Do you remember breathing on a cold car window and then drawing on the condensation left behind? We created our own private art show. Our breath, showing up as a shadow on a cold window. Times have changed, haven’t they? I bet kids across America are not blowing on car windows, or bedroom windows, on bubble wands, or for that matter, on the candles of their birthday cake. The breath of others has been a cause of concern. We have lived the past year—avoiding with frantic concern—the breath of others.
But here we have a reading from the Gospel of John where Jesus breathes on the disciples. A breath that brings new life. The breath of the Holy Spirit. Just the opposite of the current connotation of a breath as a contagion. Jesus’ breath brings about a wonderful new reality. Today we celebrate this reality. It’s called Pentecost. For today, there are no face masks for Jesus!
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s start at the beginning of this Gospel reading from the evangelist John. This is a post-resurrection story. “It’s the evening of the first day of that week. (When I hear the first day, I can’t help but here an echo from the Genesis story.) John’s Pentecost happens on Easter Sunday. The apostles are hiding. They are afraid. Of who? The Jews. Their own people. The rawness of Good Friday still very much on their minds. The door is locked. That certainly sets a scene.
And Jesus comes and offers them peace. Can we just for a minute imagine how Jesus delivered those words. The compassion in his voice. The tenderness reflected in his eyes. The confidence of a strong stance. The scripture says distinctly, “He stood in their midst.”
And then Jesus shows them his wounds. He gives them a sign to prove that it was really him. Talk about a gift! How many of us would like to have a sign of such magnitude? Their fear disappears and is replaced with—as you can imagine—great joy.
Jesus offers them peace a second time and immediately gives them a task. “As the father has sent me, so I send you.” Go and do. I send you to be a missionary disciple. You saw my example.
This is where I would like to interrupt and tell Jesus all sorts of reasons why I couldn’t possibly go and do. This is where I would raise my hand. Maybe, not even wait to be called on. But this short, concise reading from John doesn’t read that way. There is no time for objections from his disciples. He gives the command, and then breathes on them. Receive the Holy Spirit. He gives his disciples what they need to live out the command of missionary discipleship.
The Holy Spirit is the love that connects the Father and the Son. Imagine such a love.
A love that cannot be diluted or diminished.
A love that doesn’t play favorites.
A love that is freely given and always accessible.
Augustine, call the love between the Father and the son, “vinculum amoris”, the chain or bond of God’s love. We toss the word love around quite frequently. I love brownies. I love Golf. I love Netflix. I love… is used to denote a strong preference. To love, to truly love is to will the good of the other.
Meier points out that John’s Gospel does not ever give a definitive list of the chosen twelve. The verse immediately following this lectionary reading refers to, “Thomas, one of the twelve, was not there.” We can infer that the others were there. But for John, the importance of the specific twelve is not as important as it is for the other Gospel writers. When we make these observations we must then ask ourselves - why?
Maybe John wants to clarify that the Holy Spirit, the love between the Father and the Son is for everyone. That it is for you and for me. But, then it would follow that the command, I send you is also for everyone. I send you to be missionary disciples, yes, but I am also going to equip you. I give you the bond of love that I have for my Father and my Father has for me. A love that Jesus wants us to share with the world.
Luke’s Pentecost account doesn’t say that those gathered were afraid. We can gather that for ourselves. Luke, a literary artist says, “Suddenly, there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind and it filled the entire house in which they were.” Let me ask you, what would the atmosphere in a room be like when it began to rock with a driving wind? Que the image of Dorothy in her room with Toto and I think you have it.
They witness flames that ‘parted’ and each person received the flames. Their lives forever changed. Each person. Not just bossy Peter. Or Doubting Thomas. Or the one he loved. Each person received the flame. Luke’s Pentecost narrative too makes clear the love of the Spirit is for each of us.
Fr. Greg Boyle, recounted this story of a rehabilitated gang member. Father Boyle runs a boys club, Home Boy Industry in Los Angeles, California. Dave (not a real name) was successfully rehabilitated at the center and returned to volunteer. He proudly wears the t-shirt that associated him with the club. Commuting home he recognized an active gang member. Saddling up to him, he began to witness about the life saving options available to him. It was during this conversation Dave noticed others observing him. They noted the t-shirt associated with the Boys Club and recognized the ensuing evangelizing. Possibly, they gave approving glances, eye contact, the slightest of head nods, or a thumbs up. At which Dave who was recounting the story to Father Boyle, broke down and cried. No one in his entire life had ever given him an approving glance. And in that simple almost imperceptible communication, he felt approval and love for the first time.
We have that love to give. A love that can’t be diminished, or play favorites, a love that is free and accessible. We are reminded of that love today because today is Pentecost!
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful. Breathe into us your love. Can we get an Amen? For today, there are no face masks for Jesus.
 Meier, John. 2001. A Marginal Jew: Volume III (135, 233, 235, 274, 185) See also, Raymond Brown. 1970. The Risen Jesus: Scene Two. The Gospel According to John XIII-XXI. (1018- 1039)
 Greg Boyles, LA Catechetical Congress Key note, (retold as remembered) February 2020.
Dr. Suzanne Nawrocki
Dr. Suzanne Nawrocki
Dr. Suzanne Nawrocki has undergraduate business degrees from St. Mary’s College, Notre Dame; a Masters of Scripture and a Masters of Divinity from St. Thomas University (through Mary’s Seminary), Houston, and a Doctorate in Ministry from Aquinas Institute of Theology, St. Louis where she has previously been an adjunct professor.
She is an executive member of the Catholic Association of Homiletics, known as C.A.T.H.; the wider ecumenical group, the Academy of Homiletics; and the international guild Societas homileticus. Dr. Nawrocki assisted in the Practices Peer Forum to update accreditation standards for the Association of Theological Schools, helped the USCCB train clergy on preaching Laudato Si, consulted and lecturer for the University of Notre Dame Martin Preaching initiative, and assists the Diocese of Austin Deacon formation in preaching. She enjoys presenting at the LA Catechetical Congress. Suzanne frequently gives workshop for parishes in sacramental preparation, lector training, and on the scriptures.
Dr. Nawrocki lives with her husband of 38 years in the Hill Country of Texas. She has four grown children, and one award winning Grand baby. She enjoys golf, tennis, the piano and (surprisingly) yard work.
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