Monday, 24 May 2010


Chapter Sermon, Pentecost Year C, 2010

We have begun to celebrate the feast of Pentecost. The gospel reading for the Mass of the day is very interesting. It might well have been chosen for the feast of the Blessed Trinity. In it Jesus says,

If anyone loves me he will keep my word
and my Father will love him,
and we shall come to him and make our home with him.
Those who do not love me do not keep my words.
...My word is not my own;
it is the word of the one who sent me.
I have said these things to you
while still with you;
but the Advocate, the Holy Spirit,
whom the Father will send in my name
will teach you everything
and remind you of all I have said to you. (Jn 14:23-26)

We have some understanding of what Jesus is saying because we have some inkling of what a human father is. And yet theologians warn us that in speaking of God we have only a hint of what we are trying to understand. There is in, as you already know, a stream of thought in the Eastern Church that says in trying to describe God the opposite of what you are trying to say may be more true of God. God is so different from our ordinary experiences that there is more mystery than clear light when we try to understand what God is in essentials and in our lives.

Jesus says that the Spirit will teach us everything. We often think that we understand clearly the truth of what we are being taught. But the test of that is if we can repeat what we have been told in our own words. If our new knowledge has become part of us, then do we truly know what we have learnt and can use it to live by.

The Holy Spirit came to help the disciples recall what Jesus had told them so that they really understand what he was telling them about the Father and of himself as God’s Son. Jesus told them the Spirit, would come down upon them to make sure they grasped the fact that the Father and he himself would remain within them. The Holy Spirit would guide them to this fuller knowledge. Without Jesus saying as much, this means that the Spirit himself would be in them. This I suppose is the sort of thing the controversies of the early Church were dealing with when the Fathers and theologians of the time were trying to describe the meaning of the Three Persons and the one Nature in God.

This mystery of God is a deeply personal one for us in our own time, not so much in the area of abstract concepts, but in our own intimate relations with Christ. It’s not possible to have such a relationship with him without also having one with the Father and indeed with the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of both Father and Son, uniting them with each other and also joining us in that union.

The truth is we don’t know in practice what our life with God is from moment to moment. Indeed do we know what any of our ordinary relations are like with anyone? We are normally on firm ground in our relationships with our friends and acquaintances. And yet, because of the human condition, our lives are in a process. Each of us is in a flux of change. We are either growing closer together in knowledge and trust or growing apart for other reasons. True fellow feeling or friendship grows with time and with the sharing of commonly held beliefs and interests. If there is no love or other common bond then the ties we thought we had with them fade and die away.

What Jesus is sharing with the disciples, and us, is something so intimate to him and to all who would follow him that it cannot but grow and be life enhancing. This was worth Jesus becoming flesh and dying for.

It is so difficult for us to understand, ‘to unpack’ as the saying goes. We need to give the Holy Spirit the opportunity to work on us and to draw us into the heart of the feast of Pentecost. But the spirit of Pentecost is not just a one-day event. It is a living reality and we need to let the message of the gospel seep into our hearts day by day. We become new persons Spirit-bearers and Christ-bearers for own selves and for all who would be sharers in this Good News.

That is what the season of Easter and the feast of Pentecost is all about. We are called to be followers of Christ ‘from the heart’ so that we may be ready receivers of the Holy Spirit and mediators of this great mystery of God to the world.