Today’s recommended reading in relation to Pentecost will not be your usual Church encyclical, or Bible verse, or a quote from a famous Pope or theologian. Today’s recommended reading is none other than the book, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (book three of JK Rowling’s seven-part literary phenomenon.)
For the Potter fans among you, you will recall that it is in book five that we are so wonderfully introduced to the Patronus charm. Expecto Patronum! For those of you who have neither read Harry Potter nor seen the movies (shame!), suffice it to know that this charm is one of the most difficult of spells to cast, but when done successfully, brings forth from the wizard’s wand, a magical, luminous creature in the form of an animal. The animal is usually reflective of the person’s character, and so Dumbledore, one of the greatest wizards known to have lived, has for his patronus, a phoenix; Harry Potter, a mighty stag; the pretty and graceful Chang Mo, a swan; and the ever comical Ron Weasley, a Jack Russell terrier.
Now before we get lost in the wizarding world, let’s make this clear. Why am I asking you to read or go back to Harry Potter on Pentecost weekend? Simple. Because I know of no better metaphor or exposition that illustrates the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, than JK Rowling’s Patronus charm. Why so?
Recall that the charm is the only spell that works against Dementors – fearsome, cloaked and deathlike, “the foulest creatures that walk this earth. They drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them… Get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you. If it can, the Dementor will feed on you long enough to reduce you to something like itself… soulless and evil. You will be left with nothing but the worst experiences of your life.”
When attacked by a Dementor, one’s only hope is one’s patronus, that when conjured up, never fails to drive Dementors away.
I doubt if any of you have actually seen a magical creature like a Patronus in your life. But I am willing to bet, that all of you, all of us, rather, have seen or felt moments when invisible Dementors had come upon us. Moments when it became difficult to hope, when we momentarily forgot the overabundant goodness we all have received in our lives and when we unknowingly focus on the bad, on the resentful, on regrets, on the uncertainties and doubts and fears. Moments when, like the disciples in today’s Gospel, we lock ourselves up in hidden rooms, fearful of life and the world.
Know today that Jesus has given us the only true Patronus spell for such times, and that is to call upon the fire of the Spirit to re-enkindle our hearts with the fire of Her love. “I will send you the Advocate,” he has told us. The Paraclete. The Holy Spirit. And what else is an advocate, and precisely one who defends and uplifts and cheers us on. A Patronus.
Tonight, it may also be worth remembering what, in JK Rowling’s books, is needed to conjure up the Patronus: one’s full attention set to a happy thought, a remarkably joyful memory.
The Patronus is not conjured up simply by words like Expecto Patronum or in our case, “Hail Mary…”, or “I believe in God…” Rather, Christians, like wizards, are a people who must know how to remember. To remember and to focus on our deepest experiences of joy, of receiving, of giving.
In Jesuit speak, this is matter for prayer, which is like the wood for the fire which the Spirit enkindles in us. Our histories so graced. Our lives so blessed. Our persons, so loved.
Interestingly, in JK Rowlings’ world, we see in the end that the most powerfully charged Patronuses, are the ones conjured up, not so much by flippant, everyday delights, like our favorite food, or the feel of a nice new toy or gadget, or the joy of shopping for new clothes. The most powerful Patronuses are the ones conjured up by memories of love, of people who have really loved us, and sacrificed so much for us, and who were with us to the end. And that is what we do every Sunday mass, isn’t it? We remember how God has loved us, how Jesus gave his life for us, and how we really would not be the people we are today, if not for the sacrifices of so many who have given up parts of themselves and their lives for us. To remember all this is to make room in our hearts for the Spirit. In short, the Spirit is conjured up, when we make room in our hearts for love.
Lastly from Harry Potter, remember what the Patronus essentially is: light that clears the way. It clears the way of Dementors, not so you can sit around and stay where you are, but so that you can journey on, treading a lighted path. Like the Spirit, the Patronus is light that reawakens, dispels darkness, urges us on, illumines our path and invites us forward.
As Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit upon the apostles, their fearful hearts were made courageous, and the Spirit urged them on to bring God’s mercy and forgiveness to the unforgiving world.
And so today, pray on the question: How is the Spirit inviting you forward? What is the Spirit cheering you on to do or to be? How, and perhaps, in what direction or ways are you being drawn forward to journey on?
We pray these questions at a time of the disheartening rise of world leaders who disenfranchise instead of inspire; who conjure up hatred and violence, instead of compassion and peace. We pray these questions at a time when the dementors of terrorism, environmental and humanitarian crises abound. At such a time, more than ever, we must know how to cast this most powerful of spells to make manifest the Spirit of Jesus, to be our hope and light and guide. Such is the gift of the Pentecost of our time.
And so as we continue with our mass, with our remembering, we pray to truly make room in our hearts for the fire of God’s love, for the Spirit that is our patron, our light. We pray also, simply to remember that like the Patronus, this Spirit gives us the power to banish evil from our hearts. This Spirit is called upon by remembering love. And this Spirit urges us forward onto the path of light.
Even if it is the last weekend of the Easter season, there will be no goodbyes today. No goodbyes from the Risen Lord, only His unwavering reassurance “Receive the Holy Spirit”. And by the power and presence of this Spirit, Jesus’ Spirit, we know that he will be with us until the end of time.