The fear of the disciples in the upper room is understandable. They had abandoned the man whom they had left everything to follow for three years. The same man they had pledged to follow unto death had been tortured and killed as their backs were turned, as they cowered for their own lives. Their hopes of a restored Jewish kingdom, a glorious king from the line of David, freedom from Roman rule and the return of God’s presence to the Temple seemed to be nailed to a cross on Golgotha, laid in a tomb hewn from rock. They had yet to see God’s plan amidst the perceived failure. How could this be God’s plan? It was so unlike their own.
Their fear is our own. It is the fear of unmet desires, of unworthiness, of death, of uncertainty, of perceived silence. Like the disciples, we often fail to see God’s plan in our lives. We look around in despair and sense that He is silent. We live the reality of death, confusion and suffering and say, “nothing good can come from this.” But as the disciples quickly realized, our ways are not God’s ways. Our wills are not yet one. Much stands in the way: selfishness, greed, egoism, materialism, pride. All changes with the coming of the Holy Spirit.
What makes a law-abiding Jew abandon his persecution of Christians in favor of joining them and proclaiming the Christ to Jerusalem and Rome?
What makes uneducated fisherman leaders of the universal Church and martyrs for the faith?
What makes the son of a wealthy Italian merchant the begging founder of a religious order and a friend of the poor?
What makes a cloistered nun in Lisieux a Doctor of the Church?
What makes a German priest in Auschwitz volunteer to die in place of a father?
What makes a modern day Italian mother and doctor offer her life for that of her child?
The Advocate, the Holy Spirit.
It is the Holy Spirit who is the game changer for the Church—what will now set the disciples apart from the whole world and what continues to set Christians apart today. The Holy Spirit is the active agent of conversion in man, the third person of the Trinity who opens up the Scriptures and sets our hearts on fire. It is the Holy Spirit who enables us to live our mission. The Holy Spirit, God’s love, is the difference between the fearful men in the upper room and the on-fire disciples of Christ preaching the Gospel and converting thousands in a single day.
In the Gospel today, Jesus prays for his followers in the Garden of Gethsemane while also speaking directly to you and me. He prays for something seemingly impossible: “that they may all be one” as the Trinity is one. Christ speaks these words not to frustrate his followers but to call them to a perfection possible through God alone. He utters these precious words knowing he will be sending the Holy Spirit to enable man to do this. The goal is outward. This communion—the call to unity—must lead to mission: “that the world may know that you sent me and that you loved them.” God’s love is efficacious. It cannot be contained but must be proclaimed to the world. Only God could deign to give man so dignified and impossible a call. And only God could enable man to fulfill it.
This high priestly prayer of Jesus (which encompasses John 15-17) is one of my favorite parts of Scripture. It is so imbued with Christ’s love for us. The purpose of the Incarnation is about to be revealed. Christ is living his last moments and wants to remind his followers, you and me, why he came: to reveal the Father, to invite man to eternity with Him and to assure man of his lovable-ness in the eyes of God. This love of God is meant to abide in us and reach out from our hearts to the hearts of others. This is only possible through the Eucharist, which physically is Christ’s love present in us and which is made possible through the Holy Spirit. God himself calls us, but God himself equips us…with Himself. It is astounding to what we are called: to holiness, divine love. This is the Christian destiny, but not our inclination. Like the disciples, so quickly do we turn inward. So quickly do we lock the door in fear. God calls us to sanctity, which can only be achieved after an experience of the fire of God’s love. We call this Pentecost, the same outpouring of the Holy Spirit that we receive in Baptism and Confirmation. The same outpouring of the Holy Spirit that we receive every Sunday in the form of the Eucharist.
Are we being transformed by this grace or do we remain in the upper room? I challenge you to go back to your own story, your own moments of conversion. When did you fall in love with God? Have you? Only armed with the certainty of being loved will we be able to love others and live out the communion and mission Jesus calls us to. And so we call upon the Holy Spirit, the love of God Himself, who was breathed out upon the disciples at Pentecost in tongues of fire. We ask the Holy Spirit to breathe new life within us, within the Church. We ask the Holy Spirit to transform us with the fire of God’s love.
This results in unlocked doors, an empty room.
The disciples emerged, transfigured. Will you?
Kate Flannery is pursuing a Master's degree in Leadership for the New Evangelization at the Augustine Institute in Denver and graduates in May.