Laughing, Crying, Praying: Come, O Holy Spirit!
A delightful story from this week involves Pope Francis teasing a nun he has known for years, named Mother Rosangela, in Genoa, Italy. Clearly full of love and friendship, the pope told the crowd that the she is “a good woman… but she has one flaw.” Then jovially, with a big grin and to thunderous laughter, he continued, “She drives at 87 miles per hour!”
It reminded me of a story Sr. Dorothy told us at a board meeting one morning at St. Mary Healthcare in Worcester. She said she had been stopped by the police for speeding. When the cop came up to her window and asked for license and registration, she cooperated but also pleaded, “Officer, I was just keeping up with the crowd.” The policeman went back to his cruiser and returned with a speeding ticket. As he handed it to her he said, “Sister, you were the leader of the pack!” With great merry eyes, sister laughed out loud telling us the story.
With everything happening in the world right now, we need these moments of levity, don’t we? We need them almost as much as food and water. Just look at the news we had to endure this week. Children and young people, mostly girls, were targeted for a terrorist attack in Manchester, England, which left 22 dead. Police officers were killed in a separate ISIS suicide bombing in Indonesia. A Catholic priest and his flock were taken hostage and threatened with death after militants burned down a cathedral in the Philippines. Coptic Christians were martyred in yet another attack that left 29 dead in Egypt. Mostly toddlers were among the 31 people drowned to death in the Mediterranean Sea Wednesday, when an overcrowded boat full of migrants suddenly listed and threw them overboard. They join the over 1300 deaths of migrants at sea this year so far. Gay people in Chechnya are being rounded up, tortured, and killed (or released to their families to perform so-called “honor killings”) as part of a massive purge of gay people there. Black people, especially, had to endure a Mississippi state representative (in 2017, no less!) saying anyone who wants Confederate monuments taken down should be “LYNCHED!”—his emphasis, not mine. (He has since apologized.) And just yesterday, two men were stabbed to death on a train in Oregon, and a third injured, when they stood up to a man yelling anti-Muslim slurs at two teenage girls, one of whom was wearing a hijab, on the train. Just a sampling of headlines can leave us feeling hopeless and helpless.
When the disciples witnessed the Risen Lord, they must have been overwhelmed with joy. It must have seemed that nothing bad could ever happen again. Death itself had been conquered! I imagine that is why they asked, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” In other words, they wanted to know if the oppression was over. Would the power of the Roman Empire now be defeated? Would the Jewish people finally have their homeland in peace? Would this at long last be what they had always expected of The Promised Land, the land “flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 33:3)? I can only imagine their disappointment when Jesus didn’t fulfill their hope. He leaves the prospect of the fullness of the kingdom in the future, and forces them to face the harsh reality of a world continuing in violence and oppression. And worse, then He left them!
Like the dreadful days from Good Friday until Easter, the days from Ascension to Pentecost must have been some of the hardest days in Christian history. Jesus was gone. All their hopes were dashed. The world continued in violence and oppression, despite the Messiah having come. Those must have been some of the most disheartening, frightening, confusing, and lonely days in the history of the Church. They would learn that suffering would continue and that it would become salvific when united to the Cross of Christ. “[W]hoever is made to suffer as a Christian should not be ashamed, but glorify God because of the name.” They would learn the meaning of Jesus’ promise, “I am with you always, until the end of the world.” But first, they would pray. I imagine they turned to the Jewish prayer book, the Psalms, and I can imagine them uttering these words from the depths of their hearts: “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom should I fear? The LORD is my life’s refuge; of whom should I be afraid?” And I am sure they prayed for the Spirit that Jesus promised He would send. Without the promised Spirit, nothing would be possible for them; but with the Spirit, even death would lose its sting (cf. 1 Cor. 15:55).
In the darkness all around us, as evidenced by the headlines this week, the lesson from the Apostles and first disciples, including Mary the Mother of Jesus, is simple. Pray! Pray for the Holy Spirit. I have been praying a prayer since my Confirmation, where I read it aloud from the pulpit, that I think is as profound as it is simple. Would you join me in praying it now?
“Come, O Holy Spirit, make us new, make all things new, through Christ Jesus, Our Lord and Redeemer. Amen.”