In looking at my Facebook feed this weekend I have been reminded that we are in the midst of graduation season. Picture after picture of smiling graduates, at all levels, all across the country… We certainly celebrate with graduates and congratulate them on what they have achieved. But it is worthwhile to also note that behind every graduate stands dedicated teachers – men and women who often selflessly work for the good of their students.
I have recognized that one of the greatest gifts I have known in my life is that I have had exceptional teachers. I have been blessed with men and women who have challenged and inspired me from elementary school all the way through my study of theology. I owe to them so much – more than I can ever repay. They guided my learning and also taught me how to keep learning.
But here is the catch – a teacher (even the very best teacher) can only instruct if the student is willing to listen. The student has a role to play. The student must understand that he or she has a lack, that he or she does not have full knowledge, that he or she has something to learn and maybe even does not know what he or she does not know. A student has to be open and willing to receive. A student needs to be humble.
If today’s gospel (Jn. 14:15-16, 23b-25) sounds familiar it is because part of it was proclaimed last Sunday. Last Sunday I choose to focus on the Father and Son coming to dwell with the believer in friendship. This Sunday, being Pentecost, it is appropriate I believe to focus on these words offered by our Lord, “I have told you this while I am with you. The Advocate, the Holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name, he will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.”
One of the roles of the Holy Spirit is to teach but a teacher (even the very best) can only instruct if the student is willing to listen, if the student recognizes that he or she has a lack and if the student is humble and willing to receive. On Pentecost we proclaim and celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples but the coming of the Spirit did not end there. If this celebration is to be authentic then we, on our part, must be willing to ask the question, “Am I willing to listen and then receive the gift of the Spirit and the Spirit’s instruction for me?” I have to be humble enough to acknowledge my need and my lack and then I have to be faith-filled enough to accept what the Holy Spirit has to give.
That day of Pentecost the gathering of disciples was so little, so small in such a big world. The Holy Spirit comes upon them like a strong driving wind and they begin to proclaim the good news! Acts lists a multitude of nations and peoples present and then we are told that each nation and grouping heard the disciples proclaiming in their own tongue. To this small, little gathering of disciples God gives nothing less than the whole world! We have a part to play on Pentecost. We have to be faith-filled enough to accept what the Holy Spirit has to give us!
Lord, may we not be so stingy and little of heart as to begrudge your call. Playing small is not part of Pentecost. It is a false humility.
Pentecost is considered the birthday of the Church and on this birthday we find two things – the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the small gathering of disciples in prayer, listening and fully aware of their need. How do we learn how to listen? In any age the skill of listening is needed but I believe now, even more, this skill is needed in our lives and in our world. How do we learn how to listen?
Here is one simple thought. Scripture testifies that there is only one person who was present at the birth of Christ, who was present at the crucifixion and who was present at Pentecost. One person – Mary, the mother of our Lord. To learn how to listen and then have the faith to say “yes” go to Mary. Seek her out in Scripture, seek her out in prayer. Ask her to pray for you and to pray with you. She will teach if we are willing to listen.
A teacher can only instruct if the student is willing to listen. We have a part to play on Pentecost. We need to listen and we need to have the faith to say “yes” to the Holy Spirit.