Solemnity of Pentecost “Happy Birthday Church!” PDF Version
Homily for Pentecost Sunday (2018)
If you were to ask someone what are the two most important yearly celebrations for Christians, most would respond Easter and Christmas. Those who provided this answer are 50% correct! Easter is the single most important celebration for Christians. No other event in the mission and mystery of Jesus Christ deserves greater celebration and priority than His Resurrection from the dead and eternal victory over Satan, sin and death.
But Christmas is not the second most important Christian celebration. Our Lord’s birth in the lowly stable of Bethlehem is most certainly of the utmost importance; for if Christ our Saviour had not been born we would be denied the gift of redemption in His blood. Nor does this mean we should lessen our Christmas celebrations nor in anyway neglect this joy filled feast, but we need appreciate that there is another yearly celebration that is of greater importance for the followers of Christ. This celebration is what takes place today, the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and the Blessed Virgin Mary, known as Pentecost.
If Easter is the celebration of Christ’s Resurrection and the beginnings of salvation for humanity and all of creation, then Pentecost marks the beginning of how that gift of salvation will flow throughout history and continue until the end of all things. Pentecost marks the day that God assured the work of salvation that was accomplished through the Cross and Resurrection would continue to come into the world through the working of His Church.
Many of the Church Fathers, those esteemed theologians and pastors of the first centuries of Christianity, taught that the Church was mystically born on the day of Our Lord’s Crucifixion. When His side was pierced with a lance, St John tells us that blood and water flowed from His Sacred Heart.
St Augustine taught that the water represented the sacrament of Baptism that would bring the gift of eternal life to all who were saved through baptism in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and become members of God’s Holy Church, while the blood represented the Holy Eucharist, the Bread of Life and Sacred Flesh of Jesus that will sustain and strengthen Christians in their mission of proclaiming the Gospel.
But these same Church Fathers also spoke of the Church being born anew at Pentecost, since without the power of the Holy Spirit, the Church could not be set aflame with the fire of His love, a love that was now to be send out throughout the world to renew the face of the earth that had been disfigured by the consequences of sin and death. Hence, Pentecost has rightly been called the Birthday of the Church, and we know that to celebrate one’s birthday is essential.
In a spiritual sense, Pentecost then becomes a birthday for each and every Christian, as we recall the day that the Holy Spirit entered the world and formed the Church from the Apostles, the Blessed Virgin Mary and those faithful men and women who followed Christ and encouraged others to receive the gift of Holy Baptism and the Sacred Body and Blood of Jesus in the Eucharist. And so I say onto each of us may today be for you and I a very blessed birthday, for we have been reborn in the Spirit of the Lord and given those fruits of the Spirit that St Paul said are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”
Think of these spiritual fruits, in addition to the 7 Gifts of the Holy Spirit that one can receive at their Confirmation, as the birthday gifts that the Holy Spirit freely gives to those who are open to receive them and use them well for the glory of God and love of neighbour.
I would now like for each of us to take some time in quiet reflection to invite the Holy Spirit to enter our hearts as we thank Him for bringing about the birth of our Church. To aid us in this short time of quiet meditation, permit me to read an English translation of the ancient Latin hymn Veni, Sancte Spiritus, Come Holy Spirit, composed sometime in the 12-13thcentury AD.
As Our Lord said in the Gospel, the Spirit of God has many things to say to us, some we might not yet be able to bear. May He strengthen us open our ears and listen to what comes from the Spirit of Truth:
Holy Spirit, God of light.
Fill us with your radiance bright;
Gentle Father of the poor,
Make us, by your help, secure;
Come, your boundless grace impart,
Bring your love to every heart.
Lord of Consolation, come,
Warm us when our hearts are numb;
Greater Consoler come and heal,
To our souls your strength reveal;
Cool, refreshing comfort pour,
And our peace of mind restore.
Light immortal, fire divine,
With your love our hearts refine;
Come, our inmost being fill,
Make us all to do your will;
Goodness you alone can give,
Grant that in your grace we live.
Come, our lukewarm hearts inspire,
Mold our wills to your desire;
In our weakness make us strong,
And amend our every wrong;
Guide us when we go astray,
Wash our stain of guilt away.
Give to every faithful soul
Gifts of grace to make us whole;
Help us when we come to die,
So that we may live on high;
Ever let your love descend,
Give us joys that never end. Amen.