Come Holy Spirit Come, We Are Gathered in One Place on Facebook and Blogs

A Reflection on the readings for Pentecost.

A long time ago I heard a homily on Pentecost that has never left me… The priest said these words and whatever else he said has evaporated in my mind, but not the main point of his message.

“Easter makes me not afraid to die; Pentecost makes me not afraid to live.”

He spoke these words as my faith was being renewed and as I tentatively returned to the Catholic church. They really stuck and have lived on in my heart. I wish I could even remember his name, he was a visiting priest, but no, that is gone too.

I’ve spent a lot of time since then, about 20 years ago, trying not to be afraid to die or live, but have only made limited progress on both. This I know, the more deeply I enter into the life of faith and the more intimately that I become part of the unity of the Body that being Church calls us to, the more those words have helped me.

Are you on Facebook? So many people are – astounding numbers of people. It is quite remarkable to watch. A big part of my own ministerial life is lived online. There are many conversations about whether this is “good” or “bad.” Sadly, I hear more about the “bad” but that just returns me to the not being afraid part.

One of the great things about not being afraid to “live” online would be the many chances for evangelizing and being evangelized, the many opportunities for interaction in the name of Christ and a constant demand for the presence of the Holy Spirit to guide our ways.

“Living” online, especially in matters of faith,  came to mind as I read and prayed with the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles.

When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled,
they were all in one place together.

We are not all physically “in one place together” but when we gather at a blog or participate in a Facebook conversation, we actually are together. If it is a faith post, then we are hopefully there in the name of Christ.  

And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit
and began to speak in different tongues,
as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim

Well we are certainly all out there, speaking in what would seem “different tongues.”  In the past week alone, I have participated in several conversation threads on Facebook and each one has left me, and no doubt others, frustrated. We were all talking about somewhat the same thing… why couldn’t we understand each other?

What we hear described in that reading is the rush of the Holy Spirit, coming to enable each one to hear, no matter what the language. Once again, I am grateful for our Roman Catholic imperative to not interpret Scripture literally. This reading was not some early iteration of BabelFish or Google translate, but rather the Spirit coming to unify the many voices.

Oh please Holy Spirit, come to Facebook, please! Enlighten us, open us up, give us wisdom, give us charity, give understanding please!

For those of us who do profess our faith in Christ Jesus, we are called to literally “re-member” the Body of Christ. In doing so we must find ways to speak and be heard in One Voice. That is another gift of our Church, we are many members of One Body – not each parish unto itself, but part of a much larger liturgical whole.

Also it is our mission as Christians to unify (unify, not wrestle to the ground in dominating submission) God’s people as one in Christ. So this would really required that whole “understanding the many voices” part of Pentecost.

So as I return to my Facebook and blogging “mission” I will once again, God knows I start anew each day, to doing so taking the words of another Catholic with me. About a month ago, Catholic writer and blogger, Elizabeth Scalia (aka The Anchoress) was in Rome at the first ever Vatican Bloggers Meetup. She spoke about and wrote about the need to be present online “with clarity and charity.” 

Doing so is very difficult and I know that I struggle with it all the time. As I said, just in the past week alone, I was in several online discussions that turned intense, one into a skirmish of sorts. And one of them was with Elizabeth Scalia herself; we descend into these things more often than I care to admit and I am the instigator of sorts; going to her FB page or blog and saying something that is not necessarily in sync with her or her readers.  However I really want to understand what they are saying and I can only hope and pray that they understand me.

It has been a marginally successful effort, but we press on in faith. At least Elizabeth and I do!

Does this mean that we fold up our tents and go home? No. It means that we are called to what that same Elizabeth spoke of… interacting with clarity and charity. That is what we are called to as Catholics, Christians, all followers of Christ. And to do so means to wait in hope for, listen to and cooperate with the great Holy Spirit, whose arrival comes to us at Pentecost.

So do not be afraid to die, our hope is in resurrection. But do not be afraid to live, our hope is in the restoration of The Body of Christ.


Easter Reflections – June 2, 2011, Ascension Thursday – Why Are You Standing There Looking At The Sky?

Why are you standing there looking at the sky?

Jesus has ascended to heaven and if all we can do is look at the sky, we might be in trouble.

It is important to be aware of Jesus, but it seems, like the disciples themselves, we want to stand there, heads up, eyes fixed upon the great blue and beyond of the sky. Now I am willing to give the disciples some slack, can you imagine standing there and seeing this? However, not unlike the Resurrection, the instruction seems clear… He is not here. The angelic messengers are there to remind us to get up and go, there are things to be done in Jesus’ name.

It also seems that we are not to be focused on when Jesus will be back or how, but to live out the promise that being baptized in the Holy Spirit holds for us. Pentecost is a week from Sunday, they day we celebrate that baptism of fire and wisdom.These days in between Ascension and Pentecost are important ones, as we pray for the coming of that wisdom and our willingness to receive it.

The other day I read this post from Richard Rohr and it really struck me. He wrote,  “Prayer happened today—and I was there!”  I think that we are reminded in words such as those, not to just stand there and stare upwards but to be present and engage.

Jesus has ascended and we are called to show up in prayer and hope. We can’t just look at the sky! In living today’s Gospel we see that God invites us more deeply into the dynamism of Jesus’ transforming work. We need to “be there” when these things happen and as Jesus tells us “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations…”

We don’t do this by craning our necks at the sky or by forcing people to follow Jesus. Transformation happens when we live as Christ in the world and the healing, saving, power of Jesus is made real.

In order to be disciples we must show up, have a look up as needed and then be there to show up for and live the prayer that is our mission. The mission is to unify and to heal, to restore the very Body of Christ.

I know I’d rather look up at the sky, but it seems we must do otherwise.

A Sunday Reflection

Today is the Fifth Sunday of Easter; we had 18 children making First Eucharist at the 4pm Mass on Saturday here at St. Edward the Confessor, Clifton Park. It was really beautiful to behold!

A number of things came to me as I read and studied the readings for today. In the First Reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we hear this:

As the number of disciples continued to grow,
the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews
because their widows
were being neglected in the daily distribution.

What a reminder that the Acts of the Apostles is such a rich treasure of church history. It is so easy to get lost in imagining a church like our own – well except for electricity and all! No – in all seriousness, we must constantly remind ourselves that the early church was so very different from what we live today. 

First of all, this reading is clear in reminding us that this early church was not separate, but part of Judaism! Do we really allow ourselves to consider that fully?  And as the followers of Jesus spread, the Hellenists, or those of Greek culture, became part of this new movement that was becoming a church.

Another thing that comes to mind is that the ministry of deacon, which is addressed in the reading, is a ministry of outward facing service.

In the second reading, a most beautiful one from St. Peter, we hear these beautiful words…

Come to him, a living stone, rejected by human beings
but chosen and precious in the sight of God,
and, like living stones,
let yourselves be built into a spiritual house
to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices
acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

We are the living stones… the church is not a building but a people. This people – that would be us – become church, we are church. We are living stones! We are also reminded that the stone that was rejected, that would be Jesus Christ, became the cornerstone.

Then our Gospel, our beautiful Gospel from John:

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Do not let your hearts be troubled.
You have faith in God; have faith also in me.
In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.
If there were not,
would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?

I don’t know about you, but when I read and heard this I thought about the news that dominated the world for days… The prediction that said that the world would end on May 21, 2011 at 6pm.

Oh I could write page upon page about this sad event. The original prediction by Harold Camping, which said the world would end in 1994, only impacted a small number of his followers. When it did not come, he recalculated and came up with May 21. Only this time, he had the power of the internet and all other media that had this thing going and going.

If you watched WNYT Newschannel 13 on Friday, you may have seen reporter Abigail Bleck presenting this apocalypse story. (In full disclosure, my husband Mark Szpylczyn works at Newschannel 13, but he did not work on this story.) Abigail interviewed Fr. Bob Longobucco, pastor of St. Helen’s in Niskayuna. Father Bob said, among other things:

Like Harold Camping, all Christians are waiting for the second coming of Jesus. But “Father Bob” suggests it won’t happen like Camping predicts.

“When He came the first time He came in love and generosity. I can’t believe He’s coming differently the second time.”

Jesus came in love and generosity. Amen! And why would that be different this time? Amen! 

So, getting back to the Gospel, isn’t that what Jesus is talking about now? Look at what Jesus said – do not be troubled or afraid! There are many dwelling places!

Jesus speaks to us with love, in hope and filled with generosity and mercy.

As I look back over these readings and consider the message of this Sunday I am heartened and grateful. Serve others. Be Church. Have hope.

And what could be better than all of that? 

***A serious prayer request** Please do pray for the followers of Harold Camping. Many, many people took him seriously and stopped working, spent money to help spread the word about 5/22, and more. They must be crushed and if not, they are still potentially financially ruined. Just read about the Carson family chronicled, among others, in this article

I did a lot of online joking about this event, but when I read that, I realized that it is not always funny. My friend Michael Dresbach, an Episcopal priest living in Panama also had some very worthwhile reflections to read along these lines. He blogs as Padre Mickey and you can read him here.

Easter Reflections – Faith Happens In Community Wednesday April 27, 2011 by Fran Rossi Szpylczyn

Faith Happens in Community – A Reflection for April 27

Four years ago today, I walked into St. Edward the Confessor and my life changed forever. Mark and I were going to be married here at the church the next day. However, on Friday the 27th, I made a split second decision to go to daily mass. Even if I had not done that, my life would have changed on the 28th, but this decision set other things in motion.

In a rare moment, I was cooperating with grace!

During the homily Father Pat Butler asked a question and me being me, I decided to boldly answer it. A brief discussion occurred and as a result I was made known to the community gathered for liturgy. After mass some of the women wanted to talk to me and this also opened the door for me to get to know Father Pat.

Which, if you read this blog at all – has resulted in many things.

This was to end a long cycle of silent, anonymous church attendance and to create a life for Mark, Erica and me that we could not have imagined.

So what on earth does that have to do with today’s readings?

Faith happens in community.

Today’s Gospel from Luke is the story of Emmaus. While many of us know it well, it bears some repeating, as the Gospel always does.  The two disciples are walking along the road when a stranger starts to talk to them. This stranger seems to not know what had just happened, so the two disciples start to tell him the story. They end up inviting him to eat with them and that is when it is revealed in the breaking of the bread… He is Jesus the Risen Lord!

The two were walking away from their community, even if unintentionally. They seem to have given up and are still smarting since they thought that Jesus was “the one.” Well as it turns out, Jesus is of course “the One!”

It is in the meal, it is in community that Jesus is found and our faith comes alive.

That is what happened to me 4 years ago as I was preparing to marry and move to a community where I knew my soon-to-be husband and step-daughter and no one else. I was not walking away dejectedly – no not at all. But I was walking alone and about to become part of a family. And I was committed to church but was I really committed to community?

Recent history had seen me separate from a long standing group of close friends and I had sat silently in pews of Catholic churches that I faithfully attended but never became a part of. My belief and faith were strong enough – but had not fully blossomed.

To encounter Jesus is not just the sustenance of silent, contemplative prayer – although that is a part of prayer – but to encounter Jesus is to be in community. The sacramental nature of the Catholic church is lived out in encounter and grace is mediated in sacrament. This ultimately means that in bread and wine and one another, through Big S and small s sacraments, we encounter Christ.

That is why (no offense intended to those who identify as such – which I once did, a long time ago), being “SBNR” doesn’t make sense to me. Even my being Roman Catholic but doing so in a completely isolated way does not really make sense.

It is not until we are part of community – with all the gifts and burdens that community brings – that our faith can be deepened. Perhaps this means another community besides the Roman Catholic church, but ultimately it is only through and with one another that we truly can meet the God who walks with us as the Christ.

Walk with Christ, come to the table, engage and be a part of the community. That is the message of Emmaus that I experience and that is the ever present invitation from our God who cannot be understood, but experienced.