A new look at Pentecost

May 16, 2023 in News

In the May 2023 edition of The Sacred Heart Messenger, Fr Vincent Sherlock offers a touching letter of tribute to his own mother for the month of Mary; Dr Ciara Murphy reflects on Pope Francis’s caution that the goals of an intense and rapid pace of life do not serve the common good; and author John Scally gives an account of the radical solidarity of journalist Sally Hayden with refugees from North Africa. In this Messenger article, Irish Provincial Shane Daly SJ reflects on the gift of the Holy Spirit for the feast of Pentecost, which falls on Sunday 28 May 2023.

Pentecost: A reflection on the gift of the Spirit

There is a little ritual, now no longer part of the liturgy, whereby the priest, after reading the Gospel on the feast of the Ascension, blows out the Paschal Candle. This ritual symbolises that Jesus, who over forty days appeared to the disciples and was seen visibly through their human eyes, would only be visible through the eyes of faith, something which only the Holy Spirit makes possible.

Saint Paul emphasises how important the Holy Spirit is when writing to the Corinthians (c. 56 AD). He is concerned that the Christian community in Corinth is too interested in the wisdom of the world and the power of that wisdom when they want to speak about God. Paul rejects this very clearly stating that it is only when the Spirit is our teacher that we will come to know God. He tells the Corinthians that God is a mystery who cannot be seen, cannot be heard, and cannot be conceived (1 Cor 2:7, 9) by human intelligence.

Only God’s Spirit makes it possible for men and women to know something about the mystery of God. When we speak of knowing God we do so firstly from the perspective that something is said from God to men and women about God. God, as it were, steps out of the divine mystery and into the human story, inviting us into relationship with the divine life. The power of the Holy Spirit opens our eyes to see God at work in the world, revealing the divine mystery through the eyes of faith. But this does not mean that we know God. Saint John Chrysostom (349-407) makes a wonderful distinction between something being incomprehensible and something being unapproachable: “We call the sea incomprehensible because, even when the divers lower themselves into its waters and go down to a great depth, they cannot find the bottom. We call the thing unapproachable which, from the start, cannot be searched out or investigated.” God is incomprehensible but not unapproachable because of the gift of both Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.

If it is impossible to truly and completely know another human being, so much more is this true of God, who is wholly other. All we can do when confronted with a God beyond our comprehension is worship. Saint Ignatius of Loyola reminds his retreatants that human beings are created to “praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord.” Praising and reverencing God comes first. Remember the first commandment? “I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other gods before me” (Ex 20: 2-3). It is in praising and reverencing God that we serve because serving God is usually done through serving our neighbour. But how can we serve our neighbour as God wants unless we take time to listen to God speak through the Holy Spirit to us in the silence of prayer? If we are not willing to listen to God in the silence of prayer then we are not willing to listen to how God is calling us to serve our neighbour and God’s creation. We have come full circle. Our idolatry is now putting ourselves where God ought to be and listening to our spirit rather than God’s Spirit. We have decided we know better than God what our neighbour and creation need so both can flourish.

The Holy Spirit opens the doors of faith for us to accept Jesus’ message as God’s message and gives us the grace we need to order our lives in accordance with it.

We can open ourselves to the Spirit by praying that simple prayer, but one with deep resonances: “Come, Holy Spirt, fill the hearts of your faithful and enkindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created and you shall renew the face of the earth.” With the Spirit’s gifts of love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, and faithfulness, we too will influence our world with the message of the Gospel.  

Irish Provincial Shane Daly SJ

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