A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Pentecost — A Tap on the Shoulder

By Fr Kevin Bates SM

A little group of bewildered men, together with Mary and who knows who else, huddled together in a room for the comfort of one another’s company and in fear of what lay beyond -- hardly an image that inspires hope. There’s no social distancing here, just a small scrum of fear. The one who had brought them together and given them their identity was dead and gone. What was to become of them hardly bore thinking about.

Somehow cutting through their fear, they felt a moment of alertness. Was it a gust of wind, a flickering of the candles on their table that seemed to burn brighter, a tap on the shoulder? 

The hopes that Jesus had generated in them were back on the table and calling to them once more. The Church was born and the Spirit that had tapped these people on the shoulder generated such joy and passion that here we are today celebrating them at Pentecost.

Years before, Mary had received a similar tap on her young shoulder and, through her, the unknowable God entered human history as a participant, once Mary nodded her assent.

Again and again through history, new directions have been embraced, communities created, movements formed under the breath of this overshadowing, shoulder-tapping Spirit.

We can recall stories of some great moments in the Church’s history and marvel at them, admire those who responded to the Spirit’s prompting and thank God for them. We think of the great saints and the quiet achievers who each responded with faith and generosity. We can note the cost involved for them, the sacrifices they made and the sufferings they endured so that the Spirit’s purposes might be fulfilled through them.

It seems that suffering becomes an inevitable companion when serious changes are needed.

In our time and in our part of the world, the Church as we know, is at a point of significant crisis. Profound cultural shifts over the past half-century, the sexual abuse scandal, the Covid-19 pandemic, have all demanded a response from us.

Pentecostés by Juan Bautista Maino,
c. 1613, Museo del Prado, Madrid

Far from a gentle tap on the shoulder, we have received an almighty nudge from another direction!

Our faith tells us that the Holy Spirit will never abandon us, that God will never cut us adrift. It seems that the Spirit has had to work a bit harder in our time in order for us to embrace the changes that will renew, heal and inspire us into the future.

The question for each one of us and for us as a community, is how we will respond to the tap on the shoulder that our present circumstances present to us.

Some changes have been forced upon us, such as government restrictions during the pandemic. Other changes will rely on our faith and imagination and our ability to listen with each other for what it is that this moment of our history requires.

We need to be ready to pay the price for the changes the Spirit is calling us to make, as the apostles and saints had to do in their day.

In our homes and parish gatherings, let’s be alert through prayer, reading and good conversation with each other. Let’s prepare ourselves to pay the price that important change requires, knowing that the same Spirit which overshadowed the Disciples at Pentecost is ours too, encouraging, inspiring and emboldening.

May this Pentecost not pass us by and leave us bewildered, lost or disenfranchised. Rather, may we be refreshed and enthused by that Spirit of Love who casts out all fear and who breathes hope and joy into the heart of the whole Church, and into each one of us.

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