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May 15, 2016

     Tender Mercies is a heartwarming movie from years ago.  I don’t see a lot of movies so maybe that’s why I remember it.  There is a scene that I can still picture. It’s in a country church, and the lead character, played by Robert Duvall, is getting baptized along with a young boy.  It had to have been a Baptist church because the two get a thorough dunking not once but three times.  When the young boy comes up for air after the third dunking, he shakes the water off his head, unplugs his nose, and asks Duvall, “Do you feel any different?  I don’t feel any different!” 

     So let me ask you.  It’s Pentecost.  We’re just completing a fifty day Easter celebration.  Do you feel any different?  I’m guessing you don’t.  Most of you, anyway.  Should you?  Arguably, yes.  After all, we’ve been re-living in Word and Sacrament the saving mysteries of our faith from the Last Supper to the hill of Calvary to the empty tomb.  We’ve encountered the Risen Lord in the locked upper room, along the shores of the Sea of Galilee, and on the hilltop of the Ascension?  Shouldn’t we feel different?  We probably should.  But, my friends, it’s more important that we be different than feel different.  Feelings are a bonus. Sometimes we have them, often we don’t.  And feelings never seem to last for long.  But at a level far deeper than our feelings: in the depths of our souls, in the farthest reaches of our hearts, the Holy Spirit can quietly work wonders of grace, making us different even when we don’t feel different.

     Now, I suspect that after the dramatic events of Pentecost, the disciples of Jesus actually did feel different.  How else explain the way they burst forth from the locked safety of that Upper Room and began to preach?  But I would still maintain that the greatest change that took place in those once cowardly disciples was not at the level of their feelings but at the deepest level of their being.

     Does that mean that feelings have no place?  They do, of course. Every one of our sacramental celebrations appeals to our feelings. That’s why we use water, oil, bread and wine.  That’s why we light candles and burn incense.  That’s why we build cathedrals like this one and fill them with the best that we have -- with beautiful music, art and artifact.  And it’s why we gather Sunday after Sunday, allowing the beauty of it all to wash over us, anointing our spirits and lifting our hearts.  For a time, at least – and maybe it’s only for a fleeting moment – our feelings do get engaged and we actually feel different. But sooner or later the feelings fade and we find ourselves slogging along through the weekdays of life when God can seem far away and faith can become a question mark, hope an illusion, and love a disappointment.

     Most of our lives are lived out in such “Ordinary Time” – against a fairly lackluster landscape, amid the dullness of routine. But thank God for days like today when the Spirit rushes in and breaks through.  And, my friends, thank God for this Pentecost during the Jubilee Year of Mercy. This Pentecost could be more powerful than past ones. After all, we’ve prayed about mercy and I’ve preached about mercy; and we’ve studied and shared about mercy in small groups during Lent; and we’ve made our way through the Cathedral’s Doors of Mercy, and walked the Cathedral’s Way of Mercy, and done works of mercy.  So a case could be made that this Pentecost should have a different feel to it than past ones. But does it?  And, more importantly, when this Jubilee Year of Mercy ends come Advent, will we be more merciful?  Not will we feel more merciful but will actually be more merciful?  Will we be a more merciful parish?  More understanding, more accepting of one another, more forgiving, more generous and energetic in reaching out to the lonely, the poor, the forgotten? 

     Pentecost is a good day to be asking such questions and a good day to be trying to answer them, too.  For, my friends, the Spirit unleashed on the infant Church on Pentecost is not dead!  The Spirit is still lighting fires, still shaking the foundations, still working wonders.  Listen again to the words of the great Pentecost Sequence we heard a few minutes ago. It’s all about now, not about then:

Come, Holy Spirit, come!
And from your celestial home
shed a ray of light divine!
O most blessed Light divine,
shine within these hearts of thine.
Heal our wounds, our strength renew;
On our dryness pour your dew;
Bend the stubborn heart and will;
Melt the frozen, warm the chill;
Guide the steps that go astray.
     On the faithful, who adore and confess you,
evermore in your sevenfold gift descend!


     My friends, Pentecost is more about being different than feeling different. And it’s also more about being merciful than feeling merciful.

     May the Holy Spirit whom God has been breathing into us since the day of our baptism fire us up, make us messengers of mercy and ministers of mercy. Can you think of a better way to “renew the face of the earth!”

Father Michael G. Ryan




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804 Ninth Avenue
Seattle, Washington  98104
Phone 206.622.3559  Fax 206.622.5303