From time to time it is good for us to stand back and look at The Big Picture so I want to begin by doing that as I share some thoughts with you on this Solemnity of Pentecost.
In ancient times God approached us through the Jewish prophets and through their major leaders such as Abraham and Moses. It was through Moses that God gave us His Ten Commandments, commandments that allowed us not only to live as God intended us to live but to live with each other in peace and communion.
Then in the fullness of time God came to us in His Word made flesh, in His only begotten Son who became man and thus brought the nearness of God into our very own humanity. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, reports St. John in the Prologue to his Gospel.
After He lived among us, suffered and died for us, rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, God came to us, and still does even now, in His Holy Spirit. From a distance God approached us through His chosen prophets. Drawing near to us God approached us in His Son, Jesus Christ. Now God approaches us and is near us in a closeness that is both mysterious and yet at the same time in the most intimate way possible. God has made us temples of His Holy Spirit and now approaches us in the depths of our own being. What more could God possibly do in order to be near to us?
There are those who depict God as an angry, demanding, and condemning God who is moved more by our sins than out of love for us. To be sure, God has His standards; He has His expectations of us, and He is Justice itself. But as for punishments, do they come upon us out of God’s anger and wrathful judgments or do they come upon us because He wants to correct us and heal us of our own sinful willfulness? Clearly the punishments come to us from the heart of a loving Father.
It’s significant to point out that this theme is very much on the mind of our new pope, Pope Francis. All of his words and actions have been centering on the mercy of God, on His love, His forgiveness, and His closeness to us as revealed in how we care for, protect, and love those who are afflicted. Injustice, physical affliction, and spiritual affliction are the things that motivate Pope Francis not only in his actions but in the teachings he gives us, especially in the homilies he delivers in the Masses he celebrates for those who work in the Vatican as well as elsewhere.
Pentecost is a celebration of a new beginning, a celebration of God’s New Creation. Pope Francis is the embodiment of how God’s love brings about freshness and newness of life, especially our spiritual life. I want to note that Pope Francis is putting great emphasis on what we as individuals can do in order to bring the presence of God into our world. He hasn’t talked much about programs and he hasn’t talked much about doctrine. Rather he has concentrated on us as individuals.
This raises to mind some questions we might ponder about our own personal relationship with the Holy Spirit. Here are some questions that come to my mind.
Do I carve out special intimate time to share with the Lord, time for prayer, meditation and worship, being in God’s presence? Jesus spoke of having eyes to see and ears to hear. To what things am I giving my attention? We are busy and concerned about many things but we should also be very concerned about our personal relationship with God.
In his Letter to the Philippians St. Paul tells us: The Lord is at hand. Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:5-9)
Have I asked God to inspire me, to place on my heart what He wants for me? God is a Good Shepherd. He wants to lead me to goodness. Have I sincerely and openly asked God to lead me so that I know from the heart what will bring happiness, what will bring justice, what will bring goodness into our world, to others and to myself?
Am I being led to what is good, to what is peaceful, to what will be of benefit to others and to myself?
When I am seeking some outcome or to satisfy some desire, am I being honest about it? Am I being honest with myself?
What will be the likely outcome of my decision to this, or that, or another thing? What will the course of action lead to?
Am I deciding or acting on impulse, without thought or reflection? Is my decision the result of simply fulfilling some desire that has welled up within me?
Not to decide is in itself a decision – a decision not to act. What is my motivation not to act? Where does that motivation come from? Fear? Lust? Anger? Jealousy? Envy? Prejudice? Simply going along with the crowd?
The inspiration of the Holy Spirit often comes to us in enlightenment. All of a sudden we see, we see what is happening, we see what is unfolding, and we see what God is doing in us and through us. Take for instance coincidences. I like to ponder over coincidences while bearing in my mind the thought that there are few genuine coincidences… that coincidences are but God’s vain attempt at remaining anonymous. St. Paul spoke of that in his Letter to the Romans. In the eighth chapter we hear St. Paul declare: We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)
The Holy Spirit speaks to us in many ways both individually and when we as a people are gathered in Christ’s name. In a particular and solemn way the Holy Spirit speaks to us in His Church, in the Mystical Body of Christ, in Sacred Scripture, in inspired words we hear in sermons or from the mouths of people we know of that are close to God. In each and every Mass the Holy Spirit speaks to us in the scripture passages and in the words of the prayers that are offered. We ought to ponder over what we hear in those instances.
One final note. Reading classical literature, spiritual books and above all reading the bible, all can tune our minds to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.
So on this Pentecost Sunday, let’s you and I give attention not only to the workings of the Holy Spirit in the Church, but likewise give attention to the promptings, the movements, and the inspirations of the Holy Spirit in each one of us individually. After all, as St. Paul reminds us: Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own; you were bought and paid for with a price. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)