PENTECOST & LIVING DIFFERENTLY
A few years ago, a local newspaper had something on the cover that only half-caught my attention on first glance. All I saw, really quickly was some kid on a skateboard and I kind of thought “must be a slow news day if they have a kid riding a skateboard on the cover” - and didn’t think much more of it.
It wasn’t until later in the day when I sat down and read the story and really looked at the picture that I realized it was about a 12 year old boy named Nicky, who was the kid riding the skateboard - and what made this worthy of the front page was that Nicky didn’t have legs; only had one arm (that ended with only one finger). And as you read his story, you heard about how Nicky, despite the absence of limbs can do just about anything any other 12 year old boy would do - he just does it differently - He rides a skateboard (on his head!) - he rides a bike - he hits a baseball - he throws a football - he plays the drums and piano.
His parents spoke about when he was born how they were filled with fear - Would Nicky be emotionally devastated by these challenge? Would kids make fun of him? Now, the parents say the worry about their son - but, not Nicky, instead - there oldest who’s serving our country as a Marine.
How many of us if we were to see or pass Nicky on the street think “wow - that’s so sad, or that’s so unfair.” Yet in all the pictures, the thing that struck me was this giant smile on his face. In every picture, you don’t see a kid who’s upset - down about what life has dealt him -or - wondering why he’s not like everyone else. You see a kid smiling - happy - playing - living and loving to live life - just differently.
Nicky could be seen as a great Pentecost story. Because in this feast we celebrate today, we remember how God has come from being a Father who was in a sense somewhere on the outside to Jesus who was “God with us” and walked beside us and now the Holy Spirit has God dwelling within us. And that calls us to live life - differently.
For the apostles in the Gospel - they have been locked in an Upper Room since Jesus’ ascension - not in fear like they did after Jesus was taken from them (and they had failed him) on Good Friday - but in prayerful anticipation. Jesus had promised them he would be with them always - till the end of time - just differently.
And Jesus had told them it was better for Him to go so that He would send them this advocate - this gift. They probably were thinking - how can this get better? Uh Jesus, you were killed, we saw it - and you came back from the dead and your not confined to time or space or anything - that’s pretty cool . Why don’t you just stick around with us? We just want to hang with you!
But it’s not about Jesus or God doing everything for us - it’s not about us looking at Jesus as some magician or miracle worker. Jesus’ leaving and sending the Holy Spirit is ushering in a new time for the apostles, and for all of us to become what God wanted from the beginning of creation - our true selves, our best selves... Jesus basically is saying - now it’s you’re turn to be a part of my story. Now it’s time for you to experience God working within you. And as the Holy Spirit is unleashed on the Earth and dwells in the hearts of every disciple they do things very differently than they did before.
St. Peter, who throughout the Gospel we see - his heart’s in the right place, but was a constant mess up while Jesus was preaching - He fails him miserably through Jesus’ Passion and death by denying him - the guy’s a fisherman and after Pentecost the Holy Spirit takes all those gifts that Jesus saw inside of Peter and uses them - differently. The fisherman becomes the shepherd - the first Shepherd - the first Pope of the Church. Just a few weeks earlier at Jesus’ trial Peter’s questioned about whether he was even a follower of Jesus and he says “I don’t know the man” - Now, we read in the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles that after the Holy Spirit comes upon him, he goes out, preaches and thousands are baptized in one day (I only wish I was that effective).
That’s what the Holy Spirit does for each of us, enables us to do things we could never have done on our own. People confuse this with being a “free spirit” or passionate individual - People who run off and do there own thing - start their own Church - start their own Religion because they say “the Spirit is directing them to.” Others will say, “well it’s okay that I reject the Church’s teaching because I believe I’m right and the Holy Spirit must be directing me.”
No - it doesn’t work that way. Because the Holy Spirit not only enables us to do things differently but also challenges us to see things differently. To actually ask ourselves, even in the most slight, remotest chance- is it possible - that I COULD BE WRONG about something?
That’s why we talk about how the Catholic Church was “born” on Pentecost. We aren’t given this gift of the Holy Spirit to chart out a course on our own - but as St. Paul says in that second reading - we are to bring our different gifts together in unity by the same Spirit to build up the Body of Christ. If we look throughout our Church’s history, we’ve had our share of screw-ups whether thousands of years ago or recently. Yet the Holy Spirit is still guiding our Church - and is driving us towards unity.
Think about it - what makes an 85 year old man like Pope Benedict, who’s native language is German someone that hundreds of millions of people from throughout the world listen to. Whether it’s watching him on one of their 400 channels - someone that they flock to hear, want to see, want to listen to by the multitudes when he visits their country’s? It’s the fact that Holy Spirit dwelt in the hearts of the cardinals to elect him as Pope - The fact that the Holy Spirit dwelt in the heart of this man who only wanted to retire and move back to Germany to say, instead, “Thy will be done”. In our media obsessed and youth oriented world, that the Pope would be able to so movingly and so effectively speak to millions throughout the world isn’t because people have an interest in the thoughts and teachings of an 85 year old man (which is a sad on a different level). Rather, there’s something there - we on some level see how the Holy Spirit IS working in him and each of us as the Body of Christ - the Church.
That image of Nicky from that newspaper article with that giant smile on his face has stuck with me. Here was a kid who looks happier than some people I know who have no apparent disabilities. That is the joy of the Holy Spirit dwelling in the deep recesses of our hearts. It is there that Holy Spirit speaks in the midst of our fears, our angers and our confusions - words of love, words of forgiveness, words of generosity - words we don’t expect to hear - words that can make us uncomfortable but somehow ring true - words that call us to see things and to act - differently.
Posted by Fr. Jim Chern