Have you ever had that feeling, that “Groundhog Day” feeling? Like the character of Phil in the movie (Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray), you wake up every day to the same morning. You go through the same motions, you say the same things to the same people, you retrace the same steps. You’re essentially sleep-walking while you’re awake. In the words of singer-songwriter John Cougar Mellencamp, “It’s beige to beige, that’s all there is these days…”
From your grumbled rising to your tired return to bed, the days become blurs of half-baked plans, failed attempts and arid accomplishments. And most of those “accomplishments” are akin to playing “Whack-a-Mole” at a carnival. (What a useless waste of .50 cents!) You’re left wondering to yourself, “When’s my real life going to begin?”
Henry David Thoreau, back in 1854, put it famously:
“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation. From the desperate city you go into the desperate country… A stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of mankind. There is no play in them…“
Now picture this: A kind of second story office space, with ample room, filled with men and women, circled up, slightly sheepish, quiet, staring at the floor, the ceiling, occasionally each other… longing for something to happen. Every week they come. They sit. They wait. Dutifully. They go through the same motions, say the same things to the same people. Sitting, sometimes standing. Sometimes kneeling, waiting for something, or Someone, they’re not sure, to come and fire them up.
These men and women have been disheartened by their leader’s “epic fail.” Feeling a bit abandoned, cheated even, they have been further scandalized by the actions of fellow believers. And these women and men, who’ve been gathering in this same space for sometime now, are at some level conscious of their own cowardice as well. Their inability to act. To move. To do anything. So they do nothing… but wait. And pray. Holding on to a promise that “all would be well.” But when? They look around at the other faces and wonder secretly to themselves,“What do we have to offer the world anyway? What difference would we make? What can we do to change things?”
But then, suddenly, a gust of wind. A sea breeze. A change. A terrible trembling. He is coming. The Ancient of Days, the Youth of Eternal Summers, The True Fire that kindled the sun and all the stars enters their tiny space. A holy fear, a wonder, a terrible beauty grabs hold of every heart.
The writer Annie Dillard once wrote:
“Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.”
How to Burst into a Living Flame of Love
Pentecost Sunday is the new beginning, the promise fulfilled, the proclamation we’ve been waiting for, rich with the undiluted power of God: His Fire, and Wind, and Wine. The apostles and the holy women were burned, blown about, and bedazzled by this Fire, Wind, and Wine of God. They were accused of being drunk on it. Their once timid lips suddenly exploded into a flurry of foreign languages. They became fearless.
But now for us moderns, how is the question. For now more than ever, we need this Fire. They clearly “got it”? But is this Fire still accessible, still moving about the world. Where is He now?
The answer, I believe, lies in the word faithful. Those first“living flames of love” kept showing up. They were the faithful, even when they didn’t feel like it. They were present, open, hungry enough for Him so that when the Theology (Word of God) encountered their biology (earthly life), the sparks flew. The fire caught. The marriage was consummated and the Church was born. The theology of their bodies spread the fire of God’s love, His Word in their words became flesh. To the ends of the earth.
Now, you and I….we’re the new faithful who have shown up. So how do we live a dynamic Catholic life? How do we receive first then pour out to a thirsty world this intoxicating Wine of the Love of God which he has poured out into us? Keep showing up. Keep faithful. Be open. Stay thirsty my friends.
For He ceaselessly gives. Drink in the love of the Holy Spirit. Do so passionately, not coldly. Drink deep, not through obligation but more akin to a consummation. The consummation of a marriage. Your heart and God’s.
O living flame of love
that tenderly wounds my soul
in its deepest center! Since
now you are not oppressive,
now consummate! if it be your will:
tear through the veil of this sweet encounter!
– St. John of the Cross
This is how we become living flames of love. And for the world, we are not bringing a list of what to do and what not to do. “How would you feel,” Pope Francis once asked, “if someone said: (the Church) is a domestic administrator? ‘No… the Church is Mother. And we are in the middle of a love story that continues thanks to the power of the Holy Spirit.”
May this Pentecost, this fresh outpouring of the Spirit be for us all a new day, a change, a new beginning.
Bill Donaghy has spoken internationally on faith and the New Evangelization since 1999. Through his work with the Pontifical Mission Societies, Bill gave hundreds of talks on the spirituality of mission to young people throughout the greater Philadelphia area and beyond, creating a teaching and speaking ministry known as MissionMoment.org. He holds an Associates Degree in Visual Arts, a Bachelors in Philosophy and a Masters in Systematic Theology. In addition to his full-time work for the Theology of the Body Institute, Bill teaches at Immaculata University. He and his wife, Rebecca, live outside of Philadelphia, PA with their four children.