Pentecost (detail), Jean Restout the Younger (1692–1768), 1732; Musée du Louvre

Fr Neil’s homily at Pentecost, 5 June 2022

The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and will bring to remembrance all that I have said to you.¹

The Jewish celebration of Pentecost marked the moment that they received the first Covenant. Moses brought the ten words of God down Mount Sinai on tablets of stone and established Israel as the covenant people of God.

Each year this Covenant was celebrated and remembered². This marking of the giving and receiving of the law of God was to remind God’s people that the law defined how they were to live out their lives in relationship to each other and God. It could also act as a self-examination to put right things that had gone wrong and re-commit oneself, community and nation to covenant with God.

The Pentecost that the Church celebrates in the coming of the Holy Spirit is intimately connected with the Law of the Lord. What Mary and the disciples experience marks the establishment of a New Covenant. The Holy Spirit who moved over the formless void at the beginning of Creation, and whom God breathed into Adam, marks nothing other than a Covenant of a new Creation.

It is through Mary and the Apostles that the Church is formed and is the means of entering into the first moments of the re-created heaven and earth. The new Covenant will transform the whole universe. As St Paul says Romans 8:19,21 “For the whole of creation waits with eager longing for the revelation of the children of God…because creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God.”

The law and prophets are made flesh in the person of Christ revealing the nature of God and his will for humanity. He calls the disciples to follow him and carry on his ministry and witness to his truth to the ends of the earth. That would only be possible after he had ascended to the Father, when he sent a new Comforter, the Holy Spirit, to be with them until the end of time.

The manner of this new relationship with God marks the law of God — his revealed will — written not on tablets of stone but upon the hearts and souls of his disciples. The very presence of God the Holy Spirit descends upon the Church in great power, conforming those with an open heart to the likeness and will of Christ himself through the sacraments. As creation is renewed so those who are baptised in Christ’s death and resurrection are made regenerate though the Holy Spirit and become a new creation³. A living and personal encounter with Christ through his Church is made possible, and the sacraments are the assurance of such a divine encounter.

So the Church established by Christ and indwelt by the Holy Spirit is the holy institution of God — even though it it made up of sinful people like you and me. The Holy Spirit guides the Church of God, sometimes through choppy waters, and ensures that it continues to speak the Word of God faithfully in its magisterial teaching.

That revealed and authoritative faith is the only true basis of our unity as the People of God, a unity of belief expressed in those who seek to worship the Lord in spirit and in truth. Worship and belief are two sides of the same coin. The manner of our worship will tell us a lot about what we actually believe. The gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and the fear of the Lord, are given for a purpose. With the law of God written on our hearts, through the Holy Spirit, we might be empowered to become fully formed in Christ, fulfilling our vocation as witness to the things of God and the salvific work of Christ as the means of our redemption.

What I pray therefore, especially in the liturgy of the mass, informs what I believe, which in turn affects the manner in which I live my life. There is a continuous interplay between these three areas of my discipleship. It is the Holy Spirit that writes the law of God upon our hearts, informing and transforming our conscience. As promised by Jesus: “The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and will bring to remembrance all that I have said to you.”¹

It is in the Holy Spirit that we are enabled to know Christ personally and become a temple of the Holy Spirit of God while within the community of faith. It is the Holy Spirit that empowers the expression of our love and devotion of Christ in our life of prayer and opens up the rich treasures of the Church’s liturgy. The Church’s liturgy stops being boring and becomes a transformative encounter with the living God. It is the Holy Spirit that gifts us with the desire to be unashamed of owning the name Christian and fearlessly share with the world the reason for our faith in Christ.

It is the Holy Spirit who guides us out of living a life according to the flesh, which is spiritual death, and leads us in the paths of holiness and spiritual joy in the Lord.

This is why our prayer at this time should be: “Come holy Spirit, fill the hearts of thy faithful; and kindle in them the fire of thy love! Alleluia.”⁴

¹ John 14:25–26
² The festival of Shavuot falls seven weeks after Passover
³ cf the Prayer of Thanksgiving after Baptism
⁴ Gospel Alleluia, Pentecost Sunday