Today is Pentecost Sunday! In Luke’s account, recorded in our first reading from Acts, the Holy Spirit descends upon the apostles, and immediately they begin to speak to the crowd assembled there about Jesus. The people in the crowd are amazed at what has happened. They are from all different places, with different languages, and all of them can understand what the apostles are saying, even though they can see that the apostles are from Galilee.
It’s a miraculous transformation! These apostles, who were so scared of what might happen to them after Jesus was crucified, are now fearlessly speaking the Good News to anyone who will listen. As I reflected on what might be considered a miracle of speaking, I also wondered whether it could be considered a miracle of listening. The people who came to the house because of the noise they heard, were also able to hear what the apostles had to say.
As we imagine the Spirit moving the apostles to go out and proclaim the Good News, perhaps we imagine the Spirit moving us to do the same. Can we also imagine the Spirit moving us to listen? I don’t ask that question lightly, because really listening to someone can be as risky as talking to him or her. When we listen to someone it can be the Spirit talking to us, and prompting us to change.
I have shared before about how much I have learned listening to others, how I have had to let go of certain assumptions about people’s situations; how certain stereotypes were disproved. Was not the Holy Spirit involved at those times? Was not the Holy Spirit leading me to be a better priest, a better Passionist? In the optional Gospel reading for Year B, Jesus says to His disciples: “I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. When he comes, however, being the Spirit of truth he will guide you to all truth.” In leading me to listen to others as well as speak to them, the Spirit has guided me to truth.
But why do I seem to be coming back to this again and again? Because it appears to me that it is getting harder and harder for us to listen to the “other.” Somehow, if I choose to love as Jesus does, I need to be willing to listen, even at those times I don’t want to hear it; even when I discern that it may not be leading me to the truth. Wherever my vocation has brought me, I needed to listen. This was true at Mater Dolorosa in Sierra Madre, CA. It was true at St. Mary’s Church in Fairfield, AL. And it is true at St. Paul’s in Detroit.
Even when I simply cannot buy into what is being said, can I recognize the humanity of who is saying it? That is tough. That is one of the reasons we need the Spirit! In the optional second reading for Year B from Galatians, St. Paul lists the fruits of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” Many, if not all, of those things requires a listening ear as well as a strong voice.
May we listen to the Spirit in prayer and in those through whom the Spirit works. May our listening help us grow in love and compassion, and make our proclamation of the Good News ever more fruitful.
In Christ and the Holy Spirit,
Fr. Phil, CP