Then he breathed on them and said:
“Receive the Holy Spirit…”
John 20, 22
I wonder if the sirens were blaring that first Pentecost when the disciples were gathered and “suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind”? This noise, like the sound people have described far too often around the Midwest this Spring as tornadoes have cut swaths of destruction, knocked the disciples off their game. Their game was to stay put, stand pat, tremble in fear, play it safe.
But the Spirit had other plans. The Spirit of God thrust them into the world to speak new languages. As Paul reminds us, “The love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Spirit of God dwelling within us.” Pentecost awakens the Spirit we already know lives and breathes within us. The Spirit is always with us. Unfortunately, we often keep her hidden in the basement of our souls or gathering dust in the attic of our minds, content to live and move and have our being as mannequins instead of men and women of the Spirit.
Saint Gaspar often noted we are “people of the Spirit.” Pentecost celebrates the Spirit stirring into flame the desire in the first followers of Jesus to continue his mission of mercy and compassion. Those tongues of flame that shoot like lasers into the hearts of those first followers caused all heaven to break loose. The wind of the Spirit freed the disciples from fear, awakened the power and potential already inside of them.
Each of us carries this breath of the Spirit with us from birth. But like those first followers of Jesus, we have breathed in so much fear, hurt, hate, and harm that sometimes we forget how to breathe, how to speak words of tender mercy, how to love one another.
In the Gospel story of the Pentecost event, the disciples are portrayed as a community hiding in fear in that upper room. But with a gentle breath and a greeting of peace, Jesus stirs their courage. Not immediately, of course; it would take a while for them to have the lung capacity to breathe peace instead of fear. They had inhaled so much foul air—the pollution of betrayal and greed, the smoking ruins of dreams gone up in flames, the Sulphur-like smell of evil—that it would take some time to fill their lungs with the sweet, crisp air of the Holy Spirit. But with this gift of the Spirit comes reconciliation and forgiveness, and the courage to spread that mercy to the ends of the earth.
Pentecost is a celebration of the Spirit—wind, fire, breath. The Spirit manifests Herself is so many ways: courage, wisdom, knowledge, understanding. The power of Pentecost is in unleashing the potential for good that already exists among us. Are we ready to embrace it? As Pope Francis asked in his first Pentecost homily as pope in 2013, “Are we open to God’s surprises? Or are we closed and fearful before the newness of the Holy Spirit? Do we have the courage to strike out along new paths which God’s newness sets before us, or do we resist, barricaded in transient structures which have lost their capacity for openness to what is new?”
This season of the Spirit invites us to set sail on new paths, carried on the winds of change. As a province, these prevailing winds will welcome a new leadership team on Monday evening, June 10, as Father Garry Richmeier, Father Dave Matz, Brother Daryl Charron, Father Timothy Armbruster, and Father Keith Branson will be installed as our new provincial and council. As we welcome the new, I want to thank the missionaries who have served us in leadership the past eight years—Fathers Richard Bayuk, Tom Welk, Ron Will, Mark Miller, and Jim Betzen. As provincial, I have been blessed to have their wisdom and counsel, their friendship and commitment to the community’s future.
I am also deeply grateful to the province staff who continue to serve all of us with fidelity, creativity, and initiative. The gifts they bring each day in the service of the community reflects the Pentecost story in advancing the gospel message and especially the charism of our founder and the spirituality of the Precious Blood.
As I prepare the take leave of the office of provincial, my appreciation to all of you, members, companions, volunteers, and friends, is boundless. Thank you for your encouragement, prayers, patience, and support these past eight years. I beg your pardon if my mistakes and missed opportunities have in any way hurt you. I trust in your mercy, compassion, and the bond of charity that serves as that holy thread that ties us together.
Robert F. Kennedy once said, “We can begin to work a little harder to bind up the wounds among us and to become in our hearts, brothers [and sisters] once again. The answer is to rely on youth—not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of will, a quality of imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the love of ease.” This becomes our Pentecost challenge as we embark on the New Creation.
And so, in conclusion, I offer this prayer and pray all to take good care:
Great and Holy Spirit,
whose breath gives life to the world,
whose voice is heard in the whisper of a gentle breeze,
whose force is found in the rush of a mighty wind,
You sweep us off our feet on this great feast of Pentecost.
With a sacred gust of grace, you make known to all peoples
the power of your pardon and peace.
With tongues of fire, O Great Spirit,
You create from many languages
a language of love to proclaim with one voice
the favor of your forgiveness and fidelity.
O Gracious God, during this season of the Spirit,
open wide the door of our hearts where all your abundant gifts are stored.
Open wide our minds to the wonders of Your Sacred Presence in all of creation,
and in all peoples of this earth.
We never cease to thank and praise you, O God,
for renewing our dreams, resuscitating our hopes,
and reviving the language of love we left for dead.
And so, with the breath of Your Son inspiring us,
we conspire with all peoples of this planet,
to breathe peace,
to be peace.
With peace in the blood of Christ,
Joe Nassal, C.PP.S.