Saturday, June 07, 2014

The Spirit Rolls as River, the under appreciated metaphor of Pentecost.

What is below comes from my homily for the Vigil of Pentecost. It is meant to be delivered, rather than read, but I hope it is helpful regardless: 

 Readings: JL 3:1-5 PS 104:1-2, 24, 35, 27-28, 29, 30 ROM 8:22-27 JN 7:37-39

Where the story to the left happened. 
It was 2001, it was Pentecost, and I was in Mexico City at the Shrine of our Lady of Guadalupe. There, on the edge of the hill of Tepeyac, where tradition holds that Our Lady appeared to Juan Diego, I stood and looked out over the new basilica, and could hear the mariachi music wafting out on the breeze from the end of the Pentecost mass. There, where gardens are now planted to commemorate the miracle which confirmed the vision for the local bishop, I could smell the sweet perfume of the roses, and as a soft breeze came up the hill and mingled with the mist from a fountain nearby, I was refreshed against the heat of the day. It was in that moment, in a moment of unexpected prayer, that I first thought about becoming a Jesuit. Now, some 13 years later, on the eve of my first anniversary as a priest, I realize the truth, that that Pentecost was my Pentecost, that that was the moment which, after years being formed in the faith, of studying philosophy and theology, compelled me to take the next step. Like salve for a soul already burning, this moment gave me the courage to go forward.     

We all know the story of Pentecost, the one engrained in us from our youth where there is a rushing wind and tongues of flame descend upon the apostles, or maybe we are more in the Johanine tradition and we like the image of Christ breathing on the Apostles on the evening of Easter Sunday, and its connection to the Ruach of the Old Testament. We have Fire and Wind, the image that we don’t normally think of, however, is the one from tonight’s Gospel. The image of water. Perhaps, especially as we live our daily lives as followers of Christ and as temples of the spirit, for those who have had only a few short years (or year) of ministry, and for those who have had many years, the image of water, especially on a day like this one as Rome begins to heat up for the summer, is the better image. Water refreshes us and sustains us, water cleanses us, water gives life to the world and makes everything green and without it the world dries up and dies. This is what we know of the Spirit, the Spirit which refreshes and restores us, the Spirit which gives us life.

It is a Spirit which we know well because it is that Spirit that often works within us, even despite ourselves, when we are blocked in prayer, or perhaps even not praying much at all, it is that Spirit which, like water wearing down stone, can weather the hardness of our hearts and over time turn small channels into great canyons capable of bearing the fullness of God’s love. It is that spirit who, when we have borne the heat of the day in our old age refreshes us with new dreams, and when we are young, like a splash of water on our face in the morning, wakes us with new visions. It is that spirit which creates us anew and refreshes us, even if we think, as the psalmist writes, we are in danger of perishing and returning to the dust. 

 It is clear, though, that this is a spirit which is not just a salve for our souls. Creation groans in labor pains, ands we have seen more than our fair share in the world today of blood, fire, and columns of smoke. The Gospel call is clear that this water is meant to be a river which flows forth from each of us who believes. We are to be the conduit for that refreshment, that cleansing, that life which is supposed to come into the world. Pentecost is not simply about the descent of the spirit, it is our calling, and our challenge. The Spirit doesn’t descend on all of the world, or even on all of Jerusalem, but on those who were assembled in that upper room, a simple, small room built on a roof meant originally to provide refreshment for those who lived in the house below at the end of a long day. The Spirit which refreshes us chooses to go forth into the world through us. The great miracle of this day is that, in the strength of the spirit, we are called to be that miracle for the world. Just as we are given life, so we are called to go forward and give life, in abundance, to the world.

 Each of us has our moment on Tepyac, our moment in the cenacle, our moment where the spirit descended upon us and called us. For many it was the result of a long slow process, like a stream cutting through rock over millennia, for others it was a great rushing flood, yet each of us are called to be that channel, each of us are called to give life to a parched world, each of us are called to bear the spirit forth, and partake in its refreshing all things and making all things new.