Saturday, May 23, 2015

Letting go of our fears and opening doors wide

The piece below is the 'Thinking Anew' column in today's Irish Times

Michael Commane
A neighbour of mine once said that what we worry about or what causes us anxiety seldom if ever happens. Wise words. We can spend so much of our time worrying about issues. More than often they don't happen and then if they do we manage to cope. The world does not come to an end. At least it hasn't so far.

Tomorrow is Pentecost Sunday one of the most important feasts in the Christian calendar. We are celebrating our belief in the presence of the Holy Spirit in the world. We are reminding ourselves of the presence of God in our midst.

Since Easter Sunday there has been an emphasis on the communitarian aspect of God. Three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit living in perfect communion with each other.

In tomorrow's Gospel (John 20: 19 - 23) we see how the disciples of Jesus locked themselves behind closed doors.

“In the evening of that same day, the first day of the week, the doors were closed in the room where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews.” (20: 19)

Jesus appears to them and greets them: “Peace be with you.” Their immediate response is one of joy. Suddenly the idea of hiding behind closed doors makes no sense. Instead there is an atmosphere of joy and happiness. In this context Jesus tells them that they are to receive the Holy Spirit. Is gaire cabhair Dé ná an doras.

It's a central part of Christian teaching that the Holy Spirit represents the continuation of the life of Jesus in the world in which we live. We believe that through the Holy Spirit the Word of God is alive and vibrant in the world. It is a reassuring, indeed a powerful statement, giving us a confidence that we have the support of God guiding us in the lives we live.

Isn't it interesting that those, who were closest to Jesus, those who lived their lives with him and worked with him, were afraid when he left them? All they could do was go into a room and close the doors.

Jesus comes into their presence and introduces them to the Holy Spirit. He brings with him a sense of joy, a spirit of courage and excitement. In a world dominated by the Holy Spirit there can never be a sense of fear. It's contrary to everything God stands for to cower behind closed doors.

In all religions there are tensions and different opinions. There will be dogmatists, those who will suggest that they know exactly what God is thinking. Can that really be the way a God, whom we all accept as mystery, 'operates'? Of course there is a teaching authority, there is Scripture and tradition. But there is also the common sense of the wider Christian community. After all, we believe that the Holy Spirit is present in the world. It would seem strange in the extreme if the Holy Spirit limited her/his presence to a tiny minority of human kind. 

So often God's ways are not our ways. And that is so evidently clear in tomorrow's Gospel. The disciples, people like you and me, get it wrong and to counteract their fear they close the doors. 

They are afraid of the Jews. Does Jesus ever talk about closing doors? No, he disseminates an atmosphere of joy and openness.

The three persons  of God are a powerful sign of the importance of the community aspect of Christianity. And it is in that context, people working together, people in honesty and trust, respecting one another,  that the Holy Spirit thrives.

The feast of Pentecost is about the presence of God being alive and vibrant in the community.

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