“Pentecost” (detail), Jean Restout the Younger (1692–1768), 1732; Musée du Louvre
Fr Thomas’s homily for Pentecost (31 May)
“What is soiled, make thou pure; what is wounded, work its cure; what is parched, fructify.” (Sequence for Pentecost)
Today we recall and celebrate that historical moment when the power of the Holy Ghost was first poured into the Church. When that gathering of bemused followers of Christ, hiding away in prayer, unsure of what was to come were suddenly transformed into powerful evangelists, when S. Peter went from denying Christ to proclaiming loudly to all who would listen “repent and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.”
But we do far more than that — we do not merely recall an historical event, we enter into it. That outpouring of the Holy Ghost wasn’t a single event, rather it was the beginning of the working of the Holy Ghost in the Church. There has not been a single moment since that first Pentecost when the Holy Ghost has not been working within the Church — guiding and building us up, forming us as the Body of Christ. As those Apostles spread out through Jerusalem and its surroundings, up to Damascus and Antioch, to various parts of the Roman Empire — Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus and so forth — they did so receiving strength for their work from the Holy Ghost. When they gathered in solemn council to decide what to do with gentile converts, they did so under the guidance of the Holy Ghost.
What was true for the Apostles has continued to be true. Every generation of Christians has been given the gift of the Holy Ghost; in the Sacrament of Confirmation we have all been sealed with this gift. As missionaries spread the word of Christ across the world, they relied on the Holy Ghost to give them the strength to keep working. As monks and nuns sanctified their lives in quiet solitude, the Holy Ghost guided them into deeper truths and knowledge of God. And as countless thousands of normal Christians sought to grow in Christ, they have done so in the power of that same Spirit.
We heard in that magnificent Sequence what that Spirit can do. Make the soiled pure; cure the wounded; correct the erring; strengthen the weak…in short, to give the Christian the power to do everything which he should do. Without his power working within them, all of those generations were utterly powerless to do anything good. And this isn’t just something in the past — this is the truth of our lives too. We need the strength of the Holy Ghost if we are to live lives which are pleasing to God, are going to grow closer to him, are going to spread his word and build his kingdom.
First, though, we need to ask. Note that the entire text is that hymn is a request. We don’t simply note that the Holy Ghost can purify, can strengthen, can cure — we ask him to do so. We need to invite him into our lives. As with everything, God wants us to come to him, God invites us to come to him…but he does not force us to come to him. So too, the Holy Ghost wants to come into our lives, wants to cure our wounds, strengthen our weaknesses, purify our souls…but he won’t do so unless we ask him to. God will, with deep sadness, respect our choice if we reject him. So we need to ask for that working of the Holy Ghost in our lives. We need to imitate those Apostles who gathered with Our Lady in prayer — turning to God and asking for his strength in our lives, asking for the gift of the Holy Ghost.
When the Apostles received the Holy Ghost they had little idea what would happen — it was the first time after all. But the same is not true of us. We can know that inviting the Holy Ghost into our lives isn’t something which we can do on our own terms — it involves turning our lives over to him. It took those Apostles out of that place of refuge and to the very ends of the world. If we sincerely ask the Holy Ghost into our lives, then we have no idea where we will be led.
But we can be sure of two things. First, it will be to build up the Church, to further Christ’s Kingdom on earth, to seek to draw everyone around us into that same relationship of love with God which we experience. To be a missionary is the vocation of all Christians. We are not given gifts by God simply for our own satisfaction and happiness, rather we are given them to work his good works in the world. Secondly, whilst it will be a struggle (God never promised an easy life to his followers), it will be a struggle which is always undertaken with God working alongside us, God working through is, God holding us up…and if we are faithful to him through that struggle, it will bring us at last to him for eternal happiness.
That is why today we pray ‘Come Holy Ghost’ — come and fill us, come and guide us.
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