“Breathe on me, Breath of God, fill me with life anew…” One of my favorites, this hymn perfectly articulates the meaning of today’s feast, Pentecost. God sends the Holy Spirit to the apostles and to the Church to breathe life, his life, in them so they can continue Christ’s saving mission.
The name Holy Spirit originates from the Hebrew word, “ruah,” which means breath or spirit. Obviously, the word connotes life and its principle. Thus, we read from the Bible about “the Spirit of God hovering over the waters” that started the work of creation. (Gen 1:2) Reading on, “God formed a man from dust and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” (Gen 2:7) Throughout the Scripture, the Holy Spirit is portrayed in many images (wind, breath, dove, oil, fire) all expressing a newness of life that the Spirit brings.
We see this in the first reading where the apostles, gathered in a room together with the community, were full of fear and lacking of courage to fulfill the mission left by the Lord “to go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel.” But as soon as “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, they began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.” In the responsorial psalm, the psalmist asks God to send his Spirit so that life may return to the earth (renew the face of the earth).
Likewise, we see in the gospel the same transformation undergone by the apostles from a state of paralysis due to fear to an outburst of rejoicing, when the risen Lord appeared and breathed on them, “Receive the Holy Spirit”.
“Breathe on me, Breath of God…” What does this mean? It means to be filled with life that comes from God. Ironically, the present condition of the world, originally created by the Spirit, has ceased to be life-giving. The air we breathe meant to give and sustain life has become toxic. The world has become so polluted and contaminated that we need to wear a face mask for fear that our breathing will bring death to ourselves and to others.
This dismal state of our physical life is symptomatic of a deeper malady in our spiritual life. More than ever, we need the Breath of God to renew his life in us. We need the Spirit of Truth in an era of fake news, trolling and conspiracy theories, when truth is de-constructed and misappropriated by anyone, particularly by those who hold the media and communications. Pope Benedict XVI speaks of the “tyranny of moral relativism.” We need the Spirit of Love in a time of endless wars and persecution to bring us all, children of God, to healing, forgiveness, unity and peace. Can this be done?
The apostles did it on Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was poured on them. So too can we, “because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.” (Rm 5:5)
We often say that Pentecost is the birthday of the Church. I don’t know if this celebration has any impact on you, like your own birthday or your mother’s. It is significant only if the Church is real to you, and not just some abstract theological concept.
I have been privileged to experience the profound ecclesial sense of the diocese of Kabankalan. For them the Church is real. Perhaps, it is because they have experienced the Church as a mother during the difficult times of martial law and the Operation Thunderbolt. Caught in between the conflict of the military and the NPA, they had nowhere else to go except to the Church who provided them food, protection, care for their sick and burial for their dead.
The Church is a Mother, who gives us Jesus, our Life, and sustains this life with the Word and the sacraments. Let us heed the appeal of Pope Francis to us, her children. “Our Mother [the Church] is Holy, but we her children are sinners. And because of our sins, the Great Accuser always takes advantage… At this moment he is accusing us strongly with continuous accusations to soil the Church…And this is why it is time to defend the Mother; and the Mother is defended from the Great Accuser with prayer and penance.”
On the occasion of the birthday of Our Mother, the Church, let us pledge to love and defend her always. “The Church is an old woman with many wrinkles and furrows. But she is my mother, and no one strikes my mother.” (Karl Rahner)
Happy Pentecost Day! Happy Birthday to us all!*