Pentecost Sunday: let the Spirit unite us
Posted: Fri, 21 May 2021 10:17
Fr Gerry O'Shaughnessy SDB reflects on the unity brought to us by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. (Image by Igino Legnaghi via Qumran2.net)
I was reading my diary for Pentecost Sunday 2020; it was clear that we thought that things may well be back to normal by summer 2020. The pandemic, it seemed, was under some sort of control. I wrote back then:
One of the amazing POSITIVE effects of being in lockdown due to Covid-19 is the sense of UNITY that it has engendered. As a global family we are, literally, all in this together.
One year on, we are still battling the effects of this virus; what was seen as a temporary situation is beginning to look like a regular reality. I wonder, however, if I was not being a tad optimistic when I said that we were 'all in this together'! The reality is that some people and some nations are able to avail themselves of vaccines far more easily than others—it can be down to political connections or just wealth.
The division between rich and poor has been exacerbated by this virus. Many have been unable for take needed sick time away from work because of job insecurity. The more well-off can pay 'Uber Eats' or 'Deliveroo' to bring the evening meal to their homes—they do not have to face the potential dangers that could lurk in a simple trip to their local takeaway. Families have come to realise that, with parents trying to work from home and children trying to access lessons, in these times one PC was simply not enough. We realised that internet coverage was not good enough to cope with the demands that many families needed during the height of lockdown. Vulnerable children could slip through the cracks, despite the best efforts of hard working teachers and social services. Fractured families found that this enforced time together might only deepen the divide, leading to breakup and heartache. Children and families, especially in the developing world, found it impossible to access education, making the rich/poor divide even more acute. Physical distancing might be achievable for a family living comfortably in a Western city suburb, but impossible for those living in overcrowded poverty—poverty found even in a great city like London. The news report of the poor and homeless queuing for food in Glasgow during the February 'beast from the east' storms showed me that we were NOT in this together. Some have endured the battle against COVID-19 in a safer and stronger way than others.
Today we are celebrating a feast that was celebrated by many of the Jews who lived at the time of Jesus. Many of his early followers continued to celebrate it after the resurrection, and so it became part of the annual celebrations of all Christians. However, over the first few decades of the church, this feast took on a new meaning: Jesus has risen and ascended to the Father, but he promised us his Spirit. Today we rejoice that the Spirit is moving in each of our hearts making us a people, inspiring us to understand the mystery of our faith, and strengthening us to follow Jesus the Anointed One.
The Spirit is the one who gathers us — all the different 'nations' are brought into contact with one another. Then, the Spirit unites them into one church gathered around Jesus — so the followers of Jesus everywhere are linked through the apostles. The Spirit then inspires them and sends them forth, to be the witnesses to Jesus to the ends of the earth. The effect of the Holy Spirit at the first Pentecost was to create unity – the incident of people understanding different languages should not be taken literally, but to prove that some deep divisions among people can be overcome by the Spirit of God. Many of the gifts of the Spirit in the second reading are about a deep unity among us – trust, love, patience. These and other gifts of the Spirit bring unity at a deep level in families, friendships, all kinds of relationships and communities.
Back in 1984, a BBC news reporter, Michael Burke, stumbled on a famine in Ethiopia. His report was relayed throughout the world and moved the hearts of many to do something about global hunger and stop these unnecessary deaths. Just as we rallied behind the late Captain Tom, so the world gathered around two pop stars, Midge Ure and Bob Geldof, who brought the world's finest, brightest and most popular singers and pop groups together in a common cause. They were not content with the status quo: in a world that had enough food, the presence of a famine was obscene. 'Band Aid' morphed into 'Live Aid' that become the 'Race for Life.' Two pop stars lit a fire that became a 'global jukebox' that, in its turn, changed the conscience of the world. I have wonderful memories of 13th July 1985; I spent the morning hiking with family in the Lake District, while the evening saw us gathered around the TV in Glenridding watching the 'Live Aid' concerts from Wembley and Philadelphia. It was a time of global unity, facing and challenging the virus of indifference and apathy. That day spent with loved ones remains one of my happiest memories: we were part of that global unity and our meagre contributions made to the telephone hotline could actually make a difference.
Perhaps Pentecost 2021 should be a clarion call for us to re-live that 1985 'Band Aid' spirit. Pope Francis has led the way: he has inspired leaders and influencers to make changes that will last. Pentecost 2021 makes demands on us to change our mindset, if we need to, and share that overwhelming and unconditional love of God. As we celebrate this great day together, we recognise that we are invited to live in the TRUTH of God—'he will lead you to the complete truth.' Pope Francis assured us that we find this love and truth in those small things of life—for me it is remembering a friend's smile or the wisdom of a family member who assured me that life is not just good, but 'exceptionally good';
We need to rediscover the concreteness of small things, the small acts of kindness shown to those who are close to us, family, friends. We need to realise that our treasure lies in small things. There are tiny gestures that sometimes get lost in the routine of everyday life, gestures of tenderness, affection, compassion, that are nevertheless decisive, important.
Pope Francis: Interview with 'La Republican' newspaper 18/03/2020
With the gift of the Holy Spirit, the disciples, including Mary and the apostles, can now move out of their lockdown ennobled by the Spirit. At last they can bring the compassionate Gospel message to the world; they are fearless and want to share their life of God. Like them, we pray for an end of our own lockdowns; for that time when we can re-connect as a living and dynamic Church community. However, we now have to listen to the scientific experts and use our pain and isolation as a symbol of our deep love for each other. We are saving lives in our own special way. John O'Donohue, the Irish mystic, reminds us how blessed we are in the family of the Church. In these times, it is essential that we count the blessings that we can still enjoy:
Blessed be the longing that brought you here and that quickens your soul with wonder.
May you have the courage to befriend your eternal longing.
May you enjoy the critical and creative companionship of the question "Who am I?" and may it brighten your longing.
May a secret Providence guide your thought and shelter your feeling.
May your mind inhabit your life with the same sureness with which your body belongs to the world.
May the sense of something absent enlarge your life.
May your soul be as free as the ever-new waves of the sea.
May you succumb to the danger of growth.
May you live in the neighborhood of wonder.
May you belong to love with the wildness of Dance.
May you know that you are ever embraced in the kind circle of God.
John O'Donohue, 'Eternal Echoes'
Fr Gerry O'Shaughnessy SDB