On this day, dear to all Christian hearts, the fullness of God’s plan for the world is revealed. After sending His Son to teach us the way to Heaven, having accepted His sacrifice on the cross and raised Him from the dead, today the Eternal Father, one with His Son, sends us the Third Divine Person, the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete. The Blessed Trinity is thus revealed in all its splendour and majesty and is offered to the adoration of all rational creatures in Heaven and on earth. Next week will be the time to say more about the Trinity. For today, let us linger somewhat on the Third Divine Person, and what He brings to us today.
Our Lord had told us that the Holy Spirit would lead us to all the truth, that He would remind us of all that Jesus taught. Inasmuch as He is given to the Church, He guarantees that she will ever remain in possession of all that God has revealed. In other words, the Church in her official, binding teaching, always enjoys the light and guidance of the Holy Spirit. She cannot err when she defines a dogma of faith. Nor can she err when she determines what is necessary for the validity of the sacraments, for the sacraments are the privileged means by which the grace of the Holy Spirit is communicated to us. It is of the greatest importance that all the sons and daughters of the Church have clear and precise notions on this, for it is easy to confuse the validity of a sacrament with the dignity of its minister or the resplendent beauty of its expression or celebration, whereas in reality, wherever and whenever a sacramental rite is conferred by its legitimate minister, bishop, priest, deacon or even laity in the case of emergency baptism, as St Augustine pointed out already in his contemplation of the St John’s expression that the Spirit remained over Christ – that is to say, He does not pass, but remains forever in the sacramental signs He Himself instituted and which are of extreme simplicity, such as pouring a bit of water, holding a piece of bread, laying on of hands, etc. – it is not the minister or the dignity of what he is wearing or the theological beauty of all the surrounding rites, but rather, the Holy Spirit Himself who produces grace when that water is poured over the head of that person being baptised, or when those hands are laid over the head of that man being made a priest.
It is very important to be clear about this in an age when, sadly, a number of the highest ministers in the Church give the sad example of not living up to what they are supposed to be teaching others, or by their actions condone behaviour that is condemned by the Church whose minister they are, or even teach in such a confused way that we do not know what they really believe. In the same passage of St Augustine just mentioned, he points out that it matters not whether the baptizer is Peter, Paul or Judas, it is one and the same Christ who baptises, one and the same Spirit who is given. And they same goes for all the other sacraments.
This also shows us that, even though Our Blessed Lord wanted to preserve us from the doubt as to whether or not the sacraments we receive are valid, He did not decide to preserve us from being under shepherds who are sometimes unworthy and scandalous. Judas had the fullness of the apostolic office as well as the other apostles. In Jesus’ name he performed miracles and cast out devils. And yet he fell prey to avarice and was lost and damned. The lesson for each of us is that we need not be concerned about whatever awful things may be said or done or even the personal unworthiness of Pope, Cardinals, Bishops and Priests. All we need to think about is that it is the Holy Spirit in person who is given to us in the sacraments that are given to us in and by the Church, this Church our Mother, whom we must never abandon, especially when she is mistreated and scandalised by those who are supposed to be her faithful guardians.
And this brings us to the second reason for which the Holy Spirit is given to us today, and that we find crystallised as it were in the beautiful oration of this feast which we use frequently before study. The Holy Spirit is given to enlighten our hearts (corda fidelium illustratione docuisti), that is to say, to give us clarity about God, about our destiny, and also about the decisions we need to make in our lives. A person who prays consistently is already under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and has every chance of making the right decisions (recta sapere). The famous and holy Belgian Cardinal Desire Mercier, a man who truly deserved the be made a cardinal by Pope St Pius X, and who died almost a century ago, gave us a very beautiful prayer which is quite well known, but which it is good to reflect upon today. He wrote:
“I am going to reveal to you the secret of sanctity and happiness. Every day for five minutes control your imagination and close your eyes to all the noises of the world in order to enter into yourself. Then, in the sanctuary of your baptised soul (which is the temple of the Holy Spirit) speak to that Divine Spirit, saying to Him:
O Holy Spirit, beloved of my soul, I adore You.
Enlighten me, guide me, strengthen me, console me.
Tell me what I should do; give me Your orders.
I promise to submit myself to all that You desire of me
and to accept all that You permit to happen to me.
Let me only know Your Will.
If you do this, your life will flow along happily, serenely, and full of consolation, even in the midst of trials. Grace will be proportioned to the trial, giving you the strength to carry it and you will arrive at the Gate of Paradise, laden with merit. This submission to the Holy Spirit is the secret of sanctity.”
The Cardinal was right. A life full of consolation, he says. That is exactly what today’s oration asks for (de eius semper consolatione gaudere) : that we may always enjoy the consolation of the Holy Spirit. And it is something we must never underestimate. Indeed, interior consolation is an essential component of the Christian life. Even in times of stress, turmoil, mourning; even in the uncertainty of the times we live in, we should always have the consolation of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. If we do not, it can only be because there is something in our lives which is blocking out the sweet influence of that grace, or because we are not spending enough quality time with Him. If the Holy Spirit is our best friend – to employ an expression dear to Blessed Marie Eugene of the Child Jesus – then there is no reason why, even amidst many cares and concerns, we cannot have, not only deep peace, but even – deep down in our soul – frequent consolation.
Come, Holy Spirit. Thou art the Father of the Poor (Pauper Pauperum). We are so poor today. We are bereft of support. We have nowhere to turn but to Thee. Show Thy mercy upon our dire poverty. Be our Friend, be our Consoler. Send us once again those Seven Gifts by which we may always live under Thy continual guidance.
Today, upon Mary Immaculate and the Apostles, Thou didst come as a mighty wind. Come and blow mightily upon our world. Purify it, remove from it so much evil, so many scandals.
Thou didst descend in the form of tongues of fire. Set our hearts aflame with Thy love, and turn our tongues into instruments of Thy glory. Give us, as Thou didst give to Thy beloved son, St Boniface, whose feast we celebrate today as well, that triple grace of being holy monks, valiant missionaries, magnanimous martyrs. May all the true sons and daughters of the Church be filled today with the grace to be Thy intimate friends, to be in the world, the signs of Thy lasting presence, so that all may come to believe, to enter the Church through the sacraments and be saved.