Fr. Biju Kannampuzha is the pastor of St. John Vianney Parish in Barrie, Ont.
“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.” This is how today’s first reading from The Acts of the Apostles begins.
During this pandemic, it’s difficult to imagine gathering “all together in one place.” Even though there’s now a plan to re-open the province, there’s still a long horizon before things will really start feeling normal again. We have been confined to our homes. Physical distancing and social isolation have been our reality. We are prohibited from gathering for worship and Mass. It is difficult to even imagine togetherness.
But, are we not all together in these hardships? “We’re all in this together.” It’s one of those phrases that’s been tossed around during this pandemic. We are all together in our uncertainty. Together in our loss and grief. Together in our hopes and fears. We are bound together as one people, one humanity, facing a common threat that knows no borders, geographical, cultural, linguistic or socioeconomic.
Yes, in a way, we are all together in one place. A place of fear, anxiety and uncertainty. Like the disciples in today’s Gospel, we stay behind locked doors waiting for the end of this pandemic. Waiting for Jesus to come to us and to speak the words we need so desperately: “Peace be with you.” Waiting for Jesus to breathe on us: “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
In the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, Derek Redmond ran in the semi-final of the 400-metre sprint. Halfway round the track this British athlete collapsed with a torn hamstring. But for some strange reason, he wanted to finish the race, and he struggled to his feet. Derek’s Dad got out of the stands and broke his way through security. His Dad picked up his crying son and together they finished the race.
Derek’s dad did what the Holy Spirit does for us. When we are spiritually exhausted, when we find ourselves giving into the spirit of despair and depression, slavery to sin and addiction, when we can’t pray, when we don't want to pray, when our faith is just not strong enough, when there is no way we can finish the race, that is when the Spirit picks us up and runs to the finish line.
Today is Pentecost Sunday – the culmination of the 50 days of Easter – the day when Jesus appeared to his fearful disciples who were behind the locked doors and breathed his Holy Spirit upon them. It’s a story for this time, this moment. As we continue to face the coronavirus pandemic, navigating through these challenging times, let us invite the Holy Spirit into our lives. Allow the Spirit to work in us. The Holy Spirit works from within to re-create and renew, to encourage, to comfort, to counsel and to console. Let us allow the Holy Spirit to be our guide, to be our helper, to be our comforter.
Once, a little girl asked her grandfather, “Did you and Grandma ever get into fights?”
The grandfather replied: "We don't talk about it very often, but there was a time when we were not getting along very well. We seemed to be picking on each other a lot and finding all kinds of things to argue about and really getting on one another’s nerves. One day I came in from the garden and I heard a voice upstairs. I went to the stairs and heard your grandmother telling God what she could not bring herself to tell me. I quietly walked up the stairs, and knelt down beside her and told God my side of the story. And from that day to this, we have never had a problem which we couldn’t resolve by talking it over with each other and with God.”
Do you think the Holy Spirit was active in that couples’ marriage? There can be no doubt. Conflict will always remain part of every relationship, family, church and community. The fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control – will always remain critical for happy relationships with others.
Napoleon Bonaparte said, “There are two forces on this earth: the force of arms and the force of the Spirit. The force of the Spirit is stronger.” Why don't we prove that the Spirit is stronger through our lives?
This reflection is based on the readings for Pentecost Sunday, Year B: Acts 2.1-11; 1 Corinthians 12.3b-7, 12-13 or Galatians 5.16-25; John 20.19-23 or John 15.26-27, 16.12-15.