I recently attended the final public concert conducted by my old high school band director, Mr. Eric Anderson. “Mr. A” came out of retirement to conduct one portion of the band’s end of year concert. Mr. A had been a major influence on my life, my initial career path in music education, and my growth as a Christian man. More than any other teacher, Mr. A was present to us. His style of teaching was very Christ-like, full of joy and fatherly. His presence impressed upon us both his love for music and his love for life. We were more alive because of the energy we received from him in his conducting. His legacy continued to inspire students at Cambridge-Isanti High School for years after his departure, but the reality of Mr. A in action was something categorically different. Watching him on the podium all these years later, he still had the same effect on the young musicians. His presence electrified them, and made the music more real, more alive—his spirit was in them.
This is the effect that Jesus had on his disciples after his Resurrection and before his Ascension into heaven. By being present to them in a bodily way, Jesus made the Resurrection of the body real. He prepared them for the joys of heaven by making heaven present among them. His glorified body was a real body, capable of being touched and eating with them, but also possessing qualities unlike our bodies here on earth—the ability to appear inside a locked room, for example. He showed them his wounds and explained what they were to do after He ascended to the Father. He then promised them the gift of the Holy Spirit to continue his presence among them. No mere memory of Jesus would have been sufficient to inspire them to give their lives totally for the spread of the Gospel. They needed the presence of God with them.
This period we now begin, between the Ascension and Pentecost, is a period of expectation. We look forward in hope, not back in nostalgia. We anticipate receiving the Holy Spirit as Christ’s enduring presence in our midst. We are not celebrating some theoretical joy, as if it were the legacy of Jesus’ words and deeds alone that sustains us. We live instead in real anticipation. The presence of God dwells in us in the gift of the Holy Spirit. We have Christ Himself present with us, dwelling in our hearts. We are the bodily presence of Christ, motivated by the Holy Spirit, and present to the world just as Jesus’ glorified body was present to the disciples. The Spirit of God dwells in us, not in memory, but in our present experience of the Church. Thus we look forward to perfect union with God in heaven while we already enjoy the foretaste of that union in the Holy Mass.
As we prepare to receive the Holy Spirit anew at Pentecost, may we stir into flame the love of God in our hearts. May we be even more aware of Christ’s presence in the Church He has enlivened with the Holy Spirit, and may we make Him present in all our thoughts, words, and deeds.
“Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and enkindle in them the fire of your Love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created, and you shall renew the face of the earth.”
Peace in Christ, Today’s Readings: Acts 1:1-11; Eph 1:17-23