My wife and I are leaving this afternoon for New York City to celebrate twenty years together. Since I am in a New York state of mind, I have been thinking about some of the great musicals I have come to know and love over the years. While in high school (the famous Depew High School, known far and wide for...for...well, known far and wide) I was a bit of a song-and-dance man, landing roles in three musicals. Believing that I was somewhat of a Nathan Lane, I often thought "If I can make it there I'll make it anywhere". Unfortunately, I was not referring to New York, but rather the humble village founded by Frenchman Chauncy Depew. Equally unfortunate, not a bit of it rang true. My musical career came to a crashing, humiliating halt in a botched dance audition for "West Side Story" at the University at Buffalo, in which I made a consummate ass of myself before my peers (to the wicked delight of my lovely girlfriend, whom I later married and will be taking to the big Apple today). Needless to say, Broadway has not missed me.
Lately, I have been thinking in particular about a musical that has been one of my perennial favorites, "Fiddler on the Roof". Specifically, I have considered Tevye, the beleaguered leading character who suffers through hardships such as a nagging wife, a lame horse, poverty, and daughters who are intent on bucking tradition and following their own way. Luckily I don't have a lame horse...OR a nagging wife...but troubles do come to all of us, difficulties that can drain our energy and sap our enthusiasm; hardships that pull us into sadness, loneliness, and despair. The death of a loved one; friends who betray; marriage struggles and wayward children; financial difficulties; poor health and suffering family members...all these and more can cause us to drift from our faith, our ability to truly believe that our God loves us and deeply cares for us.
Tevye, in a particularly challenging moment, utters to God, "Wouldn't NOW be a good time?", asking if the Lord's coming could be made a bit more imminent. Sometimes I feel that way; when things really get to me, when I feel defeated and broken, and really can't understand why God would allow it, I wonder if now wouldn't be a good time. Life is hard.
This past week we prayed a novena to the Holy Spirit as a Church. Today we celebrate His coming to the Apostles and Mary on Pentecost. Through the novena we recalled the suffering of those awaiting the Holy Spirit that was promised by Jesus; they hid in fear; they feared for their lives and the lives of their families. They raised their hopes to heaven, and wondered if their faith would persevere and be vindicated. Their hearts were heavy. And then Pentecost came. On that holy day the Spirit of the living God came to ordinary men and women and filled them with love, strength, and power. The Church was born on that day, and thousands were converted to the faith. Over the centuries that number has swelled to billions. At that wonderful beginning the apostles preached in languages from throughout the world, and the power of God was with them.
Even with all that, even with the power of God given freely through the Holy Spirit, and the enormous successes of the evangelists, those who received the Spirit on that day did not escape suffering. Many were martyred. The Jewish leaders hunted them down. They were beaten and flogged. But through it all they persevered, because they had the Holy Spirit to sustain them, strengthen them, and lift them from fear and despair. Today we celebrate that moment, that gift given to us. And no matter what we face, no matter how much we suffer, no matter how many hurt us or turn their backs on us, no matter what hardships we must endure, the God who loves us so very much will hold us close. He promised that centuries ago. And he makes the same promise to you and me, right here, right now.
Come, Holy Spirit. Come.