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Pentecost
Inspiring dry bones to life again
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Today is “Pentecost”.   Fifty days after Easter, this celebration was adopted from the Jewish “Feast of Weeks” (Exodus 34:22; Deuteronomy 16:10), and commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the early church.  According to the Book of Acts, “there must have been a hundred and twenty gathered together” (1:15).  Among them were “some women in their company, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers” (1:14).

St. Luke tells the story of their powerful anointing in Acts 2:1-13.  Those who witnessed the amazing phenomena (the ability to speak languages previously unknown and the “bold proclamation as the Spirit prompted them”) (2:4-6) “were dumbfounded, and could make nothing at all of what had happened.” Some accused the disciples of being drunk (2:12-13).

Peter’s inspired exhortation began with humor: “You who are Jews, indeed all of you staying here in Jerusalem!  Listen to what I have to say.  You must realize that these men are not drunk, as you seem to think.  It is only nine in the morning!” (2:14-15).  Then he went on to recount how the prophet Joel had foretold how all this “would come to pass in the last days,” as God “would pour out a portion of [his] Spirit on all mankind: ‘Your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams…I will work wonders in the heavens above, and signs on the earth below…before the coming of that great glorious day of the Lord.  Then shall everyone be saved who calls on the name of the Lord’.”  (Acts 2:17-21, excerpts).

The remarkable manifestations of the Spirit were all intended to awaken those who witnessed them to a deeper faith, and to communicate to them the Good News of Jesus Christ.  Everything was charged with urgency, as the followers of the Messiah anticipated his Second Coming.  St. Paul reflects this perspective when scolding the Corinthians for their misuse and misunderstanding of the spiritual gifts and charismas (1 Cor. 13, 14).

The same is true today.  First of all, we all need to recharge our spiritual batteries (assuming they’ve been charged before!) this Pentecost.   Our styles of prayer and worship may vary, but the one Spirit of God should infuse, inspire, and inform us all.  We may or may not demonstrate the signs visible in the early church community (seen throughout the Book of Acts - see 2:43, 4:33), but we ought not to dismiss them as irrelevant.

The uninspired Christian is no Christian at all.  Discipleship of Christ does not consist in performing all the correct functions and avoiding the offense of God and neighbor, but in letting Christ live in and through us.

St. Paul, who before was “breathing murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples” (Acts 9:1) as he struggled to live meticulously all the burdensome precepts of his inherited religion, later would testify: “You have heard…the story of my former way of life in Judaism.  You know that I went to extremes in persecuting the church of God and tried to destroy it; I made progress in Jewish observance far beyond most of my contemporaries, in my excess of zeal to live out all the traditions of my ancestors…” (Galatians 1:13-14).  Later, he would defy the fundamental initiation and identifier of his own religion by declaring: “It means nothing whether one is circumcised or not.  All that matters is that one is created a new” (or: “that one is a new creation”) (see Galatians 6:15).

Such commentaries would be offensive to any practicing Jew of Paul’s day, as indeed they were.  But Paul had received the Spirit of Pentecost: “All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.  You did not receive a spirit of slavery leading you back intro fear, but a spirit of adoption through which we cry out, ‘Abba!’, ‘Father’.  The Spirit gives witness with our spirit that we are children of God…” (Romans 8:14-16)

Thus Paul could boast: “I have been crucified with Christ, and the life I live now is not my own; Christ is living in me.  I still live my human life, but it is a life of faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.  I will not treat God’s grace as pointless” (Gal. 2:19-21).

To be Spirit-filled means, then, not so much to demonstrate remarkable signs and wonders, although these may be visible from time to time.  It means to be dead to sin, to self-centeredness, and to superficial religion.

It means to live, as Paul often repeated, “in Christ” - that is, in such a way that Christ becomes the operating principal of our existence.  This inner transformation, in which the “I” of our egos yields more and more to the “I AM” of Christ, is called “conversion”.  The process begins with the anointings of Baptism, of Confirmation, and of one’s own personal “yes” to Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit.  It leads naturally to fruits of holiness.
“…The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patient endurance, kindness, generosity, faith, mildness, and chastity…Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified their flesh with its passions and desires.  Since we live by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s lead…” (Galatians 5:22-25)

By way of warning, Paul adds: “Make no mistake about it; no one makes a fool of God!  A man will reap only what he sows.  If he sows in the field of the flesh, he will reap a harvest of corruption; but is his seed-ground is the Spirit, he will reap everlasting life.  Let us not grow weary of doing good; if we do not relax our efforts, in due time we shall reap our harvest…While we have the opportunity, let us do good to all…”

But Paul’s warning (Gal. 6:7-9) assumes that at least the “flesh” people are doing something.  Today’s most serious crisis lies not so much in the fact that the devil has many instruments.  This is terrible, but at least the instruments are up and running, and with God’s grace can be changed.

I think the greater evil of our day lies in the dry bones of the Christian (including the Catholic Christian, of course), who claims the name of Jesus, and may even associate with other believers, but who is sleeping on the job.  Whether lulled, or bullied, or tempted, or intimidated into a semi-comatose state in which his or her comfort zone will never stretch beyond the mere external forms of religiosity, or maybe raised in a faith-context but never having let Jesus into the center of his or her being, this tragic waste of opportunity has learned to negotiate the waters of life, but will never walk on water, plummet to the depths, or rise to the height of his or her God-given potential.  In fact, painfully aware of the internal void, yet unwilling to risk suffering or sacrifice in the arduous process of personal transformation, this person often settles for cynicism or despair.

Of this kind of Christian, Jesus laments: “I know your deeds; I know you are neither hot nor cold.  How I wish you were one or the other - hot or cold!  But because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spew you out of my mouth!...Whoever is dear to me I reprove and chastise.  Be earnest about it, therefore.  Repent!”  (Revelation 3:15-16, 19).

Ezekiel sees in the spirit of God a solution for those who suffer the dry-bone syndrome.   I will conclude this article with his vision from what looks a lot like the desert of American popular religion (37:1-14).  As you read this, please ask the Lord to reveal those areas of your own life which have settled for less or yielded to shame and indifference.  May this Pentecost re-awaken and re-inspire us all to greater discipleship in Christ.  And may those who have never received the Spirit be anointed. “The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones.  He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry.  He asked me, ‘Son of man, can these bones live?’  I said, ‘O Sovereign Lord, you alone know.’

“Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to these bones and say to them, “Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord!  This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life.  I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life.  Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”

“So I prophesied as I was commanded.  And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone.

“I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.

“Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to the breath (ruah=breath, wind or spirit); prophesy, son of man, and say to it, “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live.”’ So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.

“Then he said to me: ‘Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel.  They say, “Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.”  Therefore prophesy and say to them: “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: O my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel.   

 “ ‘ “Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them.  I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.” ’ ”

 Finally, reader, let’s all pray to awaken one day to this vision: “After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.” These are the conquerors of Revelation 7:9-10.   Filled by the Spirit, they lived their lives for Christ.