Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire
Fr. Ronald Knox tells the story of a small boy in the East End of London who came to confession, and reduced his confession to the shortest possible limits by saying, “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned; thrown mud at the buses and don’t believe in the Holy Ghost.” I suppose that most of us don’t throw mud at buses and, if asked, would say we believe in the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is part of the prayer of the sign of the cross, which is the first prayer many of us ever learned. But most of us would be hard pressed to say much about the Spirit except maybe that He is the third Person of the Trinity, as we learned in Sunday School.
St. Augustine recognized the problem early on and tried to explain: “The Holy Spirit, according to the Holy Scriptures, is neither of the Father alone, nor of the Son alone, but of both; and so intimates to us the mutual love, wherewith the Father and the Son reciprocally love one another.” The Holy Spirit is the love that passes between the Father and the Son. So powerful is that love that it is not just a feeling or attitude but a Person. On the face of it that probably does not help much. Why did St Augustine think it would?
I do not know for sure, but I bet that Augustine was thinking about thinking about the admittedly somewhat distant analogy of marriage: a man and woman’s love bears fruit in a person, a child. How in the world can love be a person? Well, in the world every child is physical proof of consummated love and when we look at the readings for Pentecost Sunday what we see is evidence of divine love consummated.
In the first reading fire and wind of the Spirit give physical proof the love of God the Father and God the Son. In the Spirit of divine fruitfulness the Church herself become fruitful: each one heard them speaking in his own language. The pride, the opposite of love, which led to the Tower of Babel is reversed. All the human ambitions to create one world are shown to be barren projects. Love cannot be legislated; but only received and given. Hence the contrast in the Bible between Spirit and Law. Hence the destructive images of fire and wind are there to destroy something in us : the Holy Spirit can only enter those who are ‘poor in spirit’, that is, those who are emptied to make room for the Spirit.
In the second reading St. Paul writes to the troubled Church in Corinth, a church made barren by infighting, factions and competition. Paul breaks through all the nonsense about you has the Spirit and who has not: who has spiritual gifts and who does not; who does the most and who does the least. The sure sign of the absence of the Spirit is disunity because it is the Spirit which binds together the Father and the Son in love. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. . . For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.
In one of the modern Roman Prefaces this is expressed very clearly: The Church united by the unity of the Trinity: When your children were scattered afar by sin, through the Blood of the Son and the Power of the Spirit, you gathered them again to yourself, that a people formed as one by the unity of the Trinity, made the Body of Christ and the Temple of the Holy Spirit, might be made manifest . . . as the Church
The Gospel in contrast to the first reading gives a quieter Pentecost, a private Pentecost, if you will, which is the presupposition of the more wind blown and fiery Pentecost. Behind locked doors, Jesus says to his disciples ‘peace’ and again ‘peace’. To show that this is not just wishful thinking he breathes upon them and says Receive the Holy Spirit. Jesus knows that the Church cannot accomplish her mission without the peace of the gift of the Holy Spirit. She cannot be fruitful without repentance and forgiveness.
The outer display of Luke’s Pentecost requires first the inner quiet of John’s Pentecost. This is something that we ignore at our own peril. We worry here about the growth of the parish and rightly so. We want to find an evangelism program that really works and that we could actually pull off. But that is not then problem. Why would anyone around want to come here. The answer usually given is our sense of community. But you can find community in plenty of other places.
I understand perfectly well the lure of the perfect evangelism program but it can easily be a dodge. We imagine that we can attract folks to this parish externally without tending to our interior life. That is what we have to offer. It is ultimately all we have to offer. If is we are not pursuing the inner life of the Holy Spirit, the inner life of the Trinity, seeking that peace, forgiveness, and intimacy with God, everything else we might do will always be barren. So we pray this Sunday:
Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire