9 June is Pentecost Sunday
When searching for words that best described the ideal qualities of its work and of the people who form it, Jesuit Social Services chose Welcoming, Discerning and Courageous. For all our failures, they are the gifts we would like to have and to be recognised by.
Those words, too, could also be used to sum up the work of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The story began with a group of people huddled together in an upstairs room. Though they knew that Jesus has risen they were still afraid of being taken and killed as he was. They remembered how they had run away when he was arrested and put on trial. They were not courageous. They were also clinging to their own company, keeping the doors locked and suspicious of strangers. Their fear made them unwelcoming. Nor did they have any plans for the future, any large hopes, any search for possibilities for their group or their society. Their eyes were fixed on surviving, not on discerning where God might be leading them.
Then, in Luke’s story in the Acts of the Apostles, the Holy Spirit came upon them, like a wind that ruffled their hair, cleared the stale air and made them aware of the world outside the room. They went out into the streets and began to speak of Jesus, welcoming all who came to listen without caring whether they were open-minded or spies sent to inform on them. They became courageous, or better, were given the gift of courage.
When they spoke, they were heard and understood by people who had come to Jerusalem from foreign parts. Language did not separate people but brought them together. They spoke of Jesus in an attractive way within a broad vision that related his death and resurrection to the tradition they shared with their hearers and made sense of the recent events in Jerusalem. They had the gift of discernment, of reflecting on their situation and on their world, and finding how to relate to it. After Pentecost they welcomed people into their company, shared their belongings, preached boldly despite the opposition they faced, and reflected on how best to spread the word of Jesus. They were convinced that their lives, their faith their energy were the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Of course, defining ourselves as welcoming, discerning and courageous does not mean that we automatically become so. Nor does taking courses on what our mission entails mean that we fulfil our mission. The story of Pentecost with its transformation of people from fearful and inert to bold, reflective and hospitable, emphasises that enthusiasm, courage and wisdom are gifts of God. We can desire them and encourage them, but once we assume that we live out of them we shall find ourselves acting in contrary ways. When we convince ourselves that we totally lack them, however, we shall surprise ourselves with our generosity.
Fr Andrew Hamilton SJ writes for Jesuit Communications and Jesuit Social Services.