ColumnsNaming Grace

Breath: A new Pentecost

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Breath. We don’t think about breath until it’s almost gone. Or until we struggle for breath after exercising. Or gasp for breath after being submerged under water. Or when our breath has been knocked out of us. A friend recently fell and landed in the hospital with eight fractured ribs. Each breath caused severe pain to his broken rack. He would grasp his side to cough or exercise his lungs. Ten days out, he was still panting after a short walk or rising from a chair. After an emergency room visit, the doctor confirmed a collapsed lung. The x-ray showed the left lung flattened, containing not a wisp of oxygen. Doctors drained the fluid around his lung and ordered exercises for expanding his left lung. With limited breath, healing proves hard and slow.

On this Sunday of Pentecost, we read of the power of the Holy Spirit coming upon Jesus’ disciples, breathing new life into them — expanding their vision and giving birth to the church. These “new” men and women were emboldened to proclaim the saving power of Jesus Christ. As baptized Christians, we receive the same living breath of the Holy Spirit. Freed from all fear. Empowered for mission. Bam. Yet how often are we living our faith with only one functioning lung? How much energy and strength do we lack in sharing the good news? How weak and dulled is our witness without the full power of the ­Spirit?

St. John the XXIII called for a “new Pentecost” — a fresh outpouring of the Spirit upon the entire church. He and each subsequent pope stressed the critical need for both lungs to be fully inflated to evangelize a secular world. Ralph Martin, of Renewal Ministries, alerts, “Quite bluntly, it appears that the Popes are crying out: We need God! We need a new Pentecost!” Deacon Keith Fournier writes with urgency in “Come Holy Spirit, the Whole Church Needs a New Pentecost”: “We need to pray for a New Pentecost for the WHOLE Church in this hour!” As Christians, we need the Spirit to blow into us in new and courageous ways. Our hearts cry out, “Come, Holy Spirit, come!”

As parents/grandparents, we usher in a new Pentecost by inviting the Holy Spirit to permeate our homes. We name grace — God’s inspiring presence — by helping our children breathe in the Holy Spirit through prayer and silence. We aid them in understanding the importance of the Spirit for decisions — especially for vocation and mission. We teach our children to stop, take a breath and call upon the Holy Spirit when frightened, confused, angry or agitated. And we give powerful witness to our children by boldly proclaiming Jesus through words, love and service.

Pentecost did not begin and end in the Upper Room. Instead, Pentecost occurs each time our lungs expand with God’s love and exhale God’s grace. Larry Gillick, SJ, of Creighton University, comments: “Jesus is still breathing his Spirit upon us and continually urges us to ‘Mission!’ He wants us to give life by forgiving and then through the holiness of the always-recover­ing, Spirit-charged, holy flesh of our bodies.”

The holy flesh of my friend is recovering slowly but surely. Soon his lungs will be back to full capacity, where breathing is almost unnoticeable. But we won’t take breathing for granted as we are aware of the vital importance of our lungs — and of the Spirit — to live life to the full! Now, that’s good news.

In what way do you need a new Pentecost?

How will you emphasize the Holy Spirit in your home?