When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled,
they were all in one place together.
And suddenly there came from the sky
a noise like a strong driving wind,
and it filled the entire house in which they were.
These verses from the Acts of the Apostles are the first few lines of the First Reading this Pentecost. As I was reading in preparation for this upcoming Sunday, I immediately was brought back to last year’s Pentecost celebration in 2020.
I don’t believe I need to set the scene too much for 2020, as it is still fresh in the minds of our society, but May 31, 2020 – Pentecost Sunday– was the first day that my parish was opening for in-person Mass since the church had closed its doors on St. Patrick’s Day of that year.
I was very excited to finally see this day come, where we could once again worship in the church where, pre-pandemic, I had spent much of my time and made most of my friends. In my mind, I imagined how being amongst a full church would bring me much joy, how receiving the Eucharist would make me tear up, how seeing people again would flood me with the peace of God.
Well, none of that happened.
In the few days leading up to Pentecost Sunday, riots had flooded the streets of my city, enveloping the block on which my downtown parish church sat. While our church was miraculously saved from the worst of the vandalism, save some spray paint and a minor car fire, the surrounding area resembled a war zone. Broken glass and other debris filled the streets and vulgar language peppered any available space along the buildings. Driving to the 7:00pm Mass on Sunday was like driving through a third world country. I had never felt so out of place in my own home. To make matters just a little bit crazier, our mayor had implemented an 8:00pm curfew throughout the city, in order to better contain any further rioting.
Walking into church, I was one of maybe 15 people who still attended this Mass despite the uncertainty of that night. Rows of pews stood empty, and the few of us who braved the warzone all crowded towards the front half of the nave. The “welcome back” crowd I had longed for would not be present at this Mass.
During the consecration, instead of tearing up from the mere proximity of the Eucharist, the words of consecration were nearly drowned out by the helicopters and police sirens that were surrounding the city. All tears were held in, but instead an anxiety started to set in as the chaos that would ensue at nightfall grew closer and closer.
In order to spare us a fine for breaking the city’s curfew, our priest finished Mass in 45 minutes. As the 15 of us filed out of the church, we quickly ran to our cars and exited the parking lot. There was no time to catch up with those I hadn’t seen in months; we had to leave.
I remember being so disappointed, and maybe even a little angry, that the Mass I so dearly wanted wasn’t what I received that Pentecost Sunday. Looking back at it a year later, it seems like such a gift to be able to live that experience which so closely mirrors that of the first Pentecost.
Like the Apostles, I was one of roughly a dozen gathered in that church. The strong driving wind may not have been exactly like that of the Holy Spirit, but it was definitely supplied by some overhead helicopters. And I’m positively sure that some of my friends and family had to think I was drunk to brave the conditions of our city to get to Mass that night.
But like the Apostles, perhaps the biggest event of that evening was that we all left. We split up, we went home, we brought our experience to those around us, and we encouraged those who had yet to do it, to go back to Mass. Now, a year later, this mission of bringing people back to the presence of Christ in the Church is still as important as ever.
As we celebrate Pentecost this weekend, I hope that our hearts can truly be open to the reception of the Holy Spirit in our day-to-day lives, that we may take on the mission of our Church to spread throughout our families and friends, and that someday soon we may all, once again, be fully gathered within her walls.