Experience Making a Difference

Experience Making a Difference

Pentecost during Pandemic:  A Reflection on Invitations and Challenges – Kathy Coffey-Guenther, Ph.D

by | May 27, 2020

While our Old and New Testament readings can invite our own musings and imaginings of invasions by locusts, blight, and varying plagues, I doubt that many of us ever imagined that we would actually be part of this global reality in contemporary times.  And as our lives are turned upside down and inside out, as we worry and grieve over loved ones and lost freedoms both, we move through the entirety of our Easter days in the Church.

Fr. Ron Rohlheiser OMI, in his reflection for Pentecost Sunday entitled New Life, New Spirit (Give us this Day, May 2020) suggests that “Pentecost is part of a cycle of life that has five moments:  Good Friday, Easter, the Forty Days, Ascension, and Pentecost.”  Fr. Rohlheiser suggests that each of these moments, and lived movements in our own lives, teach and contribute to our way moving forward to the next moment and movement in our lives and growth as Christians.

Through this Eastertide season, the disciples, and us as contemporary disciples of Christ, are continually invited to live the lessons that Jesus taught during his life on earth, and in his death and rising to new life with God.  Jesus teaches us over and over that life is dynamic and changing and that death is a part of that dynamic change.  Jesus teaches that  our lives are not to be attached, at our foundational root, to maintaining and protecting the status quo for ourselves as we are today, but rather to accept, again and again, that life changes through loss and birth, through doors closing and new windows opening, through the endings of some precious relationships and the beginning potentials found in new relationships, through the breaking of our hearts and hopes, and the healing of our same hearts and hopes.  In fact, Jesus teaches us that even in death, we will rise to new life, body and soul.

The only consistent anchor that Jesus teaches about through all of this change and letting go and opening to new life with new meanings and invitations is love, and in particular, love in the service of others… the kind of love that Jesus demonstrated for his disciples, for the people in towns and farmlands on the way, from the people who were the most esteemed to the people who were most marginalized and hated… Jesus taught us to love, and to love in the service of others, especially those most in need.

At the last supper, Jesus demonstrated through the first Eucharist and the washing of the disciples’ feet these main lessons of our Christian life going forward.  Jesus taught us that he will always be with us in the sharing of his body in the bread and of his blood in the wine.  He taught us that when we eat of his body, we shall never die, but will continue his work on Earth, this work of loving and serving, this path of letting go of what we have and know so that we can love and follow and serve Jesus and His people more deeply, so that we can serve more presently, and so that we are free to be more available to our last breath in this life.

We all know that there are Saints, both named and unknown, who live this life in faith and breath, in mind and body each and every day.  But for most of us, we struggle.  St. Ignatius often struggled with his own divided heart, that heart that knew the best path to living closely with Christ, and yet struggled to choose the right path again and again.  The seduction of ego, riches, glory, ambition- all of those very human temptations imbued in our culture, serve to distract and pull us from our path to right living with Christ again and again.  And yet, in God’s goodness, we are welcomed back, invited back, called back through life events and the angels and saints in our midst that remind us of our call to love and to serve others, who remind us that loving and serving in love is the only call that matters,  the same call that  Jesus taught the disciples, and continues to teach us today.

Pentecost Sunday, for me, is one of my favorite touchstones each year on my Christian journey.  Pentecost Sunday is a day of wonder and curiosity, a day of accountability and freedom, a day of reckoning and redemption.  Pentecost Sunday reminds me of Jesus’ breath of life upon me- not my neighbor or friend or colleague, but Jesus’ breath on me to assist me in my call to love and serve with Him.  Pentecost Sunday helps free me from the disordered attachments that keep me distracted, selfish and bound, and calls me back as a contemporary disciple of Christ whose only purpose is to love and serve the world, with a preferential option for the poor.

On Pentecost Sunday, I love to use Ignatian contemplation and place myself in the scripture scene.  I begin by looking around me as we gather for the renewal of the Spirit’s call to our hearts and minds, and hands and feet to serve the common good for God’s people.

As I look around, I expect that there will be different voices and dialects, accents, ethnicities, cities and countries of origin.  There will be diversity and richness in how people worship and gather as communities and peoples of faith.  I expect that there will be life-long believers gathered with the newly baptized, the seekers with the broken, limping along in their faith, unsure if they are worthy.

I expect that the community of believers who gather for the refreshment of the Holy Spirit through Pentecost will remind me of those early Christian believers- who arrived from various sects and beliefs, amid varying languages and understandings of this Jesus, now Christ, of this God of punishment now love, of this Holy Spirit, who will act as our counselor and advocate, who will inspire us and give us courage to live our unique call to serve the kingdom of God at this time and season of our life.

As I look around on Pentecost Sunday, I expect to find the messiness amid the imperfect longings and desires of the body of Christ, wanting to serve, trusting that through God’s love, Jesus’ teaching, and the protection and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the impossible can become possible.  That each of us can be redeemed, that each of us can be called with a unique gift and place to serve, that our hearts can be healed and made new, and that the love that anchors us becomes the gift that energizes us.

And so for this Pentecost Sunday, at this time of Pandemic, what we will find?  What individual and collective journeys have we traveled to arrive here?  What have we learned, lost and embraced along the way?  Who do we see standing amongst us now?  Have our hearts been opened to welcoming more and learning more from new and different people in our lives?  Have we met God through new and different worship, prayer and faith practices along the way?  Do we see places that have touched and surprised us in their strength of faith and inspiration?

And mostly, on this Pentecost Sunday, in the middle of the Pandemic, are our hearts open?  Are we open to listening to the counsel and gift of the Holy Spirit?  Are we open to being invited to love and serve these holy days in this global crisis?  Can we let go of our fears and anxieties enough, can we let go of our desires to hang onto that which makes us feel safe, can we reach out in trust to this Spirit that was first breathed upon us by Jesus himself?

As we prepare for this 5th moment in our Easter season, let us prepare our hearts, minds and spirits to receive the love, care and wisdom of this Holy Spirit who comes to and for each one of us.  Let us be open to new callings inspired by the cry of God’s people today, in this time of plague and pandemic, in this time of crisis and uncertainty.  May God help protect us from all anxiety and allow us to serve from love as Jesus taught us during his time on Earth, and still teaches us today through Scripture.

May we breathe in the invitations, the courage, the love, and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit specially this season, and may we serve generously, with love and freedom in Christ.

May we find ourselves on Pentecost Sunday, standing shoulder to shoulder with the body of Christ, inspired by the charism of the Holy Spirit “to go forth and set the world on fire.”

Dr. Kathy Coffey-Guenther currently serves as the Senior Mission and Ignatian Leadership Specialist in University Advancement at Marquette University.  Kathy received a Ph.D. in counseling psychology from Marquette University and a graduate certificate in spiritual direction from the Aquinas Institute of Theology, with a specialty in Ignatian Spirituality. In addition to her former work in clinical practice, Kathy has served in various roles at Marquette University including as the Associate Director of the Faber Center for Ignatian Spirituality, the Director of Ignatian Programs in the Mission office, and as the Associate Vice President for Mission in the Office of Mission and Ministry.  In addition to her work at Marquette,  Kathy continues to serve as a consultant to the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, and to several religious orders and congregations of women religious in the Midwest.       

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