4 June [Pentecost Sunday]
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them."
“Without the Holy Spirit,” said Ignatius of Laodicea (Orthodox Metropolitan, at the third assembly of the World Council of Churches at Uppsala, in 1968) “God is distant, Christ is merely an historical figure, the Gospel is a dead letter, the Church is just an organisation, authority is domination, mission is propaganda, liturgy is only nostalgia, and the work of Christians is slave labour. But with the Holy Spirit, Christ is risen and present, the Gospel is a living force, the Church is a communion in the life of the Trinity, authority is a service that sets people free, mission is Pentecost, the liturgy is memory and anticipation, and the labour of Christians is divinised.”
The Holy Spirit is the soul of the Church. The feast of Pentecost is an annual invitation to the Church to look into itself and discover its soul. It is tempted, like all of us, to keep looking the other way.
In one sense it is more natural to forget about one’s inner life and to get on with one’s work. If you are always worrying about your heart or your liver, etc., you will not take risks or do a lot of work. A healthy person just goes to it. The Holy Spirit is the soul of the Church, and there is a sense in which that Spirit likes to work unseen, undeclared. “It is not those who say to me, ‘Lord, Lord!’ who will enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 7:21). Adapting Jesus' words we could say, It is not those who say ‘Holy Spirit!’ who will enter the kingdom of heaven. It is those who live by the Spirit. During the 2nd Vatican Council an Eastern bishop complained that there was little mention of the Holy Spirit in the documents. But something tells us that talking about the Spirit is not the same thing as living by the Spirit.
However, we do have to pay attention to that inner place, to see by what spirit we are being driven. If you never paid any attention to your health you would be asking for trouble. Today’s feast is a reminder.
But obviously there is much more to it than this. Traditional images of the Holy Spirit are: Fire, Wind, Water, Cloud, Dove…. Why such strange images? All of them (except ‘dove’) have indeterminate boundaries or no boundaries at all. They are reminders that we should not dare to restrict the activity of the Spirit to a few things we can understand.
In a daring image the same poet, Jessica Powers, wrote that silence is a sort of decoy of the Holy Spirit. Just as hunters attract the flying birds out of the sky by placing a plastic or wooden model of them on the ground, we call down God's Spirit by our silence.
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