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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