It is a mysterious and wonderful thing when spring skies lift spirits and the earth bursts with vibrant colors. And so it is with Pentecost. After all the low and high tides of the Easter season, there is the mysterious and wonderful burst of Pentecost. Childhood versions of that were sketchy and yet a promise so poorly understood. Ironically, it was a cloistered contemplative whose very presence opened an all new perspective on what both mystery and presence mean. The promise of Pentecost is the vibrant color of spring in the context of ordinary human lives. It is the forever that characterizes the best of what it is to be human in relationship to God.

“I may not always be with you, but I will never leave you”, a friend said. I was puzzled when it was said but hardly concerned. Just days later, she was missing. And then she was discovered: lifeless in her own bed still cradling the mystery book she had been reading. She had known what I never anticipated, and in the following months, it became clear that her presence would live on. She had spoken often about what she would gift to others of her possessions, what could be passed on, what she planned on. It was one of the great privileges of my life that I was able to see to those wishes. And trying to comprehend all the mystery of it was what lead to the conversation with the cloistered contemplative.

For her, there was no doubt that mystery is simply part of life and the gift of the Spirit. For her, the presence of the Spirit was a given, a reality of living and life. The Spirit, for her, was breathing in others, speaking from the touch of nature and the brilliance of a sky. The Spirit was the guide, and hers was to find and trust the reality of the presence of God in so many things. She skillfully exposed a dimension of spiritual life that had gone unnoticed: goodness and Godness are nestled together in the Spirit. For the attentive, there is that endless assurance of unfathomable love and presence, the comfort of constancy in spite of and because of the flawed human self. For her, the presence of the Spirit in the world was better than pervasive. And the Spirit was the ultimate gift of the Father and Son, the unifier. It was, she sometimes shared, the gift of her decades behind the fieldstone walls and within the monastery embedded in the world. It was as if the Spirit animated her words, actions, and birthed her faith. The Spirit was the promise of resurrection come alive through days and decades, centuries and millenniums.

This Pentecost, the thrill of that brightness comes from the readings and the Gospel. The perception of oneness, the ability to identify similarities among human beings, is a vision given by the Spirit. The hope of that, the ability to deal with the fears and griefs so much a part of the ebb and flow of human life, rest on the trust that there is a patient, omnipresent Spirit waiting and welcoming. And best of all, the flame of the Spirit is vividly visible, like the fullness of spring. 

Becoming human

While children in Sudan are starving and migrants are being bused to sanctuary cities, while Bakhmut is falling and the G7 leaders meet at Hiroshima, while China watches Taiwan and Putin eyes Ukraine, the free world revels in memes and streaming, in the stuff of wealth and its complaints, in violence in language and action. And so it is easy to forget that the power of good is still alive and is reborn, rekindled, in us over and again. And with each new opening, we are invited to consider the richness of the Universe we live in and our roles and responsibilities in that.

We carve life from the fabric of ordinary days, and we make it matter. Today is an invitation to consider how we make that happen, how we chose to live. As a Christian, listening has often generated feelings of rejection, of anger and frustration at the rampant nature of stereotypes and the politicization of faith. It is in the quiet that is so much a part of so many cultural and religious traditions that the sense of suffering becomes so obvious. Clearly, the differences among us have obscured the sameness, even enflaming anger and fueling cruelties. The threats to identity on all sides have brutalized the perception of the whole of who we are: human beings, creatures like the birds of the air and the fish in the sea. We have allowed respect for self and one another to exist on mere gasps of air rather than celebrate full fledged recognition.

Today is different; today is an invitation to go beyond all that and embrace the most fundamental of realities. Today, in that awkward space between Ascension Thursday and Pentecost Sunday, we are reminded what it is to be confused, feel alone and forgotten. In other words, what it is to feel threatened emotionally and socially. Once again, Scripture teaches us how to be human in a world where that has become somewhat challenging. There is the direction to pray; notably, it is mentioned as a group activity. There is the challenge to do the right thing in all circumstances and then there is the Gospel with the premise that here in this world, we belong. Belonging to one another cascades with promise and potential, with strength for meeting the difficulties and dichotomies evolving every day.

The passages all allude to the reality that being human is hard work: there are ups and downs, fears and anxieties. But there are also ways to cope with those. Prayer can be one of those very practical tools. Thinking about how the world around us is perceived and constructed and what part we play in all that is a valid and necessary part of our humanity. Doing it together, conscious of self and others, is a critical aspect of what it means to be human. We can begin to see the similarities alive beneath all of the differences. Thousands of years ago, it was clear that humans can help one another become better human beings. And today, amid the confusion and the chaos, it is still clear.


Yesterday, in the glow of Adirondack spring, I drove through windy mountain roads to a tiny cemetery tucked behind two imposing structures. But there were uniformed firefighters gathered and a huge American flag draped from the ladder truck. And in truth, it was not only the windy road that brought us together, but the strange quirks and turns of all our lives. But we stood, such as we were, one group, flaws and foibles, nevertheless together. There is a strength and a continuity in that that defies the lesser things we are made of, that transcends the brokenness and cruelties and reminds us of something more, that we are something more.

Our pathways are never easy. Everyday we confront choice and challenge, and there are remarkable losses and incredible gains. But the truth is that something deeper than that really matters: love and truth. Shifting towards Ascension Thursday, the readings describe the fervor and joy of miracles and then the Spirit of Truth. The very words give pause. Truth is a building block in any relationship. The gift of truth is the grief of admitting wrong, the clarity of seeing the right, the courage to discern the difference and abide in that space where all pathways lead to Truth. The promise made is not capricious: there is an intensity, a strength. “…You know him, because he remains with you, and will be in you.”

There is a tender grace in all that, an acknowledgment of both flaws and foibles, and an acceptance of the limits of the human condition tempered with the possibilities of great things to come. For us, it is left to navigating each step each day. But we are not alone; these words are the promise that there is more than we suspect in life and maybe more than we are capable of imagining. Our lives are full of twists and turns, but at the core of it all is the truth that there is more than what we know, what we imagine. Choosing to accept and to believe means embracing the Truth. That is never easy: it demands stepping away from illusions, perceptions and deceptions. It means believing in something far greater than self. It is the about the courage to live your truth, to be faithful to the calling that you hear. And that requires a lot of listening….to self, to others, to the world we live in.

An old friend, philosophizing about Life’s intricacies, noted that the building blocks of a relationship as being truth and honesty, then respect, and finally love. It sounded simple, sincere, and it made me think about the critical nature of truths, what we wish to impart to another, what to believe of what is imparted to us. Either way, the power of truth in our lives is undeniable and sometimes so very elusive. The chance to live it is there, though, ours for the taking and truthfully, it is worth climbing the mountain to discover the view.


They were seated at a corner table, three former colleagues, each with varied experiences of Catholic education, each from a different state, each at a different stage of life. The conversation was not the often heard lament about the institutional church, though. Instead, it was about faith for children and grandchildren, how faith embraces doubt and requires reflection, how faith impacts individual lives. Such a conversation slips past the superficial realities and looks deeply at meaning and purpose, potential and promise for the future. It floated among them, diverging and converging at points. Most importantly, every pebble of conversation managed to frame fears while empowering possibilities.

In their lifetimes and careers, there has been a radical shift in social norms and institutions, an outright rejection of any authoritarian structures. Navigating the conversation, they recognized the importance of personal faith, the benefits of community and the critical nature of leadership. Where identity was once linked closely to faith and personal belief, it has broadened in phases unimaginable at the start of each of those decades-long careers. They wondered if faith had succumbed to the numbness of science, the wrestle of social media and the rising tide of stigma. They wondered if the embrace of the labels of mental illness and anxieties and the pharmaceutical treatment of these had been a factor. They weighed what it means to be different in a world that simultaneously promotes individuality and conformity.

For a few moments, they sat with the irony of the Surgeon General’s report on the epidemic of loneliness and the importance of belonging to communities like churches. Then they pushed into the reality of new communities that spring up online, in gaming, in gyms and in schools. Are these the communities of connection, of faith and purpose of the future? And they wondered at the loss of priests, the dissolution of religious communities of women and men. And they witnessed to the seeds of the new church, the young men daring to commit their lives and purpose to the Catholic community, energetically striving to reach out to jaded community members; organizations like Dynamic Catholic stretching into the lives of ordinary Catholics, and the way lay women and men are seeking, somehow, to serve. In each case, faith–that deep, abiding conviction that there is something far greater than self to consider—becomes the significant factor.

It is, they concluded, faith that truly matters, that sense of being loved by a generous God who both created humanity and accepts, embraces, the heart and the whole of each person. Faith does not exclude but embraces the peculiarities of humanity, our own and everyone else’s as well. Faith is what John’s Gospel calls for, seeing and believing and living. Faith is what the readings call for: Peter, becoming the cornerstone. The truth is that’ each of us is part of the greater whole, a stone connected to the cornerstone with purpose and meaning. Faith enables that step towards the greater whole, the acknowledgment of need for one another within the confidence that each of us is part of the Mystery. Each of us brings the Presence of God to the next. Each of us is so much more than we can imagine; each of us is a stone, a slender piece of that greater whole.

In this time of transition, they concluded, more could be happening than meets the eye. Having faith in the past and knowing the gift of the present, they parted with the agreement to revisit in the future, just a stone’s throw away.