A friend and myself were doing some bicycling in Maryland one year on vacation. About half way through the trip we were in Annapolis. We decided to join in a tour boat that would take us out into the Chesapeake Bay for a few hours. The boat was quite large and it was a sail boat. There was no motor at all. The ship, which held about 50 people, was only powered by the wind.
At first a small sail was set up to get us out of the docking area. When we got out into open water the main sail was raised. It was a calm day on the water, the sky was bright blue, and all was still. The captain explained different aspects of sailing as we moved along. Interestingly the wind power seemed to come from nowhere since it was basically a calm day. All that was needed was the sail, and once it was up we started to move, and move fast.
On Sunday we celebrate the Solemnity of Pentecost. It has now been 50 days since the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. For the past several weeks, when hearing the Gospel proclaimed at Mass, we listened to his promise of sending the Spirit to remain with us until the end.
The reading from Acts of the Apostles, which serves as the first reading in the liturgy, recalls the first Pentecost and the outpouring of the Spirit. When the disciples are gathered, “a noise like a strong driving wind” fills the entire house where they were gathered. Tongues of fire appear then separate, hovering on each of the disciples.
Filled now with the Holy Spirit they begin the proclamation of which St. Paul says in the First Letter to the Corinthians (the second reading), “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit. Peoples from every nation are gathered in Jerusalem at that time for the Jewish feast of Pentecost. They all hear the one gospel proclaimed even though it is spoken in many languages. The communion of voices shattered at Babel is now restored in the one Spirit.
The promised gift of the Holy Spirit brings with it peace. Jesus offers this peace in his encounter with the disciples on that first Easter night. The Risen Lord offers his peace and breaths on the disciples and says: “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” The Holy Spirit brings with him the power to heal sin through mercy. The gift is given to the disciples to exercise with diligence and care.
Pentecost is celebrated as the birth of the church for the union accomplished by Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection is brought to a new level. Healing, restoration and proclamation all point to being united in one communion.
St. Paul will emphasize this in another one of his letters, to the Ephesians, when he writes: “I, then, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace: one body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:1-6).
Likewise when Paul writes to the Corinthians he says: “As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also in Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of the one Spirit.” The Spirit animates the communion we share in the church.
The image I used above of the wind driving the ship forward reminds me of our celebration today. In the Acts of the Apostles account, the movement of the spirit is described as a strong driving wind. Great things can happen when we let that wind take hold of our lives and direct us forward. For example, the good that comes from forgiving and sharing mercy is one that heals and likewise animates a broken, damaged or even dead relationship. New life is experienced both for the forgiven and the forgiver. Peace is restored and celebrated. Or when Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection are proclaimed people come to experience in new ways God’s unbounded love and the power of that love to give life.
The gifts of the spirit are numerous and abundant to help us in our mission. They are always available. Like the wind, sometimes it may be obvious and we recognize the movement. Other times it may be more subtle and quiet; we may not even notice. Sometimes we may be driven along by the sheer force of his presence, other times the movement may be so slow that we do not recognize it.
Here’s where the image of the sail boat might help. When we started that trip, the wind was there even though it was unnoticed. When the sail was put up something remarkable happened — the movement was quick and obvious, evident to all. Opening our hearts to the Spirit is like running up the sail. The Spirit will catch us and we will move.
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