The Holy Spirit descends on Jesus at his baptism in the form of a dove, the gospels say. Scholars like Luke Timothy Johnson in his commentary on St. Luke’s gospel seem puzzled by the description. What’s the explanation? “Such is the nature of symbols–all are possible,” Johnson writes.
May I hazard an explanation? Doves are regular visitors at my window and at our bird-feeder outside. I notice how confident and unafraid they seem to be, so different from the nervous sparrows flitting from place to place. As far as I can see, the doves are without the usual signs of power, sharp talons and strong wings. What’s their secret?
St. Gregory of Nyssa seems to point to a fearless love in his Commentary on the Song of Songs:
“When love has entirely cast out fear, and fear has been transformed into love, then the unity brought by our Savior will be realized, for all will be united with one another through their union with the supreme Good. They will possess the perfection ascribed to the dove, according to our interpretation of the text “one alone is my dove, my perfect one.”
A fearless, humble love, unafraid of chaos, brings peace. Is that why Noah chose the dove to go into the world engulfed by the flood and not a lion or an eagle? Such is the nature of symbols–all explanations are possible. We could use that kind of fearlessness today, couldn’t we?
Behind the Chair of St. Peter in the Vatican Basilica in Rome, the artist Bernini created a beautiful alabaster window where a steady light pours into the dark church through the image of the Holy Spirit, in the hovering form of a dove. Light is also a favorite sign of the Holy Spirit.
Day by day, the light comes quietly through the window. Day by day, the Holy Spirit dispenses light for the moment, graces for the world that is now. As Jesus promised, the Holy Spirit dwells with us, his final gift.
The Feast of Pentecost is this Sunday.
Dear Fr. Victor- Back in the late 1970’s I was at a Charismatic Prayer Conference at the Meadowlands, led by Fr. Jim Ferry, may he rest in peace.
He was a wonderful man and you spoke about him in a homily one Sunday after you had gone to his funeral. The Holy Spirit was the focus of the Charismatic Renewal, and as Fr. Jim was closing the conference with the final prayer, from out of nowhere a beautiful white dove flew over the stadium in circles a couple of times. The crowd gasped in unison. I get chills writing this. Thank you for your beautiful reflection. Gloria
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Doves are gentle creatures. A devoted pair live in my area and come to visit several times a day. The male (I suppose) walks calmly and boldly right up to the edge of my courtyard during my Morning Prayer, bobs his head, and I coo “good morning, Dovey.”
We learn from God’s creatures and creation.Thanks, Jo.
Another beautiful reflection. I marvel your faithfulness in seeing “The Light” in every turn. Your faith encourages me to try harder. Thank you for being there. Harry
I once spoke to my friend, an old squirrel, about the Sacraments –
he got so excited and ran into a hollow in his tree and
came back holding some acorns, an owl feather,
and a ribbon he had found.
And I just smiled and said, “Yes, dear,
everything imparts His grace.”
– Saint Francis of Assisi
Thank you for remninding me that “All is possible, day by day, grace is given”