Sunday, June 12, 2011

With or Without the Holy Spirit? (Pentecost 2011)

Today we celebrate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Church of Jesus. My prayer for all readers of this blog - whatever tradition you belong to, or whatever spirituality nourishes your walk with God at this time of your life - is that you will have the joy of entering more deeply than ever before into the mystery of Pentecost; that the love, the power, the fruit and the gifts of the Holy Spirit will be released afresh in you and in the church communities of which you are part.

Let's not forget that the Holy Spirit seeks to transform us - individuals and communities - into the image of Jesus, and this sometimes means that we know his presence even more in the wilderness than when things are going well. Indeed, when this is so our understanding of "spiritual warfare" is renewed (as it ought to be the more we ponder the things that form the context for our life and witness today!).

I offer you these reflections.

by Fr Raniero Cantalamessa, Preacher to the the Papal Household

Everyone has on some occasion seen people pushing a stalled car trying to get it going fast enough to start. There are one or two people pushing from behind and another person at the wheel. If it does not get going after the first try, they stop, wipe away the sweat, take a breath and try again.

Then suddenly there is a noise, the engine starts to work, the car moves on its own and the people who were pushing it straighten themselves up and breathe a sigh of relief.

This is an image of what happens in Christian life. One goes forward with much effort, without great progress. But we have a very powerful engine ("the power from above!") that only needs to be set working. The feast of Pentecost should help us to find this engine and see how to get it going.

The account from the Acts of the Apostles begins thus: "When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all together in the same place."

In the Old Testament there were two interpretations of the feast of Pentecost. At the beginning there was the feast of the seven weeks, the feast of the harvest, when the first fruits of grain were offered to God, but then, and certainly during Jesus' time, the feast was enriched with a new meaning: It was the feast of the conferral of the law and of the covenant on Mount Sinai.

If the Holy Spirit descends upon the Church precisely on the day in which Israel celebrated the feast of the law and the covenant, this indicates that the Holy Spirit is the new law, the spiritual law that sealed the new and eternal covenant. A law that is no longer written on stone tablets but on tablets of flesh, on the hearts of men.

These considerations immediately provoke a question: Do we live under the old law or the new law? Do we fulfill our religious duties by constraint, by fear and habit, or rather by an intimate conviction and almost by attraction? Do we experience God as a father or a boss?

These words are part of an address to the 1968 Assembly of the World Council of Churches by Patriarch Ignatius when he was Metropolitan of Latakia. They have been quoted a good deal since then, and are used HERE in a sermon of Father Michael Harper, a pioneer of global and ecumenical charismatic renewal, and for the last period of his life a priest of the Antiochian Orthodox Church.

Without the Holy Spirit . . .

God is far away.
Christ stays in the past,
The Gospel is simply an organisation,
Authority is a matter of propaganda,
The Liturgy is no more than an evolution,
Christian loving a slave mentality.

But in the Holy Spirit . . .

The cosmos is resurrected and grows with the
birth pangs of the kingdom.
The Risen Christ is there,
The Gospel is the power of life,
The Church shows forth the life of the Trinity,
Authority is a liberating science,
Mission is a Pentecost,
The Liturgy is both renewal and anticipation,
Human action is deified.

Finally, here are two very different hymns for today. The first is Edward Caswall's 1849 English translation of the thirteenth century Latin Sequence before the Gospel at the Pentecost Mass.

The second is a modern renewal song adapted from a longer piece by Bill Gaither.

Come, thou Holy Spirit, come;
And from thy celestial home
Shed a ray of light divine;
Come, thou Father of the poor;
Come, thou source of all our store;
Come, within our bosoms shine;

Thou, of comforters the best;
Thou, the soul's most welcome guest;
Sweet refreshment here below;
In our labor, rest most sweet;
Grateful coolness in the heat;
Solace in the midst of woe.

O most blessed Light divine,
Shine within these hearts of thine,
And our inmost being fill,
Where thou art not, man hath naught,
Nothing good in deed or thought,
Nothing free from taint of ill.

Heal our wounds, our strength renew;
On our dryness pour thy dew;
Wash the stains of guilt away;
Bend the stubborn heart and will
Melt the frozen, warm the chill;
Guide the steps that go astray.

On the faithful, who adore
And confess thee, evermore
In thy sev'nfold gift descend;
Give them virtue's sure reward;
Give them thy salvation, Lord;
Give them joys that never end.
Amen. Alleluia.

* * * * * * *

Come, Holy Spirit, we need thee.
Come, Holy Spirit we pray.
Come in thy strength and thy power.
Come in thine own gentle way.

Come as the wisdom to children.
Come as new sight to the blind.
Come, Lord as strength in our weakness.
Heal us, soul, body and mind.


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