20 May 2013

On Pentecost, Prayer Experiences, and Vatican II

I have written in the past about a significant prayer experience I had where I felt I had God's entire attention, where God was absolutely delighted that I was "finally" there, and where I was completely assured that the rest of God's creation, paradoxically, enjoyed his entire attention as well. I have also written that from time to time I return to this prayer experience to tap into it again, to drink from its living waters, and to breathe in the strength of its Spirit. I do this because it still lives inside me; it is part of my living, daily memory and has not yet and (I strongly suspect) will never be exhausted of its riches. It serves still as a gateway to a "place" where God is waiting with much to show me. More, it serves as a gateway to that "place" where God is allowed to be completely attentive to me, the place created when he loves me as he wills to do and I am truly myself.For all of our clamoring and self-centeredness, our love of being at the center of attention and acclaim, it is hard to be the center of God's attention. It is hard, in other words, to be wholly and exhaustively loved by God. It calls for our whole selves to be illuminated by that attention and healed by that love.  And yet, this is one piece of today's Feast. Today God showers us with gifts and they are the gifts of God's very self. God gives us his full attention and showers us with all the riches that attention implies so that we ourselves might likewise give God and his Reign in our midst our full attention.  Today God equips us with the gifts which make us truly human and commissions us individually and communally to be his People in a world which hungers for this desperately.

Sunday morning at our parish Eucharist I had the sense that just as I sometimes touch back into that prayer experience which was so essentially "pentecostal" for me, our community also touched into an experience of the Spirit which has been muffled in the Church  for the past 30 or more years (and even in our own parish to some extent --- though not because of our pastor or staff!). We have all felt the renewed excitement and hope that has come with the election of Francis as Bishop of Rome (the title he himself consistently prefers). We have felt a sense that the reception of Vatican II that seemed to have been stopped and even reversed with the "Reform of the Reform" has begun again and we have watched as Francis makes choices about the way he will embody his Office and exercise the authority of the Church which inspire and give hope that the Spirit is truly alive and well in our Church. And today we celebrated that hope, that presence, --- the fire and wind of the Holy Spirit --- and the compelling commission that flows from it.

There was a renewed excitement and enthusiasm at the Mass. Our presider was Bishop emeritus Sylvester Ryan from Monterey, a lovely, down-to-earth and wholly pastoral man whose gentle voice also resonated with the power of a Spirit-empowered faith. (There was a kind of cognitive dissonance as this white-haired elderly priest proclaimed the joy and challenge of  Pentecost in a voice which echoed with strength and passion! It was a lovely picture of the reality of this event all by itself.)  He reminded us that at Christmas and Easter we celebrate something that HAS happened, but today on Pentecost we celebrate something that IS happening. He reminded us that Pope Francis had told folks in the Diocese of Rome that one should be able to see from the look on faces leaving Mass that they had really heard the Good News proclaimed. I think that there was no doubt that today that happened at St P's. We had fewer people present in the assembly than usual and yet the alleluia even before the Gospel and the great Amen both raised the roof.  People are open to the gift of the Spirit. They are hungry for it and excited by it.

It is important for me to tap into that prayer experience again from time to time. In doing so I am not merely indulging a past memory of something that took place 30 (or so!) years ago; instead it involves opening myself to a continuing reality which enlivens, nourishes, inspires, challenges, and commissions right here and now. Similarly I think the entire People of God needs to allow itself to tap back into the experience of wonder, excitement, hope, purpose, (and more than mere purpose ---mission!) occasioned by Vatican II in those early days. This is especially true if the memory has faded or we have become jaded with disappointment and enervated with fatigue because of the last 30-plus years or so. For each of us, doing so can open a window to the Holy Spirit which allows the Feast of Pentecost to be as amazing for us as it was for the early Church. God wishes to shower us with his attention and all the gifts his love brings. He asks us to truly allow this. Let Pentecost happen in the Church. Let Vatican II truly be fully received!!