These past many weeks have been like no other time in our lives, we have not been able to go to work or school, church buildings closed with no Mass celebrated publicly; no entertainment or restaurants; we were left at home by ourselves. Everything was changing – all too much to even understand since the word, coronavirus, abruptly came into our lives. The smallest and most formless element of nature, a virus, has left us with fear and anxiety, for ourselves, for our families, and for the future.
Pope Francis, on Friday, March 28th, asked the world to join him in Evening Prayer in Rome. His message was one of hope. Pope Francis began his homily reminding us that we are like the disciples in the boat. He spoke about the “darkness that has gathered over our squares, our streets, and our cities; it has taken over our lives, filling everything with a deafening silence and a distressing void, that stops everything as it passes by. …we find ourselves afraid and lost.” Afraid and lost like the disciples in the boat caught in a turbulent storm fearing for their lives. Our world has totally changed in these past weeks. We too are like the disciples – we are absorbed with fear for our lives.
Since Easter we have been listening to the Acts of the Apostles: we hear these same disciples are no longer afraid. Peter, the one who denied Jesus, stood up and in a loud voice proclaimed, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Who is this Holy Spirit? In today’s Gospel of St. John, the disciples are locked in a room out of fear. Jesus appears to them with this greeting, “Peace be with you.” The disciples are still in fear and disbelief. He shows them His hands and side. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you. …Receive the Holy Spirit” (Jn 20:20-22). Jesus sends the Holy Spirit into their lives and they are changed.
The news these past weeks has been filled with doom and gloom. We have heard or read about the tragic loss of life; medical and first responders overwhelmed; the lack of medical equipment; and uncertainty about proper protection for all workers. Father Cantalamessa, Papal Retreat Master, in his homily on Good Friday asked, “What light does all of this shed on the dramatic situation that the world is going through now? Here too we need to look at the effects more than at the causes — not just the negative ones we hear about every day in heart-wrenching reports, but also the positive ones that only a more careful observation can help us grasp.” He continued, “The Word of God tells us the first thing we should do at times like these is to cry out to God. He himself is the one who puts on people’s lips the words to cry out to him, at times harsh words of lament and almost of accusation: “Awake! Why do you sleep, O Lord? / Rise up! Do not reject us forever! . . . Rise up, help us! / Redeem us in your mercy” (Ps 44, 24, 27). “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” (Mk 4:38).” Encounters such as these bring us into a more meaningful relationship with God because this is simply what we call prayer.
St. Thomas asked Jesus in a moment of desperation: “How can we know the way?” Jesus tells him, “I am the way and the truth, and the life” (Jn 14:5-6). Later Jesus tells his disciples, “This much have I told you while I was still with you; the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name, will instruct you in everything and remind you of all I told you” (Jn 14: 23-27).
In the Letter from St. Paul to the Corinthians, we hear the Spirit brings many gifts to benefit the people. There are seven gifts: Wisdom, Understanding, Knowledge, Council, Fortitude, Piety and Fear of the Lord. The fear of the Lord always intrigued me; what does that mean?
We know that we do not fear the Lord, especially since we say that God is love. Let me give you an example. In the 12 Steps program for addicts, the first step is the most important and the hardest. It calls for a surrender to a higher power, namely to God. Not on your own power can you overcome your addiction; you must surrender it to God. Sadly, not everyone can do that. They are afraid that God will change them. Not for the worst, but for the better. We too cannot be afraid of God, because it is only God who can change us. The disciples of Jesus followed the road of hope, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, their lives were changed. If we let the Holy Spirit into our lives, we too can change. May this Pentecost allow us to seek the peace and love of Jesus Christ so that fear may not overpower us in our daily lives.