Months ago, an earnest and enraged young journalist was mapping out a piece for a major newspaper. Disaffected and indignant, his goal was to document the collapse of a hypocritical Catholic hierarchy mired in scandal and scourged by its own leadership. We spoke of history, of grass roots faith and new initiatives, and the divergence between faith and fraud. Not a whisper or a word appeared in the published piece. But this week, in a tiny church in a small city knit into the fabric of New England, there was touching evidence of hope and promise within the Catholic community.
The pastor was wrapped in the red chausble of Pentecost, nearly tripping over the stole underneath. He paused in the middle of the sermon to adjust it, joking that the homily wasn’t that great anyway, and then continued with an anecdote about the movement of the Spirit. By his conclusion, he had an appreciative, masked congregation, laughing and praying for the “salvo” punch of Pentecost’s wild winds. After the final blessing, he motioned to his younger, associate pastor standing alone in the back of church. He came up the center aisle, hands shoved deep into his pockets and head bent forward. Genuflecting before the tabernacle, he stepped towards the altar.
At the podium, he paused, and then shared the news. He would be leaving that church, his first assignment as an ordained priest, an assignment he loved. Choking up, he stopped. In the painful awkwardness of silence, someone clapped. And then somone else, and somone else. A wave of applause brought the congregation to its feet. He was one of their own; the support was palpable. The pastor joined, and the deacon, big smiles and then congratulatory hugs. It was a single, simple moment of kindness and empathy wreathed in the light of a community coming together as one. The Spirit was more than evident, and the celebration of Pentecost took on new meaning and depth. As the Apostles bonded in the wild wind, so communities come together today, even now, such as we are.
Pentecost is celebrated in hope, hope that comes to life in the harbor of incredible loss. Just as the arrival of the Spirit provided a revitalizing strength to Apostles diminished by grief and uncertainty, this liturgical moment invites us to the same. The institutional church has been diminished by scandals of every nature, and yet there is a life of faith that recognizes the reality of human nature, limitations and hypocrisies and still pursues something more. The Spirit animated the faith and vision of the Apostles and animates the growth of grass roots communities of Catholics today. Just as the Apostles dared to pause in their uncertainty, to linger there and know the great grace of the Spirit, so we linger in our church waiting. And sometimes, there are those moments of extraordinary connections between and among the most ordinary of human beings. Sometimes, the Spirit slips into the awkward silence and fuels the thunder of applause. Sometimes, we are humbled in the truth that we are not alone and we are loved, loving, and live with the hope of becoming more.
In the same way, the Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness;
for we do not know how to pray as we ought,
but the Spirit himself intercedes with inexpressible groanings.
And the one who searches hearts
knows what is the intention of the Spirit,
because he intercedes for the holy ones
according to God’s will.