In the midst of the pandemic with thousands of deaths every day, we celebrate the feast of Pentecost, of the life-giving and healing Spirit. His action with all those who are on the front lines in the fight against Covid-19 is urgent to keep them alive, protected, and with the heroic spirit to continue in their mission of saving lives, putting their own at risk.
The liturgical hymn of today’s feast speaks of him being the “great comforter and the sweet refresher”.More than ever he must show himself with these gifts to all who work in hospitals.
Let us reflect for a moment on the nature of the Holy Spirit and his relevance to life and to the present dramatic moment.
First of all it is important to say that the Spirit was the first to come into this world and is still coming. He came and pitched his tent on Mary of Nazareth. That is to say, he fixed his permanent dwelling place in her (Lk 1:35) and raised the feminine to the height of the Divine.
From this presence, the holy humanity of the Son of God originated. The Word pitched his tent (Jn 1:14) in the man Jesus, begotten by Mary. At one moment in history, she, the simple woman of Nazareth, is the temple of the living God: Two divine Persons dwell in her: the Spirit who makes her “blessed among all women” (Lk 1:42) and the Son of God, growing within her, whose mother she truly is.
Then the Spirit descended on Jesus at the baptism by John the Baptist and inflamed him for his liberating mission. He descended on the first community gathered in Jerusalem on the feast of Pentecost that we now celebrate, giving birth to the Church. He continued to come down, regardless of whether the people were Christians and baptized or not, as happened to the Roman official Cornelius, still a pagan (Acts 11:45).
And throughout history He has always come before the missionaries, making sure that in the hearts of the people love prevailed, justice was cultivated, and compassion was lived out. Once he entered history, he never left it. He takes what belongs to Jesus, passes it on, but also “announces new things to come” (Jn 16:13).
It is by the Spirit that prophets burst forth, poets sing, artists are created, and people practice what is good, just and true. From the Spirit are shaped the saints, especially those who give their lives for the lives of others, like now those who work, almost to the point of exhaustion, in the hospitals of Brazil and the world.
It is also by the Spirit that old and crepuscular institutions suddenly renew themselves and provide needed service to communities as Pope Francis is doing and also other Christian churches.
The world is pregnant with the Spirit even as the spirit of iniquity perseveres in its work, hostile to life and all that is sacred and divine. This is happening in our country with a government that is friendlier to death than to life.
The poor feel most penalized at this moment, without an adequate house to live in, without knowing what they will eat the next day, without a job and without any security against the attacks of the lethal virus.
Today there are millions of them. The poor cry out. And God is the God of the cry, that is, the one who listens to the cry of the oppressed. He leaves his transcendence and comes down to listen to them and to free them, as in the case of the captivity in Egypt (Cf. Ex 4:3). It is the Spirit who makes us cry out Abba, dear Father (Rom 8:15; Gal 4:6). That is why the Spirit is the father and the godfather of the poor (pater pauperum), as the Church sings today on this feast.
He certainly does not do it miraculously, but he gives them courage and resistance, the will to fight and to conquer. He does not let his arms go down. He sent the light to the hearts of the poor to discover the right initiatives, to persist, and in fact to come alive until today; if the indigenous people could not be totally exterminated and now, because of the negligence of the oficial authorities, are at serious risk, if the Afro-descendants could not succumb to the weight of slavery, it was because inside them there was an energy of resistance and liberation, what the hymn calls the gifts and light of hearts: the Holy Spirit, no matter what name we give it.
To the desperate He shows Himself as a comforter without equal. He doesn’t assist them from outside. He has come to dwell within them as a guest to help and advise them, for this is His mission. In the great difficulties and crises, He announces Himself as a reference of peace, of calm: a refresher, for so says the Pentecost hymn that I am quoting verbatim.
He appears as the great comforter. How often, in these dark times of epidemics, the hardships of life make us fill our eyes with tears. When we lose a loved one without saying good-bye and without doing the necessary mourning, or when we experience deep frustrations, affective or professional, or when we are unemployed, we seem to fall into an abyss. It is in these moments that we must plead: “Come Spirit, be our comfort; wipe away our tears and cool our sobs.
The Holy Spirit came once and keeps coming permanently. But in dramatic moments like ours, under Covid-19 we must cry out, “Come Holy Spirit and renew the face of the earth and save our country and the world.
If the Spirit doesn’t come, we will be condemned to see the landscape described by the prophet Ezekiel (c.37): the earth covered with corpses and bones everywhere. But when he comes, the corpses are clothed with life and the desert becomes a vergel. The poor will receive his justice, the sick will gain health, and the sinners, which are all of us, will receive forgiveness and grace.
This is our faith and even more, our undying hope, united with a deep solidarity with all the victims of Covid-19 around the world.
Leonardo Boff is a theologian who wrote The Holy Spirit: inner fire, giver of life, and father of the poor, Vozes 2013, Orbis Books 2014..