I have a friend who, when I am getting a little anxious about things, will say, ‘Just breathe.’ There is wisdom in this advice—in taking time to consciously and attentively breathe. The heart rate slows and things do seem a little better. It also helps me a little to regain a peace of spirit.
I was reminded of this recently when on leaving an early-morning gym session, one of the women commented that she was very tired. And then we stood in the winter darkness, the traffic speeding by, and she told me the story of the enormous grief with which she and her family are living. A significant decision lay before her and she felt lost. As I listened to her, I was overcome with compassion. We have all been there: faced with decisions we don’t feel equipped to make and longing for the path to be made clear to us. And all I could do was be still, put my own worries to one side and breathe.
In the wake of the great feast of Pentecost, we now conclude the Easter season, and we are once again reminded of the close connection between spirit, breath and peace. In Hebrew, the term ruach is feminine and can mean ‘spirit’, ‘wind’ or ‘breath’. The Greek term pneuma is neuter in gender, while spiritus in Latin can have the meaning of ‘spirit’, ‘soul’, ‘courage’ or ‘breath’.
The Easter journey has been peppered with stories that have revealed how the earliest Christians tried to make sense of their lives in light of the profound journey of Jesus’ life, the loss of him through death and their experience of him in resurrection. We have been part of their journey as they moved from fear to courage. Jesus’ message of peace enabled them to go out to the world. Jesus’ constancy and the promise of the Holy Spirit propelled them in their journey to preach and teach the Good News.
And now we, too, are moving forward from Pentecost, not just with a promise of the Holy Spirit as animator and guide, but also in the sure knowledge that the breath of the Spirit brings peace and renewal. A reminder to us, perhaps, that at the heart of life, it is the God of peace who inspires our spirit—our first and final breath, and all the breaths in between.
With the announcement of the national themes that will form the agenda for the Plenary Council, the Australian Church is invited to participate in its own journey of discernment. It is an invitation to continue to work together to understand our faith and life in the context of the contemporary times. It is an invitation to listen deeply to each other and to accept that it is the same Spirit at work in different ways in all the complexities of our lives. It is an invitation to discern where it is that the Spirit is blowing in our times.
In his 2018 Pentecost homily, the Pope urged the Spirit to blow upon us, blow into our hearts and make us breathe forth the tenderness of the Father! Blow upon the Church and impel her to the ends of the earth, so that, brought by you, she may bring nothing other than you. Blow upon our world the soothing warmth of peace and the refreshing cool of hope. Come Holy Spirit, change us within and renew the face of the earth. Amen.
—homily, Holy Mass on the Solemnity of Pentecost, Vatican Basilica, 20 May 2018
So may we breathe in the Spirit of Jesus and be renewed in our life and in our living. And may the breath of Jesus’ Spirit of peace and courage sweep through the Australian Church as we continue to discern what it is that God is asking of us at this time.