The Power of the Spirit

I’m at my “happy place” – the Jesuit Retreat House in OshKosh, where I have been presenting a women’s Ignatian retreat that ended this afternoon. I offered the reflection at the closing Mass today, which I excerpt here.

In her book In Search of Belief, Joan Chittister writes:

Do I believe in the Holy Spirit?  You bet I do.  Nothing else makes sense.  Either the Spirit of God who created us is with us still, either the presence of Christ who is the Way abides in us in Spirit, or the God of Creation and the Redeemer of souls has never been with us at all.  God’s spirit does not abandon us, cannot abandon us, if God is really God.

Every year during the Easter season, our first reading comes from Acts, the book that describes our early Christian history – the mission of the early days of the church.  There are a lot of reasons it is good for us to hear these readings.  To me one of the important things these readings do is to illustrate for us the extraordinary power of the Spirit – of what we are capable of when the spirit of God is working through us.

Today’s Gospel opens with the disciples hunkered down in a locked room, fearing for their safety.  They are afraid for their lives, afraid of their uncertain futures.  They experience doubt, confusion, pain. 

As the disciples are cowering in fear, in walks Jesus – Peace be with you.  And, telling the disciples that as the Father has sent him he sends them, he breathes on them saying “receive the Holy Spirit.”

The disciples were sent by Jesus to carry on his mission of revealing God to the world.  But they were not left on their own in this daunting task.  Instead, Jesus fulfills the promise he had earlier made to them that he would send the Spirit to be with them.

And look at the effect!  The first Mass reading from Acts opens: “Many signs and wonders were done among the people at the hands of the apostles.”

 Remember the Peter of the Gospels?

When Jesus makes his first prediction of his passion, saying he must go to Jerusalem and be killed, Peter says, “God forbid such a thing should happen.”  To which, Jesus responds, “Get thee behind me Satan!”

When Jesus is teaching about forgiveness, Peter asks how many times should we forgive – as many as seven (thinking he is being quite magnanimous), Jesus answers No (knucklehead) – seventy time seven.

When Jesus asks Peter to walk across the water to meet him (in response to Peter’s request that Jesus bid him to do so), he manages one step before falling in fear.

When Peter is on the mountain with Jesus experiencing the Transfiguration, blinded by the vision of Moses and Elijah, what does he come up with, “Um, should we build a tent?”

At the last supper, Peter completely fails in understanding Jesus’ desire to wash his feet.

When Jesus asks his disciples to stay awake with him, Peter falls asleep.

When the soldiers come to arrest Jesus, Peter cuts off the ear of one.

And then, when Jesus is arrested, Peter denies knowing him.  Three times. 

Finally, we see him in today’s Gospel: hiding with the other disciples in fear in the upper room.

The Peter we meet in Acts following the receipt of the Spirit is a very different person.  By the time of the passage we hear in our first reading, Peter has already given a confident, powerful speech that caused 3000 people to be added to their followers.  He has already cured a crippled beggar.  And, he has already boldly told the Sanhedrin that he won’t heed their warning to cease preaching in Jesus’ name.  (Perhaps my favorite words spoken by Peter: “It is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard.”)

In today’s reading we are told that, so confident were the people of Peter’s healing ability, that they believed all that was necessary was for his shadow to fall on one or another of them to be healed.  And they were healed in large numbers.

Pretty amazing!

To proclaim our belief in the Holy Spirit, as we do every time we recite our creed, is to acknowledge our belief that the spirit of God is present and alive in the world today.  And that proclamation acknowledges that the Spirit of God resides in me, in you, and in us

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