madrid, Spain
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