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  • Writer's pictureJennifer Delvaux

Pentecost Is Terrifying

Pentecost is terrifying. The Holy Spirit is terrifying. 

They are terrifying in the same way that shaking your principal’s hand or the dean’s hand at graduation is. Terrifying in the way that you’re stepping in front of a group of coworkers for the first time to make a critical presentation. You are prepared. You have support. You are taking all you have been given, all you are, and doing something new.

The coming of the Holy Spirit filled the disciples, drew them out of their safe space, and challenged them to speak and act. This is the most striking moment in the New Testament where we see the reality that each person of faith is gifted, graced, and empowered by the Holy Spirit. I spent considerable time when I was working on my Master’s thinking about this idea and, concurrently, thinking about it in the context of renewal and restructuring in the diocese I worked in at the time. 

There is nothing more terrifying to individuals or institutions than the Holy Spirit. The Spirit burns and blows. We use images of wind and flame, two uncontrollable elements, to try to describe and understand the Spirit. With all that time spent thinking and praying with the Spirit during those studies and that work of renewal, I came to a deeply held belief. The fear of the chaos of the Spirit is the fastest way to truncate individual spiritual growth and communal renewal. 

What that fear manifests as is quite different between the individual and community. For the individual we respond to the flame of the Spirit in fear when we start to curtail our living with the grace and gifts by defaulting to thoughts and questions like:

  • What will others think if I do this?

  • This is absolutely insane, why should I do this?

  • I’m just not ready yet, I can wait, can’t I?

  • I’m tired or overwhelmed. 

  • I am not qualified.

  • No one else thinks or feels this way. I must be mistaken.

  • There has to be someone better than me for this.

There are countless narratives we create for ourselves to quell the Spirit within us. This is why, though the Spirit does gift, grace and empower each of us, part of our call as Missionary Disciples is to empower and encourage others around us to live boldly in whatever way it is that the Spirit is calling.

As an institution or a community, fear of the Spirit looks a bit different. I heard faithful leaders speak of “the chaos if we just let people discern the way they should respond” or “we need to set up tracks for people, to stay focused.” Because each individual is uniquely gifted and graced, this frequently tends to the appearance of disorganization, to the diffusion of authority, to growth in fits and starts and multiple directions. The Catholic Church, its parishes and diocese, are today deeply rooted in their structures (and this serves a purpose, I will not deny that). However, we fear the Spirit when we force the Spirit to serve the structures instead of the structures serving the Spirit.

There are several options for the Masses this weekend, I encourage you to take a look at all of them over the next days and weeks. Sit with the Spirit and listen to where you are being called to share your unique gifts and graces with courage.

May you be courageous to answer the Spirit, knowing you are empowered and supported. May we keep the institutions and structures of our religious communities in prayer so that the right relationship is kept - that the institution serves the Spirit.

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