Every generation needs to experience Pentecost for itself. It needs God’s spirit and it needs it in its own particular way.
Indeed scripture assures us that the Holy Spirit is not a generic force, one-size-fits-all, but a person, a relationship, a spirit that has “particular manifestations” and gives itself to each of us uniquely so that the understanding and strength that we receive are geared to help us in our own particular struggles. If this is true, if Pentecost is so differentiating, an important question arises: where in life today do we most need the Holy Spirit to transform us? What are our peculiar spiritual disabilities?
Our unique weaknesses, like our strengths, are legion. However, for our generation, a number of things might be singled out as particularly debilitating to the soul: our propensity for distraction, our tendency to see individual fulfillment as salvation, our proclivity for ideology and fundamentalism, and our obsession with sexuality. We could use a particular infusion from the holy spirit to help us with these.
For example: distraction is perhaps the most powerful narcotic on the planet. Simply put, what this means is that our daily communion, the manna that sustains us, is distraction—television, game-shows, sporting-events, sit-coms, talk-shows, entertainment-news, scandals reported in the daily papers, pop music, movies, theatre, and the like. Not that these are bad. What’s bad is that they eventually anesthetize us: we watch the late-night comedians on TV, scotch in hand, laugh as they spoof the day’s events, let the tensions of the day subside, and sleep pretty well. Not bad, not bad at all, except we do it again the next night and the night after and onwards ever after, slowly numbing ourselves to the deeper issues of meaning, pain, justice, self-sacrifice, love, death.
Beyond distraction lies another struggle. Aidan Kavanaugh once said: “Today our icon is not a city, whether of man or God, but the lone jogger running through suburbia, in order, we are told, to feel good about himself.” We struggle today with individualism and the problem is not just with the obvious, the all too-common breakdown of our families, neighborhoods, parishes, and communities, the “bowling-alone” syndrome. The deeper struggle is with what Dorothy Day used to call “the harshness of love.” What we can’t deal with is the painful give-and-take of ordinary community, the habitual slights and hurts that arise in every marriage, family, community, parish, and civil group. We can’t interrelate without hurting each other. So we withdraw, jog and bowl alone, not out of an ideology of individualism, but because we haven’t the resiliency needed to deal with the bruises and disappointments that come with bowling and jogging in a group.
What Pentecost needs to pour into us today is the spirit of resiliency, the spirit of forgiveness, the spirit of patience, the spirit of long-suffering, the spirit of understanding, and the spirit to not go jogging or bowling alone.
We need too a pentecost that can help us cope with the ideologies and fundamentalism (social and ecclesial) that constantly beset us like so many nasty viruses. We are forever infected with ideologies, be they of the left or the right, that block us from living vital parts of the gospel. Whether we rationalize it as protecting proper values, defending a divine creed, or advocating an issue of justice, over and over again we compromise the hospitality, charity, respect, catholicity, and tolerance called for by the gospels, all in the name of sacred cause. Our hearts, unlike God’s, are forever wanting to lodge in just one room. We need a pentecost to mellow us with the spirit of mildness, stretch us with the spirit of catholicity, and especially fill us with the spirit of hospitality so as to take us beyond the hardness that we rationalize as creed or cause.
Finally, we need a pentecost to help us deal with our sexuality. In a world in which sexual intimacy is held up as salvation, we have lost the proper balance between what our sexuality’s DNA seems to demand and the place that marriage, family, friendship, fidelity, inclusive community, and innocence hold in the overall schema for meaning and happiness. We need new tongues of fire to bring us the spirit of chastity, the spirit of full respect, the spirit of fidelity, and the spirit for emotional martyrdom, so that, even as we defend the goodness of sexuality, we are able too, on any given night, to sweat blood in a garden so as to not violate the bigger picture.
1 Corinthians 12:7 suggests that Pentecost is “the particular manifestation of the spirit, granted to each of us.” We need to pray for such a particularized pentecost to happen.