Immaculate Conception and St. Dominic, Stone

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The Solemnity of Pentecost, Year C

Just a Thought

As its name indicates, Pentecost is the feast that takes place fifty days after Easter. It is the crowning finale of the celebration of the Lord’s resurrection, which lasts throughout Eastertide and ends with the pouring of the Spirit over the apostles and in the Church. Hence the importance of Pentecost in the liturgical year, where the richness of the liturgy tries to do justice to the many components of the mystery as it is celebrated. As the Vatican II document Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium states: ‘When the work that the Father gave the Son to do on earth was accomplished, the Holy Spirit was sent on the day of Pentecost in order that he might continually sanctify the Church, and that, consequently, those who believe might have access through Christ in one Spirit to the Father. He is the Spirit of life, the fountain of water springing up to eternal life. To men, dead in sin, the Father gives life through him until the day when, in Christ, he raises to life their mortal bodies. The Spirit dwells in the Church and in the hearts of the faithful, as a temple. In them he prays and bears witness to their adoptive sonship. Guiding the Church in the way of all truth and unifying her in communion and in the works of ministry, he bestows upon her varied hierarchic and charismatic gifts, and in this way directs her; and he adorns her with his fruits. By the power of the Gospel he permits the Church to keep the freshness of youth. Constantly he renews her and leads her to perfect union with her spouse. For the Spirit and the Bride both say to Jesus, the Lord: ‘Come’. Hence the universal church is seen to be ‘a people brought into unity from the unity of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit.’

The inauguration of the new covenant, the promulgation of the new Law announced by the prophets, the gathering of the community in latter days prefigured by the assembly —ecclesia — in the desert, beginning of the coming harvest (Jewish feast of weeks) Pentecost is the final manifestation of God — the theophany — that has given birth to the Church.

The liturgy commemorates the Pentecost that occurred in Jerusalem fifty days after Easter, yet transcends time. In fact, the liturgical celebration constantly makes this event present; from year to year it allows those who celebrate Pentecost to share in the graces of the mystery.

For the liturgical celebration of Pentecost this Sunday there are, as usual during Eastertide three readings from the New Testament. The first reading is the account of the first Pentecost. Whereas however, the first reading at the Vigil Mass is taken from the Old Testament. Probably very few of us participate in the Pentecost Vigil Mass, but the texts are there, offered for our meditation in preparation for the feast day. Thus it is a richly spread table that the liturgy for Pentecost offers, where everyone can feed on the living bread of the Word, entering into the mystery and partaking in its fruits.

The gift of the Spirit, inaugurated by Christ’s passover, characterises the nature of the last times. Poured out first on the apostles and, through them, on all disciples, the Spirit continues Christ’s work. It sanctifies the waters of baptism where believers are born to new life, and it changes other sacred signs into sacraments that truly bestow grace. Source of many and varied charisms it organises the Church, making it, in its unity, the body of Christ. The Christian is thus more and more assimilated to Christ, ‘belonging’ to him to an even greater degree, in so far as the Christian lives through the indwelling of the Spirit. One is never fully a Christian in this life but always progressing towards the fullness. In the end, ‘we will all attain to the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the extent of the full stature of Christ.’ (Eph 4:13) ‘Taken possession of by Christ,’ we may never think ourselves ‘as straining forward to what lies ahead.’ (Phil 3:12-13) Our body ‘is dead because of sin,’ but the Spirit of him ‘who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit that dwells in you.’ Baptised into the death of Christ, we thus participate fully in his passover and resurrection, and he will ‘raise our mortal bodies and make them like his own in glory.’

Although we become ‘just,’ we must still reckon with the temptation of sin. The Spirit allows us not only to conquer but to destroy it. Again, this come from following the same path as Christ, while acknowledging the vast difference between him and us. Conceived by the Holy Spirit, he received it in full at his baptism in the waters of the Jordan. ‘At once the Spirit drove him out into the desert’ (Mark1:12) where he won his first victory over Satan, who stayed away until the time of the decisive battle. Throughout his ministry, Jesus walked under the guidance of the Spirit, who enabled him to triumph over death. Immediately after being resurrected, the Son began to use the Spirit to transform into his image all those for whom he had died on the cross.

Like Jesus, the disciple must allow himself to be led by the Spirit, to live with the Spirit that ‘dwells in him,’ to submit to its inspiration and action, not to ‘grieve.’ (Eph 4:30)

Indeed ‘those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.’ They live no longer under the rule of fear, but rather that of love and confidence. ‘Through the Spirit,’ who attests in us to our divine sonship, we cry out to God and call him: ‘Abba, Father!’ Now, we are heirs as well: ‘heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.’ This inheritance promised us is the kingdom — glory — eternal life: ‘Kingdom and glory (1 Thes 2;12), ‘eternal life to those who seek glory.’ (Rom 2:7) The Spirit is the object of the promise, of which it is both the pledge and the first fruit. As Saint Irenaeus asks:

If we now, on receiving the pledges, cry ‘Abba, Father,’ what will we do when, resurrected, we will see him face to face? When all the members, wave upon wave, will shout a hymn of exaltation, glorifying the one who will have raised them from the dead and given them eternal life? For, if already with simple pledges surrounding him, man cries ‘Abba, Father,’ what will he not do with the complete grace of the Spirit, once given him by God? It will make us like God and will accomplish the will of the Father, for it will make man into the image and likeness of God.’

In order that this may be true, one must, ‘suffer with [Christ] so that we may also be glorified with him.’ ‘We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.’ (Rom 6:3-4) The liturgy of Pentecost thus returns us to that of Easter Sunday. ‘If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not what is on earth.’ (Col 3:1-2)

It is the Spirit who makes us capable of pursuing this path and participating in the life of Christ, in his humility, his obedience to the Father, his trust, his patience, his charity. Butit also enables us to participate in his kingdom, in the benefits of his resurrection, in the full enjoyment of the gifts of the Spirit. It belongs to us to be the son of God who, through the Spirit, will reach, in eternal glory, his full stature. And so we cry:

‘Come, Holy Spirit, come!
And from your celestial home
Shed a ray of light divine!

Come, Father of the poor!
Come source of all our store!
Come, within our bosoms shine!

You, of comforters the best;
You, the souls most welcome guest;
Sweet refreshment here below;

In our labour, rest most sweet;
Grateful coolness in the heat;
Solace in the midst of woe.

O most blessed light divine,
Shine within these hearts of yours,
And our inmost being fill!

Where you are not, man has nought,
Nothing good in deed or thought,
Nothing free from taint of ill.

Heal our wounds, our strength renew;
On our dryness pour your dew;
Wash the stains of guilt away:

Bend the stubborn heart and will;
Melt the frozen, warm the chill;
Guide the steps that go astray.

On the faithful, who adore
And confess you, evermore
In your sev’nfold gift descend;

Give them virtues sure reward;
Give them your salvation, Lord;
Give them joys that never end.

Amen. Alleluia.’

 

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