May 21, 2010

Seeking the Face of the Lord

With the Holy Spirit, we can truly live our Christian mission

Pentecost Sunday closes the great Easter season.

In the Gospel of John, we read: “In the evening of the first day of the week, the doors were closed in the room where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews” (Jn 20:19).

Tradition has it that the room with closed doors where the disciples waited in fear of the Jews was the Cenacle, the upper room where, the night before he died, Jesus and the Twelve had celebrated the Passover of the new dispensation.

In the Holy Land, there are churches and shrines built at the sites of the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Nativity, Gethsemane, the Holy Sepulcher and the Resurrection, among others.

But at the legendary site of the Cenacle—the upper room that would mark the institution of the Eucharist and the priesthood, the room where the era of the Church began with the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles gathered with Mary, the Mother of the Lord—the legendary site of Pentecost is not marked with a church or shrine. The place of the Cenacle is now memorialized, but not by a church.

I can see a certain appropriateness that the place of the institution of the Eucharist at which the Church is sacramentally most visible, and the site where the Holy Spirit descended on Mary and the Twelve, and thus empowered the Church to carry on Christ’s mandate to evangelize the world, would not be identified with a particular shrine. The eucharistic mystery and the presence of the Spirit are universal gifts forever present wherever the Church gathers, including in our parish churches.

Pentecost was one of the three great Jewish feasts. We are told the feast originated from an ancient thanksgiving celebration in gratitude to God for the yearly harvest about to be reaped.

Later, another purpose was added. It was the remembrance of the promulgation of the Law given by God to Moses on Mount Sinai. This was celebrated 50 days after the Passover.

In fear, the Apostles were waiting, in a hidden room, doors closed, John writes. They were waiting for the gift of the Spirit, which Jesus had promised. They waited for the gift of his Spirit to help them understand the meaning of his words, to understand the meaning of his life and death and resurrection.

They had been to the mountain with Jesus. They had seen him betrayed, suffer and die. They knew him to be risen. They knew he had gone to prepare a place for them, and they knew he would send the gift of the Holy Spirit to help them remember and understand all that had happened.

The feast of Pentecost completes their Passover story. In a room, doors closed, the disciples prayerfully wait for the gift of the Spirit as a community, to guide them as they would walk the way that Jesus walked and to carry on the mission to the world.

What is the meaning of this feast for us? I like to focus on three points about the Pentecost message.

First, what an important part of Christian life is the chore of waiting. After Jesus went to the right hand of the Father, the disciples waited to be empowered by the Holy Spirit to carry out their mission to baptize and to teach and preach the forgiveness of sins.

Secondly, fear is so much a part of life. “They waited behind closed doors” even after the Easter greeting of Jesus, “Be not afraid.” The role of the Holy Spirit with the gifts of courage and fortitude is central if we are to appreciate the meaning of our lives and our Christian mission; and the servile fear of human life gives way to an honest and wholesome fear, in awe of the Lord our God.

Thirdly, there is the recurring need to return to the Cenacle, doors closed; we need to go to a place where the Spirit’s gifts of wisdom and understanding help us remember to reflect on the mountain experiences of our lives with Christ.

In contrast, I am also struck by our impatience in waiting; I am struck by the temptation to want to avoid or to miss the point of the meaning of our lives with God.

There is our discomfort in the quiet of the room, doors closed; sometimes we prefer not to remember, not to wait and to listen for the movement of the Spirit and the voice of the Lord. Sometimes we tend to be too busy with the worry about so many other things.

At Pentecost, we relive the waiting of the Twelve with Mary for the coming of the Holy Spirit. We have the opportunity to refresh our appreciation for the presence of the Holy Spirit among us. †

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