The Enduring Challenge of Pentecost
About a month ago I fell off my bed as I was adjusting the ceiling fan to reverse its direction and airflow. You are familiar with that switch, right? Well, as I pivoted to avoid falling forward, I hit my right arm against a stack of empty boxes on the way down. And as I was lying face up on the bedroom floor staring at the ceiling, I thought about calling 911 at 11:00 PM, but they would have to force the front door, and then I remembered that my phone was all the way across the room. I decided to tough it out. The bruise did not show up immediately, but it looked as awful as it felt, and hung around for a couple of weeks. A sharp lingering pain has kept me up a few nights. And as I tossed about in search of that elusive slightly less painful position, I began to fear my ceiling fan mishap was about to teach me a lesson.
The human condition is no stranger to pain and suffering, physical, emotional, spiritual. No one is spared. There is pain when we are born and pain when we die; and there is pain all along the way in between, our own and of those around us. We have better drugs now, but our basic condition is unchanged. Even the Son of God and his mother knew pain. And every generation will know pain and suffering in their unique way. But what we get from our pain and suffering depends on our objectives. Jesus reconciled us with God and with one another. Spouses devote themselves to each other’s good. Parents provide their children a better life than they had. What’s our pain and suffering all about?
I suggested last week that we have a unique opportunity for a fresh start as we move to our new location. Our parish was officially founded in 1946 although the church building was dedicated in 1932. 16 pastors have passed through Waynesboro, along with 3 parochial vicars, 3 pastoral associates, 3 permanent deacons, and a host of officially and unofficially registered families. All these have shared and contributed to our story. Our 88 years together have given us many fond memories, of new members washed in the waters of baptism, of those welcomed to the Lord’s Table for the first time, of those anointed with the Holy Spirit, of couples coming before God to pledge their lives to each other, of many friends and family members called by God to the eternal wedding feast. We are proud of our parties, our spirit-filled liturgies, the times we listened to God’s Word proclaimed and preached, and grew to love our faith, when we encountered God’s mercy and healing in the sacraments of the church.
I’m sure it wasn’t all unicorns and rainbows. We’ve had our share of challenging times, ineffective leaders, thorny issues, and difficult fellow parishioners. We have not always lived our faith with selfless conviction and joy. At times we have resisted God’s inspiration, ignored our neighbor’s cries, and been selfish with our time and resources. We need to keep striving for better, to be better, and do better. This is our opportunity for a fresh start. We now have room to grow and draw others to be part of our story. And it is vital we are more intentional about who we are and what we are all about.
The community of Jesus’ disciples received the Holy Spirit in strong driving wind and blazing fire. And immediately they began to speak in many languages of the mighty acts of God. Those who witnessed this outpouring of the Spirit didn’t all react the same. Some were amazed or unmoved or confused. And some accused them of public drunkenness. But the disciples of Jesus were unfazed. They knew they had to proclaim with joy and conviction the Good News of God’s mercy and love. It is still the church’s primary task although we have gotten sidetracked now and again, preferring to give more time and resources to rejecting, condemning, excluding, and resenting.
In the second reading, St. Paul reminds us that the gifts of the Spirit are given for some benefit, but probably not to the detriment of those whom Our Lord came to teach and nourish and heal and raise to new life. If we recognize that we belong to the same body that is Christ, we should work even more to strengthen and nourish and restore and raise to new life those struggling members of Christ’s body. We would not bring more pain and suffering upon ourselves. Why would we bring it upon Christ’s body?
We are all here today for varying reasons. I know many parishioners of St. John have been waiting many years for this day. Welcome home. Some resisted the idea of a new church at first. Hopefully they’ve come around. Welcome home as well. Some who have been away have decided it’s time to come home. A warm welcome to you. And perhaps some are here just to check us out, wondering who we are and what we’re about. Welcome to you too. But not to get your hopes up too high, we know we will probably fall short of everyone’s expectations in one way or another. Our desire is still to strengthen and nourish and restore and raise to new life those who struggle and to proclaim with joy and conviction the mighty acts of God.
Last week I said we needed to craft our message of welcome and inclusion and compassion and reconciliation. I didn’t choose those words for any specific reason. But when I reflected later about what I said, I realized they describe that first community of Jesus’ disciples, and we hope they describe us here at St. John. We need to be reminded often that God desires our good, and if we desire what God desires, we should imitate the example of his Son who was obedient to the Father, who spent himself at the service of others and embraced his passion and death that we might be reconciled. That should be our litmus test. If we fail to imitate Jesus, we cannot claim to possess his Spirit.
The pain in my arm is almost all gone although my range of motion is still a bit limited. If it goes away completely, I might forget that I probably should not assume I can do everything I did with ease ten years ago. And if this experience teaches me only about my body and the natural consequences of time and gravity, I will have missed the voice of the Holy Spirit. The body of Christ is entrusted to our care. A small portion of that body is our parish family here at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church. We are but a small portion of the universal church and subject to our legitimate pastors. But we have not received the gift of God’s Spirit in vain, so it will show in our proclaiming the mighty acts of God. It will show in our manner of life, in the way we welcome one another, in the way we support and nurture the vulnerable and the young, in the way we extend compassion and the peace of Christ, in the way we reach out to one another in kindness, healing, and reconciliation. If we know who we are and what we are about, we can be more intentional about proclaiming the mighty acts of God with genuine joy and conviction. God’s Spirit lives on and the challenge of Pentecost endures.
Rolo B Castillo © 2021