In order to see, know and love as God does, we must first experience what it is like to be seen, known and loved by God. We can view Pentecost as the Feast of God’s self-implication, God’s total self-involvement with us. The Holy Spirit allows us to affirm that our human experience, all of it, is now God’s experience. We do not have to get away from or escape from ourselves to find God. God has found us right where we are and as we are.
Here is a true story that opened up this gospel truth for me. It is a very sacred story about a boy named Billy, who was an altar boy. The pastor of his church had ordered him to do public penance- to kneel at the altar rail throughout a Sunday Mass, to repent for failing to show up for an altar boy assignment. But it wasn't Billy's fault. His father had kept him home to help with essential family chores. Billy told his dad that he would probably get some sort of penance for missing his assignment, and his dad told him to simply do whatever the pastor required. We can imagine the shame Billy must have felt as he went up the aisle one Sunday morning to be humiliated in front of the whole parish. His legs trembled as he knelt. He wished he were dead. Then suddenly his humiliation was transformed. He felt a hand on his shoulder, looked up and saw his father kneeling at his side.
The disciples gathered in the upper room on Easter day weren’t just fearful. They were also locked in by guilt and shame. They had abandoned Jesus in his final hours. And yet, here he was with them, offering them peace. It is as if he were saying, “I know your shame from the inside. I know what it’s like. I shared it as I was spit upon, stripped naked and hung on a cross for all to see. But now it’s OK. Here I am with you. Peace be with you. I love you anyway. And my love for you is unkillable.”
By his gift of the Holy Spirit, Jesus empowers all of us to see as God’s sees, to love as God loves, to forgive as God forgives. And when we know what it is like to be seen, known, loved, forgiven by God, we can share that Pentecost experience with the world.
I bet that Billy had been taught by the sisters in his parish school and by his parents that God is love and God forgives. But I doubt that it ever was as real and life-altering for him as that morning when he felt a hand on his shoulder, looked up and saw his dad sharing his shame. Think of that the next time you pray before a crucifix and plead for the coming of the Holy Spirit.
Excerpts from Abbot Damian's homily for Pentecost Sunday.