On Pentecost 2018, I had an unexpectedly profound experience during the celebration of the Eucharist. Fr. Bauer was the celebrant, and I was the Master of Ceremonies sitting next to him in the sanctuary. I had done this numerous times over the course of my ministry at The Basilica. However, that day was different. Two months earlier I had been diagnosed with cancer and I had just completed the fifth week in my chemo regimen. I had lost my hair. My face was swollen. I had “chemo brain.” And I was terribly fatigued. But I really wanted to be there. And despite everything or maybe because of everything, that day my heart, mind and soul were particularly open to the workings of the Holy Spirit through the readings.
The first reading on Pentecost tells the story of the different peoples such as Parthians, Medes and Elamites, all of whom could hear the apostles speak in their own language. For the longest time I marveled at the Holy Spirit giving the apostles the ability to speak in the native tongue of all these peoples. Now I have come to believe that the true miracle was that all peoples present, Parthians, Medes and Elamites and everyone else were able to receive the Word of God. This clearly underlines the universality of the salvific message of the Gospel.
The one line from the Gospel according to St. John that spoke to me that day was “Receive the Holy Spirit.” It is the Holy Spirit who guides our every move and moment. Without the Holy Sprit we would be a ship without rudder. That is why our constant prayer should be “Come Holy Spirit, enlighten our hearts and our minds.”
But it was the second reading from the First Letter to the Corinthians that impacted me the most, particularly these lines: “As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ.”
We all have heard this line numerous times and it is indeed striking. However, that day these words moved me in a way they had not before. As I was listening to the lector, I looked out into the congregation at everyone present and I had such a profound sense of being part of the one Body of Christ. Even though a journey with cancer can be very isolating, it became crystal clear that I was not on this earthly journey by myself, rather, as the one Body of Christ we are all on this earthly journey together.
By virtue of Baptism, we become part of the Body of Christ and by sharing in the one Eucharist we are tied to one another in a “deep communion of existence.” Then Cardinal Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI wrote about this in his 1996 book Called to Communion: Understanding the Church Today. He wrote: “Christ has taken us all into himself and has put himself totally into our hands. Hence, Communion means the fusion of existences. The act of Communion makes the Church by gathering us into a deep communion of existence. Communion binds us to one another because it binds us to Christ.”
This profound experience of Pentecost 2018 has stayed with me and has uplifted me these past five years. We are indeed the Body of Christ, the Church. As we celebrate the birth of the Church and the gift of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, let us take to heart that indeed we are the Body of Christ, sharing a “deep communion of existence.”
Johan M. J. van Parys, Ph.D.
Director of Liturgy and the Sacred Arts