There are actually two accounts of the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles recounted in today's scripture passages. In the Acts of the Apostles, the arrival of the Spirit is characterized by a sound like the rush of a violent wind ... that filled the entire house ... Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them
(Acts 2: 2-3). This description makes the moment sound as though there was a violent storm: wind and fire that must have been alarming to those who were present in that place.
Sometimes, the Holy Spirit is made known to us through experiences that actually frighten us. Admittedly, when we are faced with major crises like traumatic experiences, close brushes with death or sufferings and diseases that threaten to tear us apart, it can be easy for us to become lost in our own drama instead of seeing such experiences as moments of blessing. Could it be that in the midst of tumultuous situations, the Spirit of God is indeed present?
On the other hand, the gospel account speaks of the arrival of the Holy Spirit as a much more peaceful encounter. Standing among the disciples, Jesus breathed on them and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit ...'
(Jn 20: 22). I have always envisioned this moment as a rather serene encounter: Jesus' breath wafting warmly over all the disciples, not in a threatening way but rather in a very peaceful, heartwarming fashion.
Peace is the gift that the Lord offered to his disciples when he appeared to them that night. Human understandings of peace paint a picture of serenity, the absence of violence. This image is very different from the one that is portrayed in the account of Pentecost that is told in the Acts of the Apostles. Is it possible that the arrival of the Holy Spirit was both peaceful and disturbing, both serene and violent at the same time?
The Solemnity of Pentecost marks one year since the Parish of Saint Bernadette was established. If we look back over the past year, we can see moments when there was great serenity and joy, celebration and togetherness ... but we must also admit that there were growing pains: moments when things didn't go the way we might have hoped that they would. This past year has been characterized both by peaceful encounters and moments when we have all been challenged. Like the scripture passages, our experience of the birth of this new parish has been characterized with experiences that have been very different one from another at times. However, we must remain rooted and confident in our belief that the Holy Spirit is indeed present and at work among us. It is the Holy Spirit who finds ways to sow unity in the midst of discord, the Holy Spirit who is always at work: sometimes in ways that we do not comprehend, the Holy Spirit who invites people who are from very different backgrounds, each of whom brings different experiences to the table, to discover that we are all brothers and sisters on a common journey, and that we need to walk side by side, helping one another to find our way.
There are a variety of gifts
, but all the gifts we have been given are from the same Spirit (1 Cor 12: 4). There are varieties of services
needed in order to build up a vibrant parish community (1 Cor 12: 5). Sometimes it might take a little while to discern the needs, and then to identify the gifts that are at our disposal, but we can all do our part by praying for the Spirit's guidance and inspiration and by opening our hearts. In this Spirit, we were all baptized into one body -
regardless of our ethnic backgrounds - and we have all been made to drink of the one Spirit
(1 Cor 12: 13). How can we recognize the presence of the Spirit among us? We come to the Lord, each of us bringing our own gifts, each of us bringing our own points of view - which are not necessarily the same as those held by everyone else, and we pray for the grace to be attentive to the promptings of the Spirit who is always at work, building up the body of Christ.