Saturday, May 10, 2008
Pentecost Sunday Vigil Mass
The Gift of Groaning
Readings: Genesis 11:1-9; Psalm 104:1-2, 24, 35, 27-28, 29, 30; Romans 8:22-27; John 7:37-39
Picture: CC aturkus
Dear sisters and brothers, on this great feast of Pentecost, have you given a thought to what exactly it is you want from the Holy Spirit? What do you want the Spirit to do for you today? And what do you think the Spirit wants to do for you? What does the Spirit want to do for us and for the whole world? Do you know what are the gifts that the Spirit brings? Are you ready to receive these gifts and to use them? Do you really want them?
As you know, the scriptures provide several lists of the gifts of the Spirit. In Isaiah 11, for example, we hear of the spirit of wisdom and understanding… counsel and might… knowledge and the fear of the Lord (Is 11:2, RSV). And in 1 Corinthians 12, Paul speaks of the utterance of wisdom… the utterance of knowledge… faith… gifts of healing… the working of miracles… prophecy... and so on (vv. 8-10). But, as important as all these gifts are, our readings at this evening’s Mass do not really mention them specifically, at least not under the same names. Instead, our readings highlight two things, in particular, that the Spirit does for us. Have you noticed what these two things are?
One of them is mentioned quite obviously in the gospel. Jesus says: If any one is thirsty, let him come to me! Let the one come and drink who believes in me! And the drink that Jesus offers is the Holy Spirit, who flows onto us as the blood and water pour out from the pierced side of Christ while he hangs on the cross (John 19:34). The more obvious gift that the Spirit brings us in today’s readings is the quenching of our thirst for God.
And Jesus also makes it very clear what we have to do to receive this gift. In order to have our thirst quenched, we need to come to him. We need to believe in the power of his Dying and Rising, and to live accordingly. But, as we all know, coming to Jesus is not always an easy thing to do, especially not when he hangs on the cross. It is not easy to continue to follow Jesus when the way leads through a dark valley. To be able to do that, we must actually feel very thirsty. And that is precisely the problem, isn’t it? We don’t always realize how thirsty we really are. Even though we may know that we cannot live without God, we don’t always feel our need for God, do we?
Often, our situation is something like those cases that are reported in the news from time to time. You know those cases where people sit in a stationery car with the engine and the air-conditioner running, not realizing that the exhaust gases may be leaking into the car. Haven’t we heard of people who have died of carbon monoxide poisoning in this way? The deadly gas suffocates them, and they die without even realizing their need for oxygen. The same thing can also happen with our need for God.
Isn’t this what we see in the first reading? Earlier, in the first chapter of the book of Genesis (1:28), God had commanded the human beings to be fruitful and multiply, and fill the whole earth and subdue it. But here, in chapter eleven, instead of obeying God and allowing themselves to be scattered over the whole earth, the people settle down in the land of Shinar. It’s as though, rather than obediently going where God wants them to go, they prefer to lock themselves up in an air-conditioned car. They are so preoccupied with making a name for themselves, they’re so proud of their own achievements, that they are oblivious to their own thirst for God. They fail to realize that they are gradually being poisoned by their own pride, suffocated by their own stubbornness.
And don’t we see similar things going on around us today? Don’t we know of people who may be so engrossed in making money, for example, that they don’t realize the damage they are doing to their own health, or to their family’s well being, or to their own relationship with God? And on an international level, don’t we also see countries that are so focused on increasing their wealth and power that they fail to realize how their own welfare is closely connected to that of the poorer countries that they are exploiting and refusing to help, not to mention the damage that they are causing to the environment? Aren’t these examples similar to people who are suffocating in an air-conditioned car and yet do not know enough to step out for some fresh air? They are dying of thirst and still do not think to stop for a drink.
What do these people need, if not the gift of realizing their own thirst, of feeling their own pain, so that they can reach out to God for help? And this is exactly the gift that the Spirit brings. As Paul tells us in the second reading, we who possess the first-fruits of the Spirit… grown inwardly for our bodies to be set free. A sure sign of the Spirit’s presence is a keen awareness that things are not right in our lives and in the world, a world where the rich get richer and the poor get exploited, where Jews and Muslims kill each other, even as Christians continue to be split into so many different groups, where cyclones can kill more than a hundred thousand people in a single country largely because of governmental neglect. In the face of all these difficult situations, one important gift that the Spirit brings us at Pentecost is the ability to groan in pain.
But this is not the groaning of a terminally ill patient. It is not the despairing cry that precedes a painful death. Instead, as Paul tells us, it is more like the groaning of an expectant mother in the painful yet joyful process of giving birth. It is the groaning of hope, hope for a better tomorrow. It is also the groaning of prayer, which the Spirit himself expresses… in a way that could never be put into words. And in the strength of that prayer, it is also the groaning of action, by which we each contribute what we can to help in delivering the baby of God’s healing presence to a hurting world.
Sisters and brothers, today the Spirit wishes to quench our thirst and to ease our pain. And not just our own, but also that of all the world. But in order to receive this precious gift, we need first to realize how thirsty we really are, how painful it really feels to be separated from God. What we need is first to receive the gift of groaning.
How might we better receive this gift from the Spirit today?
Posted by Fr Chris at 8:38 am