For the celebration of the feast of Pentecost, on which we mark the coming of the Holy Spirit upon Mary and the apostles, and by extension, the whole Church, there are two options for the Gospel reading. The first is from John 20, which tells of the Risen Jesus appearing to the apostles in the upper room, sending them forth in mission, and breathing on them the Holy Spirit. The second option is from earlier in John’s Gospel, during the Last Supper in which Jesus says, “The Advocate, the holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name—he will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.”
Reflecting on this second option led me to think about how the Holy Spirit teaches us. It seems to me that the Holy Spirit doesn’t teach us by lecturing to us. The Holy Spirit teaches us by moving us to action. In other words, in the Holy Spirit, we learn by doing. When we reach out in compassion to others in need, we learn about the compassion of Christ. We learn how to see others as Jesus sees them—as beloved brothers and sisters. When we listen to another’s story, especially the story of one who may be different from us in some way, we learn that the stereotypes of the world are false, and we learn more about how to listen. In my own experience, I learned how to preach at St. Mary’s in Alabama by preaching at St. Mary’s. I learned about the African-American community by living and working in the African-American community. I learned about the plight of the working poor by volunteering at Metro West Ministries, and being part of an organization that helped people in need. And I brought what I learned in Alabama when I came to St. Paul’s in Detroit, and I have continued to learn more about these things and
In trying to love as Jesus loves, I have learned a bit more about what kind of love that is. You get my point. We learn from the Holy Spirit when we are open to go where He leads us. Can we allow ourselves to be led by the Spirit? That is not an idle question. We may be surprised about where the Spirit is leading us. Look at what happens to the apostles after the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost. These disciples who earlier were afraid to leave the upper room, are now witnessing to the “mighty acts of God” done in Jesus Christ.
To lead us where and to whom we may not expect is how the Spirit often works in our lives. In light of that I was thinking about how Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as the Advocate. And naturally we think of the Spirit as an advocate for us before the Father. But what if the Holy Spirit was also an advocate for others before us? What if the Holy Spirit was there to move us to hear the cries of the poor and the marginalized? What if the Holy Spirit is advocating for the immigrant and the refugee, for people worn down by poverty and injustice? What if the Holy Spirit is advocating for the whole of creation, groaning in pain with the degradation of the environment? Would we listen? Would we pay attention to One who was advocating for those whom we are often quick to demonize or dehumanize or prejudge?
To be led by the Holy Spirit in that way might be intimidating. But as St. Paul writes in another optional reading from Romans, we did not receive a “spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but … a spirit of adoption in which we cry ‘Abba, Father!’” If we trust in the Holy Spirit as our Advocate and Comforter and Teacher, we can trust in the Spirit when we are led to people and situations in which we may not feel too comfortable.
Come, Holy Spirit! Renew us and the face of the earth!
Fr. Phil, CP