Saturday, 3 June 2006


A few simple thoughts for this Sunday's homily:

Pentecost is the great Feast of the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Most Holy Trinity. He is a rather neglected Divine Person – the Father and the Son are quite easy to talk about and understand, at least on a basic level, but do we always put the Holy Spirit on an equal footing? This is not helped by the fact that He is normally represented as a dove and that His name in English changed about 40 years ago from ‘Holy Ghost’ to ‘Holy Spirit,’ which confused some people. The change was thought fitting because the word ‘ghost’ was no longer applied to spirits in general but, in particular, meant a dead person that rattled chains and appeared at the dead of night. Fear of God is important, but we should not be scared of Him.

On Pentecost the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles shortly after Jesus ascended into Heaven. It was a dramatic moment, with rushing gusts of wind and flames of fire. From that moment, the Holy Spirit and the Church were inextricably joined together. So much so, that Pentecost is normally considered the ‘birthday’ of the Church. The Holy Spirit is still at work in the Church nearly 2,000 years later – but where do we ordinarily find Him?

Looking at the church building we find various ‘sanctuaries of the Holy Spirit.’ He hovers over the baptismal font, because through Baptism He restores to man the Divine likeness that we lost through sin and gives us new life in Christ. We find the Holy Spirit in the confessional, because He gives the power to forgive sins – ‘receive the Holy Spirit,’ Jesus said to His disciples after the Resurrection, ‘whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them.’

The Holy Spirit is present in all the Sacraments, but special mention should be made of the Holy Eucharist. At Mass we ask Him to sanctify the gifts of bread and wine. Christ was conceived in Our Lady’s womb through the operation of the Holy Spirit (in fact, any shrine of Our Lady is also a shrine of the Holy Spirit). Likewise it is the Holy Spirit who changes the bread and wine into Christ’s body and blood. Moreover, in the Third Eucharistic Prayer we say: ‘Grant that we, who are nourished by his body and blood, may be filled with his Holy Spirit, and become one body, one spirit in Christ.’ By receiving Communion we receive the Holy Spirit and are put in union with God and with the Mystical Body that is the Church.

We find the Holy Spirit in the pulpit. The readings from Scripture are inspired by the Holy Spirit. He is even present (though on a different level) in the priest’s homily. As soon as the Spirit came upon the apostles at Pentecost, they ‘began to speak in tongues’ and preach the Gospel to the whole world. All preachers have their own styles and their favourite subjects or emphases, but, providing they remain true to the Catholic Faith, their words are not simply their own words. As John Paul II once said, ‘it is impossible to evangelise or indeed to speak of the Lord and in the Lord’s name, without the grace and power of the Holy Spirit. Using a biological analogy, we could say that just as human words are carried by the human breath, so the Word of God is transmitted by God’s breath, by his ruah or his pneuma, which is the Holy Spirit. That’s why only ordained ministers can preach – by virtue of their ministry, they continue the apostolic preaching began on Pentecost.

We find the Holy Spirit at work in the Church at large. Leo XIII said that ‘if Christ is the head of the Church, the Holy Spirit is her soul.’ Of course, the Holy Spirit inspires and helps the leaders of the Church. In particular, we believe that He guarantees the Church’s Infallibility when the Pope solemnly defines ex cathedra doctrine concerning faith or morals. But He also abides in every member of the Church as the dulcis hospes animae (sweet guest of the soul). The Spirit continues to be sent into our hearts, so that we receive consolation and strength, so that we can bear witness to Christ, just like the apostles on the day of Pentecost, just like the lives of countless saints down the centuries. We pray today that we will be filled with the Holy Spirit and His gifts of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, truthfulness, gentleness and self-control. We pray that we not only receive these gifts but we use them for the Church and the world.


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10:06 am  

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