This weekend we celebrate the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples at Pentecost. Coinciding with this great solemnity, Archbishop Vigneron will release his pastoral letter concerning the Archdiocesan Synod, which took place last November. How fitting that the letter on the Synod will be given to the faithful on this feast dedicated to the Holy Spirit, whose influence will certainly be detected in both the deliberations and implementation of the Synod.
Yet, we should not expect that everything will suddenly be “glorious” or that all difficulties will be “fixed” just because the Holy Spirit has been — and is — at work. Think of another primary moment of the Holy Spirit’s presence in the New Testament: His descent on Our Lady after her fiat at the Annunciation, causing Christ’s conception in her womb. While this must have been for Our Lady an incredible moment of grace and encounter with the Lord, it must also have proven to be an occasion for suffering as it surely led others to judge, misunderstand, and even reject her.
So too in the early Church, the apostles and early Christians, filled with the Holy Spirit, received a boldness for preaching the Word and teaching and healing in the name of Jesus Christ, but this courage ended not in visible, earthly glory, but in many tribulations and ultimately in martyrdom. With the presence of the Holy Spirit comes both joy and the suffering that accompanies purification.
Jesus told His apostles that He would send the Holy Spirit, who would “convict the world in regard to sin and righteousness and condemnation” (John 16:8). These are challenging words: the Holy Spirit reveals to us our own sinfulness so that He may give us the grace of conversion. The consolation of the Divine Comforter requires that our normal patterns of life be “shaken up” and purified. While the Holy Spirit does bring order out of the chaos, as in the creation story in Genesis, that order comes only through change and sanctification. Our lives cannot just stay the same in the presence of the Holy Spirit.
But the knowledge of our own need for sanctification and our subsequent conversion, which both result from the Holy Spirit’s presence, ultimately brings us great joy and peace. Once we have been touched by Him, we are transformed forever, and we cannot help but desire that the joy and peace of His presence spread from us to other souls, like a spark catching the whole earth on fire with the purifying love of God.
So as we celebrate the Holy Spirit’s first descent upon the Church and His continuing descent today on our archdiocese, let us look with anticipation and joy toward the great — and perhaps unexpected and surprising — work He is planning to accomplish in and through us.
Sr. Mary Martha Becnel is a member of the Ann Arbor-based Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.