Fr Paolo Consonni, MCCJ
PENTECOST SUNDAY – YEAR A
Across Japan, it is estimated that nearly 1.5 million people have withdrawn from society, leading reclusive lives, largely confined within the walls of their homes. The Japanese term to identify these people is “hikikomori,” or shut-ins. Unfortunately, this is becoming a global phenomenon. Experts say that the causes might be traced back to psychological issues such as depression and anxiety, though societal factors play a role too, such as the demanding work culture and the fallout from the past Covid restrictions. Social media also increase our perception of the world as a dangerous place, to be avoided in favor of a virtual reality which is more controllable.
Today’s Gospel of the Solemnity of Pentecost (Jn 20:19-23) describes the Apostles in total isolation after the traumatic crucifixion of Jesus. They are scared and confused. They perceive danger everywhere. The Risen Christ not only penetrated the walls of the room in which they were locked, but, most importantly, He breathed the Holy Spirit upon them and sent them out of their hiding place. We don’t know if all their fears were instantly gone: probably not, because they were not magically transformed into invincible superheroes. They remained human and fragile, always in need of grace. But, what we do know is that after receiving the Holy Spirit, they had enough courage to accept Christ’s mission to share the Gospel with humanity, to leave their comfort zones, and to face the world in both its positive and negative aspects. These first steps eventually lead them to the farthest corners of the world.
Whenever there is an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, there is always an openness and a “going forth.” The New Testament is full of examples: upon receiving the Holy Spirit, the Virgin Mary, pregnant with Jesus, goes immediately to visit Elisabeth. After the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus during His Baptism, He began His public ministry. Following the outpouring of the Holy Spirit during Pentecost, the disciples were sent to the whole world to announce the gospel to every creature. We can easily see how all the main events we have celebrated during this Easter time, namely Christ’s Resurrection, His Ascension the sending of the disciples into the world, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost are so interconnected thatwhen one of them is overlooked, faith easily becomes superficial and fragile.
In the first months of the year, Pope Francis gave a series of catechesis entitled “The passion for evangelization.” In the first of them (Jan 11, 2023), he explained that the Holy Spirit moulds the Church outwardly, making it become a “Church which goes forth, which goes out.” When the Church does not evangelize, it grows sick: it closes in on itself, it becomes self-referential and atrophied. That day the pope used a term that resembles the hikikomori we talked about at the beginning of the article: a Church of “closed-off” Christians who don’t think of others.
The Holy Spirit is what we need to heal this unhealthy way to live our faith. Sometimes we think of the Holy Spirit only as a special energy that brings relief to our personal pains and difficulties, but He is much more than that. The Holy Spirit is God Himself who becomes so intimate with us that God’s life becomes our own life, and God’s vision for the world becomes our vision of the world. Through the Holy Spirit, we are inserted into the flow of love which goes from God to the whole world. The Holy Spirit unites us all in God and also to each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. The result is that the deeper our relationship with God, the freer we become to open ourselves to others.
All of us, myself included, often run the risk of reducing our life of faith to a personal affair “between me and God” and to have an individualistic spirituality that is only concerned about personal wellness, whether bodily or spiritual. While wellness is undoubtedly important, since every person is a union of body and spirit, we cannot selfishly consider only our own interests, because we are all interconnected. Only when we allow ourselves to be inserted into the movement of love toward the world, inaugurated by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, we feel better about ourselves and live more purposefully and meaningfully.
Bishop Stephen Lee Bun Sang recently inaugurated the Year of Vocations to encourage young men and women to respond generously to the call of God. Pope Francis often reminds us that vocation is “a call to missionary service to others. The Lord calls us to share in his work of creation and to contribute to the common good by using the gifts we have received. […] For our life on earth reaches full stature when it becomes an offering” (Christus Vivit 253-254). May the Holy Spirit inspire each of us, not only young people, to live in this way!