Today we are celebrating Pentecost, the feast of the Holy Spirit.
It can be hard to image the Holy Spirit! Scripture gives us many images.
The Holy Spirit is the dove who descended on Jesus at his baptism, showing the presence of God’s love. The Holy Spirit is a flame of fire who takes away fear and gives us courage. The Holy Spirit is a rush of wind showing God’s power to really give us the new life promised. In John’s Gospel, Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to be our comforter in moments of despair—to be our advocate when we have lost our way.
I am in the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola, near the Boston College
campus--because I want to share with you two stained glass windows that speak
eloquently about the Holy Spirit.
Above the altar, we have the image of the suffering Jesus on the cross—who was raised by God on Easter, as signified by the white cloth. Look at the window above the cross—we see the Holy Spirit represented as a dove. The Holy Spirit is near the cross all the time, even when we cannot see the visible sign of the resurrection. The Holy Spirit comes to us in the midst of suffering, pain, loss, and fear!
Now look at the window depicting the last station of the cross.
This is one event with the cross, and the Holy Spirit present there too.
Mary was standing by the cross, watching her own son die.
The Holy Spirit was with her as she tried to comfort him with her
presence. When they took him down she held his body. The Holy Spirit is still with her in her
grief. The Holy Spirit is with us too, in times of loss and despair.
John’s gospel tells us that soon after, Mary and the other
disciples were hidden together behind a locked door, afraid that the
executioners who took Jesus will also come for them.
Suddenly, the risen Jesus appears among them—still marked by the wounds of torture, wounds that will never heal. Yet he has new life, and brings them peace! In the presence of Jesus, the Holy Spirit appears as flames of fire. Now the disciples are able to go forward, speaking from the heart and being understood by people with whom they thought they shared no common language.
Not only in first-century Palestine, but in our world today, many
fear the knock on the door and the secret police, the armed insurgents, the
executioners outside. Many live in fear and suffering, many mourn the
deaths of their children.
Many mothers and fathers grieve the loss of their children to
Children are shot down in the streets in Syria, or destroyed by bombs from the skies.
Mothers and fathers mourn their daughters who are raped and murdered where there is war, as in the Democratic Republic of Congo or Ciudad Juarez, where girls are killed simply because they are girls.
Right here in the United States, children are killed by random violence, or even shot down by police. The rates of teen suicide are tragic. Children suffer and despair, and parents are left bereft and in mourning.
On a more daily basis, those of us who are parents know first-hand how mothers
and fathers worry and grieve as they accompany children facing crises and
afflictions they can’t seem to overcome.
In fact, every human being suffers. Sometimes the burden is crushing, seeming to snuff out any possibility of joy or a better future.
Where is our hope in all this darkness?
The Holy Spirit can give us the gifts of wisdom, understanding, compassion, forgiveness, and courage.
The Holy Spirit gives us unexpected light in the darkness.
The Holy Spirit is God’s love in person—the One whom the Risen
Jesus pours into our Hearts to give hope and a way forward.
Come Holy Spirit! To you we give praise!
Lisa Sowle Cahill
Lisa Sowle Cahill, Ph.D., J. Donald Monan, S.J., Professor at Boston College. Dr. Cahill is a past president of the Catholic Theological Society of America (1992-93), and the Society of Christian Ethics (1997-98), and is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Her works include Global Justice, Christology and Christian Ethics (Cambridge University Press, 2013), Theological Bioethics: Justice, Participation, and Change (Georgetown University Press, 2005), Bioethics and the Common Good (Marquette University Press, 2004), Family: A Christian Social Perspective (Fortress, 2000),Sex, Gender, and Christian Ethics (Cambridge University Press, 1996); A Theology and Praxis of Gender Equality (Bangalore: Dharmaram Publications, in press); and ‘Love Your Enemies’: Discipleship, Pacifism, and Just War Theory (1994; revised edition to appear in 2018). She is the editor of Genetics, Theology, Ethics: An Interdisciplinary Conversation (Crossroad, 2005), Sexuality and the U.S. Catholic Church: Crisis and Renewal (Herder and Herder, 2006), and other works Dr. Cahill received her M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Chicago Divinity School. She is married to Lawrence R. Cahill, an attorney. They are the parents of five children.