Sunday Morning ~ Pentecostal Thoughts
Mphawi ndiye mzimu; musamnyoze. ~ The poor man is a spirit; do not despise him.
~ Chewa proverb
June 5, 2022
Pentecost comes from the Greek word pentecoste, meaning fifty. Fifty days after Easter. Fifty years since Shirley Chisholm ran for president. Fifty years since the ERA went to the senate. Fifty days since Ukraine took back Chernobyl. Fifty years since Israeli athletes were massacred at the Olympics. Fifty days since Staten Island Amazon workers voted to unionize. Fifty years since Watergate started. In the church, it’s a birthday these fifty days after Easter. It’s all about spirit. Things changed.
A visiting priest celebrated mass last evening at our little church on the ocean. He wore his holiness all over his sleeve as he described Pope John Paul’s visit to Poland in 1979 during the feast of Pentecost. His sermon last evening was very moving for me in both content and delivery. When I got home, I looked up the New York Times article about John Paul’s visit to Poland, his homeland. Poland was under communist regime then and the visit was a negotiation between the communist government and the Vatican. He was the first pope allowed to visit Poland; being a native Pole made it hard for the communists to forbid his visit. The formal reason for the Pope’s visit was to celebrate the martyrdom of Saint Stanislaus, the bishop of Krakow, who in 1072 was murdered when he spoke out against the unjust wars and immoral behavior of King Boleslaus II. The New York Times reports the visit had to be delayed from the Saint’s feast day in April as the communist regime did not want to highlight a celebration of someone known for opposing government. So he went on Pentecost instead, a celebration of the birth of the church and the raining down of the holy spirit.
The article describes the crowds that overtook Warsaw. Hundreds of thousands were present for the Pope’s mass in Victory Square, a place where I stood just a few weeks ago. Last evening our visiting priest described the crowds and the significance of John Paul’s presence there. He talked of the Pope’s acknowledgment of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and his references to communist oppression. He told us of John Paul telling the crowd they were of the land, they were worthy, they were free in their hearts.
I found the transcript of the Pope’s homily. His reference to St. Stanislaw as someone “who purchased his mission at the see of Krakow with his blood nine hundred years ago.” was bold. I am only now understanding how carefully he crafted his words and what affect they had on the citizens of that country. He said, “a nation is understood though the lives of each of its persons.”
As I struggle to comprehend the times we face and how important the stakes, these words touched me. I’m trying to balance being informed with being sane, so am limiting how much news I listen to. I believe in my bones we are capable of coming through this with our democracy and integrity intact, but it is not going to be easy. I am looking for inspiration. I needed something to cling to, a message that would keep me going and not give up.
John Paul said in reference to Poland’s history that “Rooted in Christ as an old oak is rooted in the soil, the nation was able to withstand the strong winds that history inflicted upon it.” He related the teachings of Jesus: humanity, dignity, human rights, to the dignity and rights of individual nations. As I read this, I thought about John Paul’s singularity of mind and purpose. He must have truly felt the holy spirit consume him considering the times and situation he inhabited.
According to reports I read, there were 300,000 people present at this mass. Some sources say the authorities kept it to that number even though over a million tried to come. At the end of his homily, John Paul walked back and forth across the huge altar and with his arms outstretched reciting words from scripture as if it were a rallying call:
Let your Spirit come down!
Let your Spirit come down!
And renew the face of the earth.
Of this land.
He repeated this over and over, the Responsorial Psalm we say on Pentecost, adding the phrase, “of this land”.
At our mass last evening, as I listened to the priest tell this story, it was clear the message was more complex. He described John Paul as calling everyone to find their spirit within and renew what was their homeland. In reading about it afterward, I learned that in Polish, the word for “earth” and “land” is the same, so emphasis on that word at the end was what the communist authorities considered a political message.
Lech Walensa, a person I followed obsessively in 1980, was present at that mass. I found reports saying it inspired him to stand up for workers rights. I found a quote by Walensa when he was president of Poland: “John Paul’s pilgrimage awakened in us, the Poles, the hope for change….I have no doubt that without the pope’s words, without his presence, the birth of Solidarity would not have been possible.” It took ten years, but that movement led to the collapse of the Soviet Union, which, most of the world saw as a good thing. Clearly Putin wasn’t in that group.
I guess I was so moved, and I chose to write about this, because I’m trying to feel hope that we can stand up to this evil machine that is consuming our country. The republicans in our country are murdering more of our citizens daily than Ukrainian soldiers are dying in their war. And our outrage is festering. I want to believe we can direct a peaceful movement toward justice and environmental responsibility without violence. We need to believe we have that power, that spirit.
Love to all,
The Pope in Poland: The Pilgrimages of John Paul II, 1979-1991, James Ramon Felak, 2020.
A Pope and a President, Paul Kengor, 2017.
Pope Gets Big Welcome in Poland, Offers Challenge to the Authorities, David A. Andelman Special to The New York Times, June 3, 1979
Reason, Free Minds and Free Markets, The Pope Who Helped Bring Down Communism, Stephanie Slade, December 2021