Moving Beyond Fear
Pentecost this year leads us well beyond quarantine
I often live with a sense of scarcity. I wonder if my heart, like our Church, will unlock the shutters after the pandemic. I panic at the thought of half-empty churches. I question my flimsy insights and stamina to move our congregation beyond fear. I question leadership and integrity, especially my own. Age, pandemic and experience meld together with uncertainty about future leadership, both clerical and lay. These words represent only a glimpse of how easily my heart shuts its doors, how frequently I find myself in the quiet of scarceness.
Pentecost feels different this year. I find my heart among the tight-knit followers of Jesus huddled in a small room after the events on Calvary. The guys quarantined after the horrific death of their friend and mentor. After all, Jesus had promised them the world and heaven. They held each other for a couple of days tending to their wounds, to feel the loss of love and to imagine what was next. Mary, too, grieved behind closed doors. I can imagine the smell of fear in the room, the furrowed brows of friends and the wringing of cold hands. In that room, loss and scarcity filled hearts behind shuttered windows.
All of a sudden, they wiped their watery eyes and opened their mouths in shock. The one they loved was among them. The breeze that filled the room was not their hot breath, but the movement of the Holy Spirit waving over their skins. “Peace” became fresh air in the stale room. “Peace be with you” were words that unshuttered fear and calmed the chaos of catastrophic thinking of those left behind. Peace became grace. Peace flowed from the dark and chaotic. Peace, as flowing water, washed them and guided them back into the world.
Pentecost continues to wash our fear and leads us back into the streets. Pentecost this year is a key to unlocking our quarantine and sweeping away the dust of fear. This year, more than ever, we ache to hear the first words of Jesus after the Resurrection. These words of peace are not ritual routine or perfunctory. Peace is not something abstract or imprisoned in jargon. Peace comes from the moment Jesus returned to those he loved to free them from all that held them bound. His peace was balm. His peace lives today.
Years ago, on Pentecost, our assembly processed into the streets after Mass to the place of a sidewalk murder. We washed away the remnants of blood with our prayer. The breath that had been taken was replaced with the breath of the Holy Spirit with us. The suffering of the family was lifted high on a processional cross. These gestures had grown routine in that community after an 18-year-old was shot nine times at our door. We brought peace from the sanctuary at least 10 times. We inhaled the air of violence and exhaled the breeze of Jesus’ first words after the Resurrection. On that day, we sang and proclaimed the story of those in a locked space. I felt freedom rush across my skin and my heart breathed. Pentecost compels us beyond our skeleton lives of scarcity.
Pentecost this year leads us well beyond quarantine. We cannot forget that the Church heals divisions, squelches fear, protects our lost children, speaks and performs acts of peace. This year, we are being called to wipe the sleep of quarantine from our eyes and look again at the beauty of what it means to bear the words Jesus spoke after his sleep. Our hope is that Pentecost compels us to move beyond our scarcity.
Pentecost in our faith communities produces rhythms of prayer and action. In Pentecost, we risk shedding our fear. Eucharist and justice are one. Pentecost cannot be contained behind brick or wood but moves us into the stark realities of injustice, violence, racism, trafficking, hunger and homelessness. Pentecost does not self-protect but reveals. Pentecost, especially this year, takes us back into life’s complexities where we speak out about injustice and wrongdoing.
Pentecost crowns our lives as priests by releasing us from fear. Pentecost gives us hope when our shallow breathing leads us into selfishness and pride. Pentecost also scrapes the scabs off our lonely lives. This celebration creates hope when our harsh opinions of one another deflate all of us. Pentecost lifts our spirits when issues of ageism, divisions from different lived theologies and good-old-boy systems reek of power and clericalism.
This year, Pentecost unmasks us. Pentecost compels our voices to speak out for those who most need us, for people who survive on the periphery with little more than scarcity. This year, I wait for the breeze of the Holy Spirit to move me beyond my preoccupations and into a life of tenderness and peace.
FATHER RONALD PATRICK RAAB, CSC, serves as pastor of Sacred Heart Parish, Colorado Springs, Colorado, Our Lady of Perpetual Help Chapel in Manitou Springs, Colorado, and Holy Rosary Chapel in Cascade, Colorado.