By Sister Maureen Mulcrone
“O, God, pour out your spirit and renew the face of the earth.”
Reflecting on the feast of Pentecost and the outpouring of the Spirit promised by Jesus inspires me to pray in two ways: in gratitude for gifts poured out on me, and in petition for the insight to help create a world renewed in God’s image.
It hasn’t been an easy year for anyone. In September 2020, I moved my 100-year-old mother from McAuley Center in Farmington Hills, Michigan, to an assisted living facility. On November 1, a staff member there tested positive for COVID-19, which ended face-to-face visiting for months. I felt solidarity with all those throughout the world who mourned their separation from loved ones. My mother, at least, had shelter, food, health care and interaction with some of the Sisters of Mercy she had lived with at McAuley Center. I was consoled knowing that my sisters would watch out for my mother and surround her with love—and they have.
Shortly before Thanksgiving, I tested positive for COVID-19, a major complication in my own plans to move from McAuley Center, which was being sold by Mercy. But I, too, had access to health care, a place to live, food to eat—sometimes without even having to prepare it—and sisters who suffered with, prayed with and encouraged one another each day.
A February biopsy revealed a recurrence of melanoma on my face—and immediate promises from friends to pray and help in whatever way they could. Surgery in April evoked the same generosity: promises to continue prayers and assistance through reconstructive surgery.
The point of this litany is not to focus on my challenges but to recount the ways in which I felt the presence of the Spirit through the Christian community’s support. On the day of surgery, I felt physically buoyant, knowing I was surrounded by prayers. In the following weeks, I felt a kinship with the “widows” in the Acts of the Apostles who were cared for by that early community; I rejoiced that the same Spirit surrounded me two millennia later. Despite the genuine pain of separations, illnesses and sorrows, I felt I had to pray, in the words of Psalm 116, “How can I thank my God for all the good done to me?”
As we have seen very clearly during the pandemic, not everyone is so fortunate. “The pandemic,” wrote Olga Khazan in an article in the New York Times on April 11 (“You Can Be a Different Person After the Pandemic”), “has laid bare the frightening inequality of American life, and it has caused some people—such as single parents and essential workers—to carry a crushing weight.” Khazan’s statement might also be applied to the disparities within other countries and between countries: Who could afford to leave a country/city/area with soaring COVID-19 rates, and who was left to suffer in place? Who was able to jump the line to a vaccination, and who tried in vain to gain access? Who has prospered financially—sometimes exponentially—and who still waits in line for donated groceries to feed their families? Who experiences the privilege of being white, and who still suffers the indignities of racism? Who has friends to blunt the edge of need or despair, and who suffers alone?
We live at a tipping point. Now, more than ever, is the time to pray, hope and act to eradicate the effects of hundreds of years of oppression towards indigenous persons and people of color; to reverse the desecration of the planet; to dismantle the structural inequities that keep people poor, disenfranchised and alienated.
By ourselves we may not be able to accomplish this, but with God’s Spirit, there is hope. The outpouring of the Spirit is like pouring milk from a gallon jug. The very physics of getting that first drop over the lip of the opening creates not a dribble, but a surge of liquid. When God’s Spirit is poured out, it is not a trickle but a torrent, a Niagara or an Iguazu Falls of grace and love.
This is the time to pray again with hope and commitment, “O, God, pour out your Spirit and renew the face of the earth.”