Don’t miss the honk of the passionate, noisy Holy Spirit ‘goose’ this Pentecost
By Sister Rachel Bergschneider, OSB
Solemnity of Pentecost / June 4
Acts 2:1-11; Psalm 104:1,24,29-30,31,43; 1 Corinthians 12:3b-7,12-13; Sequence: Veni, Sancte Spiritus; John 20:19-23
The feast of Pentecost traditionally has the central image of a dove. In this image, taken from Scripture, we are reminded of the dove of peace at the flood in Noah’s time, the descent of the dove on Jesus at His baptism, and, of course, the Trinity. In all of these images, the dove radiates peace and tranquility, gentleness and gracefulness.
The Irish have another take when they come to symbolizing Pentecost. In the old Celtic tradition, the Holy Spirit is not represented as the gentle white dove, but by a wild goose. Geese suggest quite another image. “They are not controllable, they make a lot of noise, and have a habit of biting those who try to contain them. Geese fly faster in a flock than on their own.” (William Bausch)
In this image the Spirit is like a goose in that it comes not in quiet, tranquil conformity but demanding to be heard. Its song is not sweet to many. The Spirit, like the goose, drives people together, demanding they support and travel with one another. And it often forces those on whom it rests to become noisy, passionate, and courageous in their guarding of the Gospel.
The noisy goose of Pentecost is the whistle-blower, the “spoon” which stirs the pot, the voice that disturbs the wrongdoing.
ARE WE MAKING ALIVE GOSPEL?
As we celebrate Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit into our hearts once more and, hopefully ever deeper, how is our noise level and passion in making alive the Gospel of Jesus?
Do we go along in our daily lives not noticing the difficulties of the ones who are outcast, who are not given the due they deserve, hardly notice because we are isolated in our own world, not really affected by the pangs of hunger so many take to bed every night? We are good people, but people who are often isolated in our own world?
We don’t see these people, but they are there. Then Pentecost comes along. The terrible Spirit loudly crashes through the closed doors and falls upon us who celebrate that wonderful feast of the Spirit’s coming into our heart.
Since we first heard those loud sounds of the Spirit early in our conversion, we have tamed the Spirit and domesticated the dove. We’ve been seduced by the gentle, lulling cooing.
Then we hear the honk, the Pentecost Spirit recalling to our memories the unnerving stories of the Good Samaritan and the Rich Man and Lazarus . . . all the words of Jesus reminding us of the criterion for salvation. That is our clarion cry.
LIGHTING THE FIRE OF MERCY
As the geese show us, we do this in community. We gather to be reminded of the heart of our salvation, the words of Jesus we call the corporal and spiritual works of mercy and the birthmark of our new church begun with Pentecost and living today with the command of Jesus, “Love one another as I have loved you.”
We remember the annoying and loud prophets of our yesteryear who disturbed the coziness we can so easily embrace, who shout to us yet today, urging us to embrace the needs of our world around us.
Yes, the geese of Pentecost are loud and possibly annoying. But they are also passionate and noisy enough to call attention to those in need, to remind us of what is authentic.
Passion and fire: that is what Pentecost is really all about. It is lighting the fire of mercy and kindling the passion of Jesus’ message that gathers us in community to bring about the kingdom of God on this earth.
Sister Rachel Bergschneider, OSB, is a member of the Sisters of St. Benedict of St. Mary Monastery in Rock Island. She serves as pastoral associate at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Peoria Heights.