May 29, 2009

Seeking the Face of the Lord

The Holy Spirit is working in our lives to draw us closer to God

In the evening of the first day of the week, the doors were closed in the room where ithe 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.

As I have thought about whatever the reasons might be for that, 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 or place.

The eucharistic mystery and the presence of the Spirit are universal gifts forever present wherever the Church gathers.

Pentecost was one of the three great Jewish feasts. We are told that 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.

By God’s design, the harvest which the Jews celebrated with such joy has become a feast of great joy in the new dispensation: the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Counselor and Comforter promised by Jesus.

In fear of the Jews, 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.

In the beginning of their faith journey, the disciples gathered in the Temple to listen to Jesus tell the story of the Father. They were struck by the authority with which he taught them.

At the end, after he had ascended to the throne of the Father as High Priest, after he charged them with the mission of evangelization, they waited in the Cenacle 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 and suffer, and they had seen him 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.

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?

First, as I mentioned last week, 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 to “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, an awe of the Lord our God.

We have the recurring need to return to the Cenacle, doors closed; we need to go to a place where the Spirit’s gift of wisdom and understanding helps us remember what we are about.

We relive the waiting of the Twelve with Mary for the coming of the Spirit. Today, we refresh our understanding and appreciation of the presence of the Holy Spirit among us.

In the Cenacle, we recall that by the grace of the Holy Spirit, our discipleship begins and ends in prayer. †

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