Recently I was speaking to a woman about a surprising experience she had while going through one of her favorite books– 20 years after she read it the first time. Expecting it to be repetitious, she was struck by how new so much of it seemed, almost as if she were reading another book written by a different author. It didn’t just bring back things she had forgotten, but more unexpectedly delivered insights she had missed that first time around. She re-learned what she previously knew and came to appreciate that knowledge against a much larger backdrop.
Her surprise connects to words the Risen Jesus speaks to his disciples in John’s 14th chapter. “After being so near to you in these days after my Resurrection, I’m going away. But don’t be upset or afraid. Because my Father is sending you his Spirit who will not only remind you of what I told you, but even teach you further things.” What is in this word, “remind”?
Paraphrasing Jesus, “Even though you have good intentions about remembering the many things I said and did, in fact you’ll forget much of it. But over time my words and actions will come back to you as if you were hearing them for the first time. It is my Holy Spirit who will be reminding you.”
Hasn’t this often been the case in the long history of Christianity? There’s the example of slavery which for many centuries in the Church was judged an acceptable practice. But different believers began to raise objections to it and over the years created the pressure to reverse this so-called tradition. What powered their arguments were many forgotten words and deeds of Jesus, words like: “I have been sent to bring good News to the poor and to release the prisoners and proclaim a day of favor for all.” It was as if these sentiments didn’t fully register the first time around but had to await the Spirit’s later disclosure, this same Holy Spirit whom Jesus promised would remind us of truths that slipped from awareness.
There are more personal examples where something heard long ago in a catechism class suddenly makes new sense and takes on expanded meaning. I’m annoyed and upset because different ethnic groups and races are moving into the neighborhood. And then, as if for the first time, Jesus words about every one of us being a cherished child of His Father break through. Or I read about the ever-growing income disparity between the top 1 percent and the bottom 75, and suddenly the Lord’s actions toward the beggars and the crippled and the starving take on new force. Or I’m carrying a long-term resentment against someone, and then one day reciting the Our Father, a phrase jumps up, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,”– and it’s as if I’m hearing those words for the first time. Or in our Vincentian tradition, the way St. Vincent at a time in his life takes in the fuller significance of “whatever you do unto these the least ones, you do unto me.”
Isn’t this much like picking up that old book and being taken back not only to its contents but to a whole new range of meaning it unlocks?
As he’s about to leave, Jesus promises: “In and through my Holy Spirit, I’ll still be with you – reminding you of the things I said, calling to mind the attitudes I took, bringing back the behaviors I lived out.” And further, “This remembering is not about the past but is revealing present things. It’s my Spirit waking up the Church and calling each of you to reabsorb and reapply my words and actions in your daily living.”
Pentecost is the feast that celebrates the continual nearness of Jesus’ Holy Spirit, that voice and energy of God flowing through all of life. May we listen intently to catch the whispers of these “forgotten truths.”