Surprising Reflections on the Feast of Pentecost 2020

John Houk

Where is the Holy Spirit?  Experts on the subject think that she can be wherever she wants to be.  But how do we know where she is?  She is where she acts.  You can ask and hope that she will act, which we do at every Mass when we ask the Spirit to be present with us in the bread and wine.  But the Spirit is where she wants to be, which often surprises the unexpecting.

The stories of the Holy Spirit being promised, then given and received exhibit a confusion of details among early writers in wonderful ways.  This is why it is important to read for the big message, which is that God is present to us in love shared, and not get bogged down in the writer’s details.  Matthew writes that Jesus gives the Spirit to the “eleven on the mountain”.  In Acts the Spirit comes unannounced, as it were, “as they were all together” waiting.  In John Jesus breathed on the “frightened apostles” and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit” on the very evening of Jesus’ resurrection.

So, what are we to think?  Was the Spirit given to the eleven on the mountain in Galilee; given to the “frightened disciples” on the very eve of Jesus resurrection; given to “all together” waiting?  If you have come to know the Spirit acting in your life then you may know this wonderful confusion around the Spirit acting in the early Church is just like what she might do.  The Spirit was with the eleven, with all followers together waiting, and with the frightened disciples on the evening of the first day of the week as John wrote.  This is typical Holy Spirit.  She can go where she is called or just show up and act in our lives as she pleases, with power to lift us up, console us, delight, encourage, teach, drive out fear and surprise.  Could it be that she likes the surprise part best?  I have often thought that this may be the most fascinating thing we know about a Spirit that acts, who is never passive, never indifferent, and always surprising us with gifts personally wrapped, but with an invitation inside to become one with her.  How could you not love her and want her in your life?  Surprise!  She is already there.  There is no gap between us and the Holy Spirit.  Any separation we may feel is an illusion.  She is always waiting to surprise, and if we like surprises, and most of us do, the best thing to do is laugh.

If you were surprised by the use of the feminism to describe the Holy Spirit you may like to know that there is a tradition in the shadows of our Church for doing exactly that.  That tradition stepped out of the shadows when Pope John Paul I told the world that God can be both Mother and Father to us.  JPI is famous for being Pope for only 33 days.  I believe that when the Holy Spirit seeks us out to surprise us with just what we need, she is very much like many of the women I know.  The “she” fits.

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Holy Week – Easter Epilogue

My reflections during this Holy Week 2020 was intended to encourage you to remember the end-game story of Jesus’ life, which has become our Christian Holy Week Myth.  That’s nice, but there is a much deeper reason for these reflections, which is to encourage you to place yourself in the story.  This is one way that we can discover our human potential, and this is why my reflections emphasized the human person, who was Jesus of Nazareth.  Story becomes myth inviting us to find ourselves in the story, and in the process, discovering our own human potential.

Jesus speaks to us:  On Palm Sunday we can enjoy the adulation of the crowd, but we are wise to know its fickle nature.  A few days later they will call for our crucifixion.  Monday, we enjoyed the company of friends and the loving touch of a woman, who knew the risk we take just being there.  On Tuesday we realize that evil is stalking us.  We go from one of the best days to one of the worst.  On Wednesday we ate with a betrayer and a denier, but we did not exclude them from our table.  Thursday we could sense time running out, and we gave the world a common every meal, bread and wine, way to remember us.  Then we showed them how to wash each other’s feet.  On Friday we could have run away, but we didn’t.  Over the centuries countless Christians have followed my example.  Speaking truth to power was, and is, dangerous, but we are not going to run away.  Saturday is Sabbath, will always be Sabbath, a pause that the human mind and body will always need.  Sunday, the first day of the week, has become our day of new beginnings, new possibilities, which flow from trusting that life prevails, will always prevail, and that love always wants to be forever.

If we make the mistake in thinking that Jesus said and did wonderful things because he was first God, then we give ourselves a pass, thinking that lowly humans can’t do those things, can’t live like that, but we can.  He was first, one of us.

Holy Week / Easter Epilogue by John Houk

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Easter Sunday 2020

Early in the morning on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James set out toward the garden where they had seen Jesus’ body placed.  When they entered the garden, they saw to their amazement that the stone in front of the tomb had been rolled aside.  They had brought a lantern knowing the tomb would be dark, and when they looked inside, they saw the tomb was empty.  Looking around in the dimness Mary Magdalene saw a figure standing near and assumed it must be the gardener. 

“We have come to anoint the body, but someone has taken it away.  If you took it, please tell us where it is and we will go there.”

The dim figure spoke her name.


“Teacher, is that you?”

She dropped the lantern and ran to him, threw her arms around him and began to cry.  Then she felt that he had nothing to keep away the morning chill, and took off her cloak and put it over him.  The cloak was full of her warmth and smell, and for a moment he couldn’t speak.  Then she said, “Do you need anything?  I have a little food and some water.”

“Yes, Mary, there is something I need for you to do for me.  I am so pleased that it was you who came first to me this morning.  I must not go back into the city.  The guards ran away, but they will come back with more so I cannot stay here.  You must go and tell the others that I will go to Galilee and wait for them there.  Can you do that for me?”

“I don’t want to leave you.  I don’t want to ever leave you.”

The other Mary spoke.  “If you want to stay, I will go tell the others, but they will not believe me.”

“You must both go, and yes, Mary, they must see for themselves.  Both of you go, and hurry, because I must go now.

Mary asked, “When will I see you again?”

“You must come with the others to Galilee because there I will explain to you how important it is for you to help the others stay together, and how you must tell them all the things I have told you.  Now go to them.  They must see for themselves that I am no longer in the tomb.”

Then Mary the mother of James gently took Mary’s hand and pulled her away from Jesus, and they ran back toward the city.

Jesus stood there watching them go, and he took a fist full of Mary’s cloak in each hand.  It was the first time that he realized that leaving her would be the most difficult part.  He straightened his back and started down the road to Emmaus, and then to Galilee where he would tell them about the Advocate to come.

Stay tuned.

Reflection by John Houk

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Holy Saturday Reflection

It was the Sabbath in Jerusalem.  Normally a very quiet day and today was no different, except there were whispers.  Jesus had been confirmed dead with a spear thrust, and his body taken down from the cross.  The body was claimed by a secret follower and placed in a tomb, while women who had come to Jerusalem with Jesus watched where he was laid.  Then they began to collect the spices they would need to anoint his body as was the Jewish custom.  They would wait until tomorrow because this was Sabbath, but they wondered who would roll the large stone from in front of the tomb because all the men they knew had fled.  The Chief Priest and Council of Elders were sure they had saved the people and themselves from catastrophic Roman retaliation.  The Roman governor was pleased that his district was now rid of a trouble maker, but his wife was not so sure and she told him so.  He had a sign placed on the cross over the head of Jesus that read, “Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews”.  The sign had its intended effect on the many people who saw it.  If you cause trouble in my district this is what will happen to you was the message, and the people understood it.  This was the way Rome kept the peace in all its districts.  It was the Sabbath, but it was also spring, the beginning, of a new year.  The world was full of new life and new possibilities, but Jerusalem had pushed the pause button.
Please stay tuned. 

Reflection by John Houk

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Good Friday Reflection

Jesus and his disciples loved this garden.  It was a safe comfortable place with deep grass and a light breeze.  It was dark, and they settled into the quiet, some even falling asleep.  Jesus tapped Peter, James and John, and asked them to come with him, and they went without question.  He asked them to wait for him as he moved “a stone’s throw” away.  He had felt agitated, and at first wanted company, then wanted to be by himself.  As he stood alone in the dark a feeling of panic descended on him, a gripping fear that he had never experienced before.  He fell to the ground, sweat dripping from his face.  His body said walk away from this place, no, run.  It is dark.  They will never be able to find you, run.  He stood up, turned and walked back to the three men he had brought with him.  They were sleeping.  He turned and walked away.  He could slip away and they would not know that he had gone.  He turned back to them.  They were sleeping.  They trusted him, and he had brought them to this place and this hour.  They trusted him.  How could he abandon them?  Did he not trust his own mission?  He had been so sure of what he was called to do.  Did he not trust himself or the One who called him?  He felt the coolness of a dawn breeze and could see a grayness in the eastern sky.  He felt a calmness descend upon him.  He would trust.  He had to trust.  He looked across the valley and he could see torches moving toward him.  He woke up the three men and led them back to the others.  When the men with the torches arrived, he held out his hands.  They tied him and led him away.

reflection by John Houk

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Music is bringing us together

Music is the inspiration of the Spirit.
It allows us to celebrate with joy,
singing, dancing, like Miriam with her tambourine.
It groans forth from the depths of our being
when we grieve our losses.
It gets our bodies moving in exercise, 
and marches with the those protesting against injustice.

Music eases our anxiety, soothes us, helps us to heal,
and sustains us when we need to persevere.
In this time of coronavirus, 
music is being sung from balconies,
played on porches, lawns and sidewalks 
during social distancing.
Music is found streaming from home studios,
featured on the evening news, 
on links sent by friends through the internet.

While we are “sheltering in place”
music is speaking to us about who we are,
and that we are not alone.
Music is bringing us together.

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March 25, Nine Months till…

March 25th, nine months before December 25th
the birth of Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us.
Yes, God is with us.  
We see Jesus, working through others, is with us. 

During this time of the coronavirus, we have gratitude and ask blessings upon:

the nurses, doctors, respiratory therapists, clinic, hospital and nursing home staff, who are putting their lives on the line while meeting our medical needs;  

those who are serving people who are confined to prisons and jails, people living in homeless shelters and senior living communities, where social distancing is almost impossible;

those who are working long hours to provide the needed medical and health supplies, and those who are volunteering to do what they can to help;

and to friends and neighbors, and people who do not even know us, who reach out to ask if we need anything.

Bless them and keep them safe, O God.


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Our Global Community

We had a pumpkin for Halloween, and when the season was over, we cooked, mashed and froze the pumpkin for future desserts.  As I was cooking pumpkin custard this morning, I thought about our global community and how we support one another.  I thought of the local farmers who raised the chickens and milked the cows so that I could have eggs and milk.  I thought of the workers in a warmer southern country who harvested the cane for my sugar, and the people far off on an Eastern continent who provided the spices to make the custard smell and taste so good.  My simple dessert depended upon all of these people, in all of these lands.  I could not have had custard without them.  As I enjoy my special treat today, I think of my global community where life has been turned upside down by a virus that is affecting each and every one of us.  I am grateful for you, every one of you.  May we all work together to defeat this deadly virus.  May you be blessed with good health.  And may we all remember our global community.

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The Long View

Dear Friends,

Yesterday as I sat at our dining room table gazing across the pond, I had an experience very similar to something our daughter wrote in her e-mail to us today: 

 This morning I had to get up early to go get a mammogram (just a routine screening), and as I was grumpily walking to the clinic, the birds were all singing away, and I was like “How can you be singing?!  Don’t you know that we are dealing with the coronavirus?!”  And then I realized what a nitwit I was. Nothing like birds singing to help you see the long view. 

 During Lent this year it is easy for us to get caught up in all of the late winter darkness, the seriousness of this pandemic, which has now reached South Bend, the divisiveness of political fighting, the daily news that beats us down.  Yes, we need to pay attention and do what we are capable of doing to prevent illness, to heal the pain, to comfort and care for one another.  However, in doing so we must not forget to experience God’s good creation, to see the beauty, to observe the little things, and to stand in awe of the mystery before us.  The song of the bird is one of hope, of springtime arriving soon, of the light overcoming the darkness.



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This Lent

This Lent, O God,
enlighten my mind so as to know your Word,
let me see and appreciate beauty, mystery and diversity that is around me,
let me hear the voice of the poor,
fill my heart with compassion,
let me wrap my arms around others with love,
move my legs where you want me to go
as I journey with your people towards Easter sunrise.

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