A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Strange and Surprising Grace

By Fr Kevin Bates SM

It’s Pentecost and we celebrate once again the birth of the Church and the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the Disciples. You know that already, but it’s probably worthwhile drilling down a bit to get some sense about the surprising and even strange grace that flowed that Pentecost Day.

Here are the Disciples with their memories of time spent with Jesus, his teachings, stories, great adventures and his death and resurrection. They had his promise that he would somehow remain with them and that the Holy Spirit would come upon them, but chances are they had little idea what this might mean.

As they were gathered, so the story goes, there was a disruption of some kind. It felt like a mighty wind and like tongues of fire circulating in the room, and a whole new energy, a clarity about their path forward and their mission crystallised for them. 

They began preaching and proclaiming the Good News to the point that people from diverse cultures could pick up what they were on about and the infant Church was born, seemingly with great passion and joy. 

The grace of this event foreshadows the graces that have accompanied the Church right down to our own day. These graces are an expression of Jesus’ promise of faithfulness, “I will be with you always even to the end of time.” 

This faithful, graced, presence has somehow remained right through a history of great holiness, and great sin and corruption. It is a reason for us to hope still, that we will always be in good hands despite our failings and frailties. 

This grace is indeed as much a surprise to us as the stirring grace of the Pentecost event would have been. Who could still love us so relentlessly after all our failures to love in return?

The surprising strangeness of God’s grace is our gift to receive and taste. Our mission as we know, is to become bearers of this grace, no matter how strange or unrecognised it is in our present-day world. 

One good place to start is to become more aware and alert to the graces that God showers on us each day. It’s easy to be lyrical about all this and easy to be cynical about it in the light of the burdens, confusions, crises and demands that accompany us. 

These things are easy to spot as they impact on us with some immediacy. We can’t avoid encountering them and we have to spring into action in order to respond to them as best we can. Sometimes they are sufficiently annoying or distressing that they take our full attention and until they are resolved we don’t feel we have much petrol in the tank for anything else. 

It can sound a bit trite to say it, but it’s true just the same, that in the middle of all this daily mess, God’s grace is at work within and among us. It’s so easy to miss the signs of God’s grace at work and often seems to be a matter of common sense that we dismiss these signs as having no value for us as we don’t have time or energy for such musings. 

Perhaps we will recognise God’s hand at work in retrospect, when things calm down. Just perhaps, if our relationship with God is something we nurture regularly, we might just glimpse God’s hand at work even in the middle of the day’s turmoils.

In seemingly strange and unexpected circumstances, God’s grace so often reaches us. It could be a gesture, a word, a message, even a breath of wind. It could seem like nothing to write home about, but to an alert heart it could be a blessing that has to be more than mere coincidence. 

Come Holy Spirit, we pray yet again this Pentecost. We don’t need to strain too hard in order to encounter the grace of the Spirit’s breath. 

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