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These drunk bears will make you grasp the Spirit as never before

grizzly bear fall foliage

Adam Van Spronsen | Shutterstock

Fr. Peter John Cameron, OP - published on 05/26/23

A completely non-religious story from the news helps me to understand something of what God does for us at Pentecost.

Pentecost is the glorious mystery of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples of Jesus. This torrent of grace is promised in the Scriptures:

“The Lord said to his people: ‘I will pour out my spirit upon all mankind’” (Joel 3:1-5 — quoted by St. Peter in Acts 2:14-21).

“God’s charity has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Rom 5:5).

An unexpected outpouring

A completely non-religious story from the news helps me to understand something of what God does for us at Pentecost.

In the winter of 1988, there was a terrible series of train derailments in northern Montana, all occurring at the same place along the border of Glacier National Park. A total of 104 train container cars, carrying tons and tons of corn kernels, overturned on the tracks. More than 20 million pounds of corn poured out upon the countryside.

When the local bears hibernating in that region woke up from their extended winter sleep, they thought they had died and gone to heaven. Rangers reported seeing as many as 11 bears at any one time swarming the site, gorging on the mountains of corn. A story from the Los Angeles Times stated: “So blissfully content was one grizzly bear that it lay down on its side and simply scooped corn into its face until it could eat no more.”

Not only that but, incredibly, smaller-sized bears dared to risk coming close so as to eat right alongside the behemoth bears — all without inciting any kind of commotion. And even black bears — which normally flee at the sight of grizzlies — mixed in together with their mortal enemies.

To make matters worse, much of the unsalvaged spoiled spill proceeded to ferment so that, as one official put it, “It smelled like a brewery up there.” And when the ravenous bears sunk their teeth into that, which they did with gusto, those bears got blotto. Alarmed residents called in with panicky reports about inebriated bears staggering on the road and on the train tracks.

And something else: When people caught wind of this mind-boggling thing, they got into their cars, headed straight to the site, set up their lawn chairs, and sat down 50 feet from the savage wild animals so that they could observe the feasting beasts.

In many ways, the outpouring of Pentecost is just like that.

Overturning the unspiritual

At Pentecost, an abundance beyond all imagining inundates the landscape of our life. In giving us the Holy Spirit, God pours a “windfall” of his love into our hearts to nourish us — for we are told that the Holy Spirit came “like a mighty rushing wind” (Acts 2:2). Twenty million pounds worth doesn’t even come close.

The Pentecost miracle overflows into our experience when we expect it the least — when we are checked out, unaware, distracted, slumbering, dormant, spiritually hibernating hoping simply to stay alive. And it comes, not because we have worked for it or merited it … it is nothing we have earned, it is not the result of our efforts — the love that engulfs us at Pentecost comes as pure gift. 

The gift of the Holy Spirit changes us, overturning whatever persists in being brutish or beastly. The Spirit’s superabundant presence transforms and tames, regenerating us in the Spirit’s gift of peace. We become truly gentle, docile, mild, meek, “blissfully content” —spiritual! — because of God’s gift. We abandon bearish ways. 

United with the Person of the Holy Spirit, we are blessed with the Spirit’s gifts of wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. We see blossom in our life the fruits of the Holy Spirit: charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, and chastity.

The gift of things undreamed of

With the outpouring of the Holy Spirit a new kind of communion with others — otherwise inconceivable — comes into being. We dwell in unity. The Spirit’s presence produces in us an astonishing courage and daring we would never think ourselves capable of. St. Cyril of Alexandria asserts: 

The Holy Spirit changes those in whom he comes to dwell and alters the whole pattern of their lives. With the Spirit within them it is quite natural for people who had been absorbed by the things of this world to become entirely other-worldly in outlook, and for cowards to become people of great courage. 

On Pentecost day, when the people heard the Apostles speaking in tongues and making bold proclamations prompted by the Spirit, they exclaimed, “They have had too much new wine!” (Acts 2:1-13). But St. Peter corrects them: “You must realize that these men are not drunk, as you seem to think. It is only nine in the morning!” (Acts 2:15). The “holy intoxication” that overtakes the Spirit-filled Apostles is not a cause for alarm, but for rejoicing.

Blessed Isaac of Stella (+ circa 1169) points out: 

Today the Spirit rushed abundantly into the disciples’ hearts from the fullness of the true grape, whose farmer is the Father. The Spirit filled the wine cellars of the disciples’ minds, which God’s Son had cleaned and fortified, with a strong, bright wine. Completely taking the disciples away from themselves as though he were a very strong wine, he taught them the knowledge of the voice that he had, so that, soberly drunk, they might move, be guided, and speak, not by their own perception and spirit, but rather to do everything by the wine’s heat, fragrance, and power.

And this transformation is extremely attractive. We must not be surprised if others are drawn to it — if they want to witness it, come close to it, partake of it. St. Cyril of Jerusalem (+386) gives us this good encouragement: 

The Holy Spirit comes with the tenderness of a true friend in order to save, to heal, to teach, to counsel, to strengthen, and to console. The Holy Spirit enables people to see things beyond the range of human vision, things up to that point undreamed of.


Find Fr. Peter John Cameron’s reflection on the Sunday Gospel each week here.

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