Grieving at Pentecost

On Tuesday morning my best friend Lúcás Chan, S.J., died at the age of 46 of a heart attack.  He was the epitome of healthy living and his death is, well, overwhelming for all his friends and family.

I can’t get over that our grieving over Lúcás is going on on the eve of Pentecost.  It has made me understand Pentecost in a whole different way these days because I’m preaching on Sunday evening and I’m wondering, how can I preach tomorrow without mentioning that my best friend died? 

What I am learning these days is that grief is best when it’s with others.  That grief alone is a painful grief.  Jesus’ followers knew that too, and when the 12 are gathered in the upper room with Mary, they’re gathered there because they’re consoling one another. 

They’re not going there because they’re waiting for the Holy Spirit.  They’re going there because they are really sharing their grief.  But their grief is not that they’re consoling one another by saying: Are you OK?  Mary, how are you doing?  Peter, are you OK?  I don’t think that was their grief. 

I think they just talked about all the love that they experienced from Jesus and also  they wanted to hear from one another how Jesus was loved.  And so they wanted to hear how Peter loved Jesus, how Mary loved Jesus, how Andrew and John and the others loved Jesus.  And it’s in the hearing of these narratives that I think that they were consoled.  And it was in that space that the Spirit found its place to enter into the upper room.

The Pentecost is not simply a sign of the Spirit’s descent or the birth of the Church as we’ve always said.  It was a moment of people grieving, people consoling one another about the fact that they loved Jesus, who loved them and died for them.  In that expression of how they loved, they recognized their salvation and found a way to move forward by the Spirit. 

I think that’s why I gathered with his friends on Thursday at a memorial for Lúcás.  We gathered because each of us, in very different ways, knew and loved him.  For me, I am consoled when his friends, students, colleagues, brother Jesuits, parishioners from the Cantonese parishes, and others tell me stories about how much they love Lúcás and how much and how particularly, he loved them.

When we gather in this type of love we know that our main concern in consoling one another is not asking how we’re doing, but what did he mean to us?  In that expression, what did he mean to us, we encounter the consolation of the resurrection and then can be led by the Spirit.

James F. Keenan, SJ, is Canisius Professor at Boston College. His most recent book is University Ethics: How Colleges Can Build and Benefit from a Culture of Ethics (Rowman and Littlefield).

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