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Bible Reflections View Comments

Trusting the Movement of the Spirit
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, May 19, 2013
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In the story of Pentecost in the Acts of the Apostles, we hear about the small group of Jesus’s closest friends hiding in the upper room, trying to make sense of the hatred that had led to his death, the astonishing mystery of his resurrection and his final departure to return to his Father and the heavenly kingdom. It’s no coincidence that they were spending that time in prayer.

As Jesus had promised, the Holy Spirit comes to them in the form of a strong, driving wind and as tongues of fire. The Spirit fills them with courage, sending them forth to preach—and to live—the Gospel. It didn’t mean that their struggles were over. But it was an undeniable assurance that God was with them.

The gift of the Spirit was about overcoming fear and hiding, shame and regret. It was about opening up the community to the power of the Gospel message. When Blessed John XXIII talked about the Second Vatican Council, he referred to it as opening windows long closed and letting in the Spirit to renew the Church. Like spring cleaning, this is something that needs to be done on a regular basis.

As we celebrate Pentecost this year, we’re more aware than ever of the need for the Spirit’s continued presence in our midst—guiding, inspiring, protecting the Gospel and all that is truly holy from the fear and the secrecy and the mistakes of the past.

Wind and fire are frequent images in the Scriptures for the presence and power of God. As we know all too well from the natural world, fire and wind can be both blessing and curse, can lead to life and death.

The prophets speak of fire as burning away the impurities of metal, or burning that chaff that’s been separated from the wheat. Things that obscure the truth need to be burned away. The fire of the Spirit is able to do that without burning or destroying what is still good and beautiful and true in our faith, in our Church, in our own lives.

Even as we watch events unfolding in the universal Church, we ourselves experience upheavals in our smaller communities—parishes, workplaces, families—and in our own lives. Whenever we’re struggling to break through some obstacle, illness, or misunderstanding, we can call on the fire of the Spirit to strengthen and encourage us.

Pentecost is a new beginning, a fresh start. Taking a new approach is rarely easy. The response of the crowd to the preaching of the apostles on the morning of Pentecost was that surely they must have been drinking. Several times they were thrown into prison for going against the authorities. But they were convinced that the Spirit was leading them in the right direction.

We know from our own lives that attempts to overcome mistakes in our past can haunt us long after the reality is something entirely new and different. The Spirit can help us persist in working against these prejudices and give us the courage to continue to speak out for genuine change.

We go forth not because we’re strong, capable, and sure of ourselves, but because we know that God is with us when we truly do his work. Pentecost reminds us that Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, is in fact still in charge of the Church that he established among his first followers.


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Monica: The circumstances of St. Monica’s life could have made her a nagging wife, a bitter daughter-in-law and a despairing parent, yet she did not give way to any of these temptations. Although she was a Christian, her parents gave her in marriage to a pagan, Patricius, who lived in her hometown of Tagaste in North Africa. Patricius had some redeeming features, but he had a violent temper and was licentious. Monica also had to bear with a cantankerous mother-in-law who lived in her home. Patricius criticized his wife because of her charity and piety, but always respected her. Monica’s prayers and example finally won her husband and mother-in-law to Christianity. Her husband died in 371, one year after his baptism. 
<p>Monica had at least three children who survived infancy. The oldest, Augustine (August 28) , is the most famous. At the time of his father’s death, Augustine was 17 and a rhetoric student in Carthage. Monica was distressed to learn that her son had accepted the Manichean heresy (all flesh is evil)  and was living an immoral life. For a while, she refused to let him eat or sleep in her house. Then one night she had a vision that assured her Augustine would return to the faith. From that time on, she stayed close to her son, praying and fasting for him. In fact, she often stayed much closer than Augustine wanted. </p><p>When he was 29, Augustine decided to go to Rome to teach rhetoric. Monica was determined to go along. One night he told his mother that he was going to the dock to say goodbye to a friend. Instead, he set sail for Rome. Monica was heartbroken when she learned of Augustine’s trick, but she still followed him. She arrived in Rome only to find that he had left for Milan. Although travel was difficult, Monica pursued him to Milan. </p><p>In Milan, Augustine came under the influence of the bishop, St. Ambrose, who also became Monica’s spiritual director. She accepted his advice in everything and had the humility to give up some practices that had become second nature to her (see Quote, below). Monica became a leader of the devout women in Milan as she had been in Tagaste. </p><p>She continued her prayers for Augustine during his years of instruction. At Easter, 387, St. Ambrose baptized Augustine and several of his friends. Soon after, his party left for Africa. Although no one else was aware of it, Monica knew her life was near the end. She told Augustine, “Son, nothing in this world now affords me delight. I do not know what there is now left for me to do or why I am still here, all my hopes in this world being now fulfilled.” She became ill shortly after and suffered severely for nine days before her death. </p><p>Almost all we know about St. Monica is in the writings of St. Augustine, especially his <i>Confessions</i>.</p> American Catholic Blog Heavenly Father, I am sure there are frequently tiny miracles where you protect us and are present to us although you always remain anonymous. Help me appreciate how carefully you watch over me and my loved ones all day long, and be sensitive enough to stay close to you. I ask this in Jesus's name. Amen.

 
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