Ecumenical Prayer Service,
Pentecost Sunday (12 June) 2011
Reflection on Pentecost
My dear friends,
Try to picture the courtyard of a prison. The time is dawn. A prisoner is led out to be shot: he is a priest who has been sentenced to death because he has opposed the Portugese policy of slave-trade in the country’s colony. He stands against an outer wall facing seven members of the firing squad, all of them his own countrymen. Before the officer ties the blindfold he asks the prisoner for the traditional last request. The reply comes as a surprise: the man about to die wants to play his flute for the last time.
The firing squad is stood at ease as they wait for the prisoner to play. When he does, the prison compound is filled with music that sounds all the more beautiful in this strange setting. The officer is worried because the more the music plays the more absurd his task appears to be. He orders the prisoner to stop playing, ties his blindfold and gives his soldiers the command to fire. The priest dies instantly. But the music lingers on to puzzle his executioners. In the face of certain death where does the music come from?
When people face suffering and persecution hope is often the first casualty. Hope in the face of violent death is deeply puzzling to many people – particularly to those who aspire to kill not only the believers but what they believe in. What kind of hope is it that enables those who suffer to play music in the face of death? In the death of the martyr, the persecutor and the onlooker are always questioned and challenged by the hope that sees through death.
During the years of his public ministry, Jesus ate and drank in the company of the apostles. They had been chosen to continue his ministry when his earthly time with them came to an end. They had listened to and absorbed as best as possible his message. They had watched him cure all kinds of illness, offer forgiveness to all manner of sinner and show them a new way of life. They had been given many directions and much assurance that they were not going to be left on their own.
Walter Ciszek was a priest who spent 23 years in Russia. He spent five of these years in the dreaded Lubyanka prison in Moscow, and ten in a harsh Siberian labour camp. He was finally released from Russia in 1963, in exchange for two soviet spies held in the U.S.A. He died in 1984 at the age of 84. After his release, he wrote a book in which he tried to answer the question ‘how did you manage to survive in Russia?’ He says “I was able to endure the inhuman conditions in which I found myself because of the presence of God. I never lost my faith that God was with me even in the worst of circumstances”.
Jesus does not leave his disciples behind him in a hopeless situation. He promises them the Spirit, the Advocate, who will be with them forever. During the time of Jesus’ passion many of the disciples found it difficult to be faithful and stay the pace.
With the help of the Spirit, they can now face the future with a power that is much larger than themselves. That power is the Spirit, the gift of God himself. The Spirit of God will be in the disciples. The persecutors and onlookers will recognise the presence of the Spirit when they see the courage and hope of the disciples in remaining strong and faithful in witness. Without that Spirit there would be no music to puzzle the firing squad. It is the same Spirit which is given to all who love Jesus. It is offered to each of us in our own struggle with faith. With the Spirit in us, all believers have the potential to amaze people with the hope to which they can witness.
Jesus promised to be with his disciples always, right to the end of time. Returned to the Father, united with God, he is present wherever God is present and that is everywhere. The events of Pentecost were to help the early Christians to come to an understanding that God was still with them, if not in the same way as before. In truth he was relying on them, and now on us, to make sure that the Gospel was lived and preached.
My dear pilgrims, the disciples, after the Ascension of Jesus, went to the upper room to get some space and time to reflect, pray and support one another. You have come to Devenish Island and you have many and varied starting points, circumstances of journey and goals. You share with the disciples a strong, and at times challenged, belief in God and his gift of his Son to the world and his presence to us in the Holy Spirit. When we return like the disciples to our daily lives and responsibilities, we will try to become the body of Christ. Through the power of the Spirit he has sent we will try to make him available with his loving forgiveness to the whole world. We all make up the body of Christ, and as members of this body we all have our own graced opportunities to help to make disciples, bring people to faith and walk with them on their baptismal journey. Christ calls us to do this and we know example is the best way of teaching. We need not be fearful but trusting – Christ promises to be with us to the end of time. We can be people of faith, of hope and of charity.
+Liam S. MacDaid
Bishop of Clogher
12 June 2011