By Father James Rodriguez
When I was a child, my mother would bring me to charismatic prayer meetings in the neighborhood. We went to Mass every Sunday, and even weekdays in the summer, but these were very different. It was my first experience praying in this way – or any way – outside of home, Church, and my parish school.
I remember the crowd; it seemed like hundreds of people packed into someone’s living room those Thursday mornings, attention fixed on the riveting preachers who would dissect the Word of God and offer testimonies of the power of that Word. I also remember dragging my feet to go to the prayer meetings, then again when it was time to leave. This tension – not wanting to go at first, and then not wanting to leave – struck me as I prayed over the readings for this Solemnity of Pentecost.
Model of Discipleship
It has been 50 days since Easter. Fifty days since we followed Jesus to Golgotha, then out of the tomb. Over that time, we have walked with the Apostles and Mary, their mother and ours. Gently, silently, she walked with us and modeled for us the meaning of discipleship, despite our fears and unwillingness to trust. Like my earthly mother, Mary led by example, and helped make the Apostles into the saints they were called to be.
The palpable sense of community between them was evident from the beginning. These were the ones gathered in fear 50 days ago, when Jesus appeared with the gift of peace. Here they are gathered once more – this time in joy – and the Spirit poured out on them was like fire in every way: it destroyed the fear that plagues every believer, spread to people of all nations, and purified the hearts it touched. It filled the world with the warmth and light of the burning bush – that ancient symbol of love that consumes without ruining.
The Virgin points us in the direction of this fire, guiding our gaze upward, to the One who took flesh in her blessed womb.
Flags of the Kingdom
The fire of apostolic faith truly has renewed the face of the earth, and it is no coincidence that Marian shrines dot the Church’s landscape like flags of the Kingdom. Wherever true faith in the Father is, so too is she, and any who love her. We, who count ourselves as sons and daughters of both, feel the warmth of her love which inflames our love for her Son. It leads us to praise him with the unfettered joy of Psalm 104, which the Church gives us for reflection today. We beg the Lord to send out His spirit for the sake of our renewal and refreshment, for the change of heart incumbent on anyone who claims they love Him.
This was the Spirit that hovered over the waters in Genesis, that spread them apart in the Exodus, that came upon the humble girl in Nazareth, and descends daily on our gifts of bread and wine. In every case a fundamental transformation occurs, filled with renewal and grace.
This holy fire inspires in us the gifts St. Paul describes in the second reading, of which there are two options. The first is from his first letter to the Corinthians, while the second is from his letter to the Galatians.
Part of me wishes we could read both at Mass, rich as they are, but in each one this great apostle illustrates something important that I learned as a child at those prayer meetings with my mom. The gifts St. Paul speaks of are literal and powerful. I heard people speak in tongues, which first frightened, then mystified me. I witnessed people fall backward, “slain in the Spirit,” who later stood back up supernaturally refreshed. I heard stories about physical and emotional healing that doctors and therapists could only dream of accomplishing.
Moreover, I witnessed incredible kindness and generosity. I witnessed people banding together under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that drew them in like breath. I witnessed people turning away from sin and becoming faithful to the Gospel, then volunteering in parish ministries to share what they had been given. This was the case in the early Church, in my childhood, and I pray, in your parish today.
Like the second reading, the Church is given two options for today’s Gospel from John. I invite you to take time before or after Mass to reflect on both. As you do, think of Mary, praying silently for the fire of the Spirit that she knew at the Annunciation, to fall on the whole Church, herself included, to renew the face of the earth.
May that same fire renew our families, our parishes, our nation and world, bathing it in the peace and forgiveness of Truth Himself.