June 7, 2019

Christ the Cornerstone

Come, Holy Spirit, and renew the face of the Earth

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“Send forth your spirit, they are created and you renew the face of the Earth” (Ps 104:30).

The Solemnity of Pentecost, which we celebrate this weekend, 50 days after the Lord’s resurrection and 10 days after his ascension into heaven, is perhaps the most important day in the Church’s year. Pentecost has been called the birthday of the Church, the day when a small, timid band of Jesus’ followers were emboldened by the Holy Spirit and became courageous, unrelenting witnesses (martyrs) who preached the Good News of our salvation to the ends of the Earth.

Because Pentecost recalls the gift of the Holy Spirit given to Mary and the disciples, we regard this solemn feast as the one day in the Church year when the third person of the Blessed Trinity is the center of attention. On all other feasts, the Holy Spirit is present but he is not “center stage.” He plays an essential but supporting role in the annunciation, the birth of Jesus and his subsequent years of growth into manhood, his baptism in the Jordan, his public ministry, his transfiguration, his passion, death and resurrection. But it is not until the Lord has returned to his Father that the Holy Spirit assumes his most prominent place in the history of our salvation.

Pentecost is the solemn feast of our discipleship. More precisely, it is (as Pope Francis would say) the day when the Lord’s invitation to become missionary disciples was first accepted and put into practice by Peter and the other disciples who received the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Before Pentecost, no one—with the possible exception of Mary, the mother of Jesus—possessed the courage to stand up against the powers of darkness that were responsible for the Lord’s passion and death. After Pentecost, the fearful, tongue-tied disciples were reborn. These were the same men and women, with the same faults and personal weaknesses, but their manner was radically different. The power of the Holy Spirit transformed the disciples, who had gathered around Jesus during his time on Earth, into fearless public witnesses to his resurrection and ascension to the Father.

These reborn women and men were on fire with love for God and for one another. By the grace of the Holy Spirit, they formed an ecclesia, a gathering or community (the Church). They preached, healed and sanctified throughout the known world in the name of Jesus who was crucified by the religious and secular leaders of his day, but then triumphed, raised from the dead as a sign of our liberation from the power of sin and death.

Many of these first witnesses paid the ultimate price. Their testimony was no more welcome or accepted than was the teaching of their Lord and Master. But the seeds they planted grew, and the Church that they became survived the initial (and many subsequent) persecutions and grew to become a worldwide phenomenon that continues to thrive—in spite of assaults from within and without—to this day.

This is a mystery indeed. No human power could have produced this outcome—or could have prevented its destruction by internal corruption or external enemies. The one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church that we profess in faith every Sunday is the work of the Holy Spirit. It is the roaring fire that was set ablaze at Pentecost, and it is the strong, driving wind of rebirth and renewal that was unleashed when Peter and the other disciples first stood in the public square and began preaching in languages that all present could understand.

This Sunday, let’s rejoice in the gift of the Holy Spirit. Let’s sing together the sequence for the Solemnity of Pentecost, Veni Sancte Spiritus:

Come, Holy Spirit, come!
And from your celestial home
Shed a ray of light divine!

Come, Father of the poor!
Come, source of all our store!
Come, within our bosoms shine.

You, of comforters the best;
You, 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 yours,
And our inmost being fill!

Where you are not, we have naught,
Nothing good in deed or thought,
Nothing free from taint of ill.

Heal our wounds, our strength renew;
On our dryness pour your 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 you, evermore
In your sevenfold gift descend;

Give them virtue’s sure reward;
Give them your salvation, Lord;
Give them joys that never end.
Alleluia. †

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