Solemnity of the Feast of Pentecost; May 15, 2016
Acts 2:1-11 Ps 104 1 Cor 12:3-7,12-13 Jn 14:15-16,23-26
Deacon Jim McFadden; (New) Folsom Prison
Today, we reflect and re-live the liturgy of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit sent by the Risen Christ upon the Church. I say “re-live” this event because when we listen to the story of Pentecost with open, trusting hearts, the coming of the Holy Spirit can happen again in our day. But, we need to be open to the God of surprises!
The evangelist Luke brings us back to Jerusalem, to the Upper Room where the Apostles were gathered. The first thing that grabs our attention is that “suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were” (Acts 2:2). Then, on top of that, “tongues as of fire, which parted came to rest on each one of them” (v. 3). What is going on here? Sounds and tongues of fire not only from without but from within. GOD IS TRYING TO GET OUT ATTENTION! He wants to penetrate deep into our minds and hearts. As a result, “all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit” (v. 4a, who unleashed this irresistible power with amazing consequences: they all began to speak in different languages, as the Spirit gave them the ability to proclaim” (v. 4b).
What comes next is so unexpected, so surprising. A great crowd gathers, whose members came far and side from the Middle East, Asia, Greece, and even travelers from Rome. They were flabbergasted because they heard the Apostles from the hill country of Galilee speaking in their own language. They had all experienced something radically new, something that had never happened before. And, what is it that they were speaking about: “…of the mighty acts of God.”
As Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz said to her dog, “Toto, we are no longer in Kansas.” Brothers, we’re in C-facility at (New) Folsom Prison, but then, again, if we re-live this story in our time and place, we are entering a new condition, a New Age. Let’s reflect upon the workings of the Holy Spirit, which is linked to making everything new.
Newness can make us nervous. We tend to resist change because we feel more secure if we think we have our lives under control, according to our agenda and expectations. To be sure, this inclination is nuanced behind prison walls, but I suspect that there are a few control freaks in the prison population! So, we like to live according to our ideas, our comfort systems, our own preferences because it places our Ego in the center of our life. When it comes to God, we do the same thing. Often we follow him, we accept him, but only to a certain point. As long as his will meets my expectations then I’m all in. But, to abandon ourselves to him with complete trust, to allow the Holy Spirit to be the sole guide of our lives in every decision we make, we start to get cold feet. If we surrender ourselves completely to God, we’re afraid that God may force us to strike out on a new path, on “a road less traveled,” in which we leave behind our narrow, closed, and self-absorbed horizons: our prison within a prison.
The newness that the Holy Spirit offers is not novelty or a diversion to relieve our boredom. No, the newness that God brings into our life is something that draws us into the heart of Trinitarian love. As such, it actually brings fulfillment because through the power of the Spirit, we are really in God, sharing his very nature and Life. This newness gives true joy because we are living in God’s presence. As a result, we experience true serenity because we know that we are being unconditionally loved by God who only desires our good.
Brothers, being filled with the Holy Spirit is not just a promise from Jesus; it’s an experience you can have. Imagine the divine life of the Trinity—divine life itself—filling your heart. Jesus gives us the Holy Spirit so that we can share, be transformed into God, who is Love. I think you can truly experience the power of Pentecost when you know, by the grace of God, that you are specially loved by God right here and now! This was God’s aim along. Since God is love it is love that connects the Father and the Son. Imagine the Father as the Lover who pours himself completely into the Son, who is the Beloved. The Son, in turn, reciprocates and that eternal sharing of love gives rise to the Holy Spirit who is the loving between the two. Why did Jesus leave us with the Holy Spirit– so that we could participate in this eternal, Trinitarian love!
Brothers, I hope that you have a strong Pentecost experience. I hope that you can say that “I felt loved by God.” I know that this can be hard. Sometimes we can spend so much of our lives with a bitter feeling of not being loved by anyone or not being able to love others. But, be open to the God of surprises who wants to rush into your soul and fill you with his divine life. That’s what God wants for you. St. Paul confirms this when he said, “The love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Romans 5:5). This is what the Holy Spirit is all about. Again, Pentecost will become a reality to you the moment when you realize that you are especially loved by God as his precious son. When that happens, your whole life changes, and you enter into a new way of living. AMEN.