While in New Mexico this summer my friends Lauren and Amy and I drove into the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo mountains to attend Mass at the historic Santuario de Chimayó.
It was Pentecost Sunday. The small chapel was filled to capacity and hot as an oven, so we stood near the door where at least a hint of a breeze was stirring. The priest read from Acts Two, the part about the Spirit blowing life and courage into that first gathering of believers. Then from John Twenty, where Jesus breathed on his friends and said, Receive the Holy Spirit.
After Mass we went for lunch at the nearby Rancho de Chimayó, a restored century-old adobe home with a garden terrace. As we waited for our names to be called, a party of six older Hispanic adults walked in. Lauren, Amy and I halted our conversation in mid-sentence as we watched them walk past. All six were wearing something red. A Pentecost parade!
A tall man in a hat wore a skinny red tie with his white Oxford shirt. One woman was wearing red everything—pants, skirt, shoes, socks. But best of all was the seventy-ish woman wearing a long, red satin cape, like Superwoman, trimmed in white lace all the way around. On the back of the cape was a large golden dove with the word Come! stitched beneath.
I was thrilled when we wound up seated next to their table. Trying hard not to stare, I couldn’t help but watch them throughout the meal. They talked and ate with such joy. They lifted glasses of sangria into the air with a hearty toast to the Lord: “Thanks be to God!” And oh, man, they laughed. Not restrained giggles. Not tempered chuckles. I’m talking deep-from-the-gut laughter that shook the water glasses and had all of them wiping their eyes.
When their food came they all joined hands while the man in the skinny red tie offered a passionate prayer, calling on Holy Spirit to “hold us and guide us,” upon which they all bellowed Amen! Everyone sitting near them in the restaurant seemed blessed by the overflow and maybe even a little wistful, in a When Harry Met Sally way: “We’ll have what they’re having!”
These dear Catholics took themselves so lightly, precisely because they took Holy Spirit so seriously. There’s something marvelous and mysterious about the presence of the Spirit in a church. As Jesus observed to Nicodemus (John 3), we can no more explain the work of the Spirit than we can pin down a breeze. But we’ll know the Wind is blowing when leaves in the trees—and even friends around a table—are shaking with something like joy.