Today we celebrate the Feast of Pentecost, the moment when the Holy Spirit came with power. Jesus had told his disciples to remain together and pray and to await the gift from on high, the Holy Spirit. And our readings today show us the difference the Holy Spirit can make. The disciples move from a position of fear and hiding to one of courage and inspiration. Even though they know the Lord is risen, has defeated death, they are still confused and locked away. The Holy Spirit is the one that breaks down the walls closing them in. The Holy Spirit is the one that throws them out into the world. The Holy Spirit is the one that makes them into food for all those around them.
Now, when we read these accounts, we can nod along. Amazing, we might say. What would it have been like to have been there? Tongues of flame! The gift of languages! A sense of the awesome power of God! Well, let’s be careful what we wish for, because God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.
Just last week, I was asked to visit a young woman, a friend. She had had a few issues and could not get past them. She had cut herself off, locked herself in her room, lost touch with her family, and refused to see many of her friends. She felt unloved, like a failure. And she had sought refuge in drugs. She was lost. We had a bit of a chat, and I tried to encourage her. But at the same time, I was cautious. We should not expect miracles. She needed to take baby steps. Gradually get better. Gradually get back out into the world. Gradually re-establish her relationships. Gradually take back her life from the fear that was paralysing her. Right before I left, I asked whether she wanted to get better, whether she knew how much God loved her, and then I suggested we pray together. Finally, we made plans to catch up the next week, just for a cup of tea. The first step. A small one but an important one. How little did I know?!
I got a message from her a few days later. She was now in hospital. But that was only the beginning of the drama that had occurred. It was clear that baby steps would happen later. Before that, God had decided to intervene with power and there was absolutely no mistaking the work of the Holy Spirit.
Right after I had left her apartment, her family made contact and it was nothing like she had feared. It was supportive and there was healing. Then, another young woman who admired my friend made contact and sought help. My friend, the first young woman, now had a job. Someone else needed her, and needed her in a very specific way, which she would later understand. And then came the hard part.
My friend was up all that night being sick. And when she was checked into hospital, it just happened that she was diagnosed with a very specific allergy to the drugs she had been taking and to which she was addicted. But the reason why she was diagnosed so quickly was that one of the few specialists around who knew of this illness just happened to be on duty that night.
I saw her a few days later and it was like speaking to another woman. The fear had gone. There was a new resolve. She was determined to help this other young woman, who herself was going through a drug detox program. She had again made contact with her family, and it was going way better than she had dreamed. Instead of being afraid of the future, there was hope. She knew she needed to get healthy, not just for herself but for others. She knew God had plans for her. She knew this was not all coincidence. She could see God’s hand at work. She could feel the Holy Spirit’s tough love, the growing pains.
We spoke again later, and now it was the time of planning. God had broken through and pulled her out of the darkness, and now she had to play her part. God had worked several miracles, and now God was trusting her to be faithful to his plans for her. But wow! When we were talking, we were both kind of winded, overcome by how obviously and how powerfully God had intervened.
No matter what some might say, we do believe in an interventionist God, if we just have eyes to see. We experience God in the Mass, in the sacraments, in our prayer. And sometimes when we need it, God walks through walls or across water to get to us. Reaches into hearts to free us from what we cannot overcome by ourselves. The Holy Spirit comes with power.
So, this feast of Pentecost, let us renew our faith in God’s power in our lives, the Holy Spirit. Let’s pray that God can heal what needs to be healed, forgive what needs to be forgiven. Let’s pray that we can be changed into fearless disciples, confident that the truth is good for us and for the world and that God has our back. Let’s pray that the Holy Spirit will change us into food for our brothers and sisters.