By Sister Peg Sullivan
Have you ever thought about what it must have been like to be present on that first Pentecost? The apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit when they had the tongues of fire come to rest on them and immediately began to proclaim what Jesus had taught them. These were the same people who had cowered in fear just a short time before and who were now filled with a courage beyond themselves. And what about the people from various lands who heard them speaking in their own tongues? How did they feel? They couldn’t talk to one another because of their varied languages but they could understand these strange men speaking to them of God. Wasn’t that odd?
Reflecting on this first Pentecost, I think that we might be much like both these groupings of people at different times in our lives and ministries. I know I am. Relying on the unconditional love we know God has for us, we may sometimes have the courage to speak out against injustices or on behalf of those in need. At other times our courage may wane and we say, “Let someone else do it” or “I won’t make a difference.”
We also struggle in our personal, communal and ministerial lives to truly understand one another and those with whom and to whom we minister. We can acknowledge differences in age, background, language and culture, but the challenge is going deeper, from knowledge to true acceptance and understanding. To me, this is part of what we are all living right now as we engage in our Conversation Circles and prepare for gathering as a community at Chapter 2023, and as we strive to truly live and act as one Institute.
In one sense Pentecost was a jumping-off point for the early church. Filled with the Holy Spirit, the disciples went forth from that experience to preach and teach the Good News to people of many backgrounds. They didn’t all have the same gifts—remember the disputes over Jew versus Gentile or who should preach and who should serve the widows? None of these members of the early church had the whole picture or the complete ability to carry Jesus’ message to all people. However their different gifts manifested the same Spirit with the same message of God’s unconditional love and together they were able to carry out their mission to all people. Emboldened by Jesus’ promise that the Holy Spirit would always be with them, together they had the courage to go where they were sent, to reach far beyond their comfort zones, to travel to foreign lands.
In many ways, I think this Pentecost offers us as Mercy a unique jumping-off point to go deeper into our own reflections of where and how we might be sent to carry out Jesus’ message of unconditional love within our current realities. The needs of our hurting world certainly mirror our critical concerns: war is raging in Ukraine; refugees fleeing violence in their own countries wait in dire conditions at the southern border of the United States; thousands, including many women and children, live in poverty without adequate food or shelter; and millions have died of COVID, leaving millions to mourn their deaths. However most of us are not going to establish programs or travel abroad to address these issues. We will continue to carry out our day-to-day ministries, serving those in need we see every day, and we will pray.
But maybe we are also being called to look once again at the gifts we have been given and ask ourselves if we are using them or how we might use them in new ways. Have we gotten too comfortable in how we exercise our gifts? Might we, like the disciples, be called beyond our own comfort zones? As we prepare for Chapter, how can we recognize and bring our varied gifts together to, in the words of the Chapter 2023 theme, Explore Mercy Anew?