The day was beautiful; the sky was clear and still. It was also hot. I was on vacation down in the Eastern Shore area, and we were spending a day in Annapolis, where we decided to go on one of the sailboat tours of the Chesapeake Bay.
I had never been on a sailboat before. It was larger than I had thought, and we had about twenty people on board. The motor was used to get out of the harbor, but once we were out far enough, the captain cut the engine.
The water was calm. I noticed it was not a very windy day, and I wondered how this was going to work.
The crew started to lift the huge sail. As it reached its height and an adjustment was made to its direction, the boat started to move — and move fast on that vast body of water.
The ride was great. I never did get to ask how we could be moving so quickly on such a still day. In the end it did not matter; it was a great ride and we soon arrived to where we were going.
Sailing imagery is sometimes used to describe our celebration of Pentecost, with wind as a symbol of the Spirit. This association is rooted early in the Scriptures, when the “breath” of God came forth from his mouth and carried his word to create the universe. The gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is recalled in the reading from Acts of the Apostles. The presence is described as a “driving wind” which filled the entire house where the Apostles were gathered.
The outpouring of the Holy Spirit which we celebrate today unites us as one. This is powerfully symbolized by the Apostles going out from that house speaking to the many pilgrim visitors who had come to Jerusalem from Jewish communities around the world. While the visitors spoke many different languages, they all heard the same message.
The event has biblical allusions to the Babel story in Genesis. Men’s desire to become gods, hence their building the tower of Babel, breaks their unity, as they are scattered and end up speaking different languages. Language then becomes a force of disunity.
Pentecost is the antidote. The one message of salvation is spoken by the Spirit and all who listen will hear. Thus, the celebration of Pentecost is referred to the birthday of the church. We are all one, one body of Christ, united in the one Spirit.
St. Paul elaborates on the church as the body of Christ in these words: “As the body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also 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.”
Fifty days ago we celebrated Easter. We welcomed new adult members into the church through the celebration of the initiation sacraments (baptism, confirmation and Eucharist). At that celebration, we the faithful renewed our baptismal promises. We celebrated union with Christ through his passion, death and resurrection, in which we received a share in divine life, eternal life. As we were baptized into his death, we are promised a like share in his resurrection.
Today we celebrate the outpouring of the Spirit, as promised by Jesus promised. The presence of the Spirit is like the wind driving us through life. It is always present, even though unseen.
As the body of Christ, we are united as one. Yet each member of the church has been given different gifts of varying degrees. These gifts help move us along, together in life, to our ultimate destination and goal. So St. Paul also writes: “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.”
Celebrating Pentecost today gives us the opportunity to pray for a further outpouring of the Spirit and his many gifts. We live in challenging days where peace is broken by violence, war and fear. We recognize that of ourselves we cannot heal the broken world we inhabit. We, like the citizens of Babel, cannot solve all the problems by pretending to or desiring to be gods.
God, however, desiring that we might be healed of our brokenness and united in peace, becomes man to show us the way through death to life. The gift of the Spirit drives us forward. Through this Gift and these gifts, God works in each one of us to be his instruments of love, peace and hope to our world.
When we live, day to day, striving to be good and to do good, to seek truth and to live the Truth, to forgive and to heal broken relationships, to seek the lost and lonely and welcome them into our communion, when we strive to live the Gospel that has been handed on to us, we become instruments of the Spirit. Though our actions might seem small and unnoticed, like the gentle wind on a sea, they are indeed powerful and strong. As we seek to live this life of love that has been given to us as gift, the Spirit drives us forward, giving us direction and encouragement.
The refrain in the responsorial psalm today offers us a simple, memorable and concise prayer to help us on our way: “Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.”
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.
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