We’re preparing for Pentecost this week. In her wisdom, to help us prepare, the Church gives us two images and two lives to ponder.
St. Cyril of Jerusalem says that the Holy Spirit is like water. Water, he says, “produces many different effects, one in the palm tree, another in the (grape) vine, and so on throughout the whole of creation … while remaining essentially the same, it adapts itself to the needs of every creature that receives life.” Like water, the Holy Spirit remains the same while giving different gifts that bear different fruits in our lives.
St. Basil says that the Holy Spirit is like sunshine. “Like the sunshine, which permeates all the atmosphere, spreading over land and sea, and yet is enjoyed by each person as though it were for him alone, so the Spirit pours forth His grace in full measure, sufficient for all, and yet is present as though exclusively to everyone who can receive Him.”
It’s easy to appreciate these images at this time of year, when water and sunshine are giving life to some of the fruits of spring, summer and fall: cherries and strawberries, corn and watermelon, peaches and apples. Each grows according to its own kind; each ripens in its own time; each is glorious in its own way. The same is true for the gifts that the Spirit gives each of us. There’s little use in comparing them, though that’s a constant temptation. It’s best to let each person develop their gifts, giving glory to God in their own way.
To help us ponder this lesson the Gospel this week has us consider the lives of Peter and John.
After eliciting his threefold confession of love, Jesus says to Peter: “When you were younger you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus was calling Peter to martyrdom.
And what was Peter’s reaction? Was he grateful that the Lord had a particular call for him? Was he grateful for this chance to follow Jesus intimately? No. Immediately he turned around, saw John, and asked: “What about him?”
Jesus’ response is interesting. He said: “What if I want him to remain until I come — what concern is it of yours? You follow me.”
His answer is more easily understood if we think along the lines laid out by Cyril and Basil. Jesus is saying something like this: “Peter, that’s like the strawberries asking whether the watermelons will be harvested at the same time and consumed in the same way as themselves. Let each be itself. I want you to be you; let John be John. Each of you will give me glory in your own way, and in your own time. Follow my call, don’t compare it with his.”
That’s a good lesson as we prepare for Pentecost. The Spirit gives different gifts. Those gifts are the seeds of God’s call in our lives. Nature and Scripture teach us a lesson about those seeds: there’s no use comparing them. They’re meant to bear fruit according to their own kind, and in their own time.
Let’s prepare to accept the gifts of the Spirit, the seeds of God’s unique call to each of us.