Strong Driving Winds, Red Ties, and Fire-Tongues Ablaze

On Pentecost, the Church proclaims John 20:19-23. In this familiar scene, the disciples are huddled behind locked doors, threatened and filled with fear. They had left everything to follow Jesus and now worry they will suffer and die as he did. They do not know where to turn or who to trust. Exhausted and afraid of the future, they wring their hands in worry and weep for the loss of Jesus.

In their darkest moment, Jesus appears before them. They are both frightened and relieved, overcome with emotion and breathless in his presence. His first word to them is, “peace.” He breathes on them, his breath a force, a driving wind of new life. The outpouring of such a gift opens their hearts and brings peace to their bodies and souls. The Holy Spirit beckons them forth into the world to bring new life, the fruitfulness of love, and the joy of God’s presence in all dark places.

Pentecost reminds me every year of an encounter I had a few weeks after I was ordained in the Easter season in 1983. An older parishioner, neatly dressed in a grey suit, white shirt and red tie, stopped me in the back of the church after Sunday Mass. He was a motivational speaker by profession, and I knew by the way he approached me that I was about to be invited into a conversation I would not forget.

He spoke in a lighthearted tone, but his face was serious as he told me a story of another Holy Cross priest. Twenty years earlier, late for Mass on Pentecost Sunday, the parishioner had rushed into that same church and found a seat in the crowded last pew. He listened as the associate pastor of the parish gave the homily on that beautiful morning. The priest urged everyone on that day of Pentecost to ask God for what they needed in life. He explained that the gift of the Holy Spirit was not harnessed in the past and that Pentecost was a new day of grace and the working of the Holy Spirit. If we asked for what we truly needed, the Holy Spirit’s action just might manifest such change.

The parishioner said he felt as if the priest was speaking directly to him. As he remembered the priest’s words, his eyes welled up and he told me how, sitting in the back pew of the church, he had asked the Holy Spirit to take away his urge to drink alcohol. He admitted to me that his life had been out of control from his drinking, and then he began to smile as he told me that he had been sober from that moment of asking God for a new life. He was celebrating his twentieth year of sobriety because of that priest, who had the courage and faith to invite people to ask for what they needed. The parishioner knew that miracles are not always granted, and life is not always so clear or change so swift. But on that Pentecost Sunday, he had been given an incredible gift that changed his life and relationships.

The man insisted that I learn from the model of courage, faith, and love that the associate pastor demonstrated, and as I began my priesthood I never forgot the invitation to ask God for anything, even if it seemed impossible. He urged me to be courageous in my acts of prayer, to fearlessly ask the Holy Spirit for what I need. He summoned me to live in the vitality of the Holy Spirit, to seek out and minister among those who live in isolation, fear, and uncertainty, who survive in pain and anguish. He told me to ask God for everything on behalf of people who cannot pray or who struggle to believe.

My conversation with the man wearing a red tie was over forty years ago, but on every Pentecost Sunday I think of him. I am grateful, too, for my brother Holy Cross priest, whose faith led him to preach on that Pentecost morning. In so many ways, that parishioner and that priest have defined and guided my ministerial path among people who live on the margins of life. I have learned from that story to keep asking the Holy Spirit for not only what I need, but what the world needs. Every year, my list and my heart expand as I beg God for driving winds of grace and fire tongues of hope. I have asked for children to be safe in foster care and for hatred and violence to be eased with love. I have walked with folks who do not have homes and begged the Holy Spirit to shelter the lost, the forgotten, and the immigrant. Over the years, my asking has expanded my imagination, my faith, and my place within our world.

The Holy Spirit is real and hope is not just wishful thinking. There is no “golden age” of the Holy Spirit — grace is alive within us. The Church needs each of us to ask for a new awareness of human mutuality and dignity, to ask for the end of wars and hatreds that diminish nations and peoples. We need to ask the Holy Spirit to soften the complexities of anger and despair within our families and rebuild communities to rely on one another’s gifts and talents. We need the Holy Spirit to rouse within us the will to heal our oceans and forests so that our children and their children may survive. We need expansive belief in the strong driving winds of the Holy Spirit to create love and awe in our world, a world that often reflects the same darkness of fear as in the closed room where the disciples huddled together.

Ask for what you need. Ask for what your family needs. Ask for what the new parent needs, for what the elderly need, for what the stranger needs. Ask on behalf of people you do not know. Ask on behalf of all earthly creatures, as if all of life depends on your prayer. Ask for the benefit of our future and our world. On Pentecost Sunday, on any day you pray, ask the Holy Spirit for what you need. Ask.

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

Pentecost Prayer

Come, Holy Spirit, Hasten.
Drive out despair and hatred.
Revitalize our weariness.
Aid us when love is worn away.

Restore our trust in community.
Wipe away the tears of the lonely.
Build communities of loveliness.
End violence on our streets.

Give newborns breath and health.
Push away pain in our aging.
Send the truth of justice.
Generate optimism and courage.

Shape trust among us.
Open doors to health and balance.
Sustain courage in our souls.
Manifest love when we are overwhelmed.

Help us breathe fresh air.
Help us trust your care.
Help us live in your truth.
Help us believe you are near.



Rev. Ronald Patrick Raab, CSC serves as religious superior of Holy Cross House, our retirement and medical facility at Notre Dame, Indiana. He is an award-winning author, blogger, and visual artist. Learn more:

Fr. Ron painted this image of Pentecost several years ago. His work has been printed across the globe in religious magazines and worship bulletins.

Published April 12, 2024

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