Some years ago, when I was working with Aboriginal communities in the East Kimberley, the local church leaders and I would gather in the weeks leading up to Pentecost and discuss how we might celebrate that event.
We would turn to the scriptures that described that moment when the Spirit came to those who had gathered, witnesses to Jesus’ death and resurrection but unsure, even afraid, as to how they might live his promise of new life.
We could see, in that powerful moment in the early Church, the Spirit coming to break down fears and open locked doors. It enabled people to hear a new voice of hope in their own lives and in their own languages and cultures. This was the birth of the Christian community, a Church led by the Spirit reaching out into the world.
One year, after much discussion, the local church leaders decided it was time we focussed on something quite challenging but needing to be addressed. It was a massacre of some of their ancestors by stockmen on a nearby cattle station.
The event had been remembered and passed down by the elders of the region but had never been formally acknowledged or recorded.
It was time, the church leaders believed, to address this historical event, and how better than at Pentecost. Only with the help of the Spirit could we all, Aboriginal and other Australians, courageously face the truth of the past and be open to the naming and healing of that truth.
That Pentecost weekend entailed a lot of careful preparation, listening to the elders, gathering stories, songs and memories. It became a pilgrimage of sorts, allowing the painful events of the past to surface and be deeply heard and welcomed as we travelled together to the massacre site.
The church leaders did not set any objectives but that it be a journey of companionship and with trust in the power of the Spirit.
I often return to the healing experience of that desert Pentecost weekend as a reminder and encouragement of what the Spirit can do within and between us if we are prepared to listen, trust and journey together.
I find it a timely reminder as the six key themes for the Plenary Council were announced this past Pentecost weekend. These themes are broad. They will need some careful unpacking, prayer and reflection in the months to come. They are themes that carry the woundedness and pain of our Church at this time.
As I reflect on that first Pentecost event I find myself identifying with those who gathered in Jerusalem at that time: uncertain as to what lay ahead, afraid even of what might happen, yet open to receive the gifts of the Spirit.
The event changed their lives. It provided them with a radically new experience, empowering them to become a community living the joy and message of the risen Jesus. Let us pray for a new Pentecost experience in our Australian Church.
Fr Brian F. McCoy SJ, Provincial