So Is Every One That Is Born Of The Spirit

So Is Every One That Is Born Of The Spirit

Pentecost Sunday 

Today, my dear Brothers and Friends, we celebrate the great solemnity of the Holy Ghost, the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity who, according to the creed that we shall recite in a few moments, is “Lord and Giver of Life, who proceedeth from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified, who hath spoken by the prophets”.

It is with triumphant mind and heart that our holy Mother the Catholic Church celebrates this feast with its full octave, as it is the day of her own birthday. Today, on Pentecost Sunday, the Catholic Church was born, and made its entry into the world. Today, for the first time, the preaching of the Gospel is heard from the mouth of the Prince of the Apostles, and no less than three thousand souls were converted to Christ, so powerful was the grace that came through the Gift of the Holy Spirit.

A number of details concerning that first Pentecost are worth reflecting upon. They have much to teach us. First of all, the day itself, which is the fiftieth day after the Resurrection. Just as fifty days after the first passover the Hebrews received the Law on Mount Sinai, so fifty days after the true passover of the Immaculate Lamb of God, the Law of Christ, the Law of the Gospel is promulgated by the Holy Spirit for all nations under heaven, for every individual in every place and at all times. All are called to the one true Church of Christ, all are commanded to believe and be baptised.

St Luke tells us that the disciples were all gathered together in the same place, showing the unity of minds and hearts. The Holy Spirit comes to those who are united in the bonds of charity and mutual affection. The coming of the Spirit happens suddenly – repente. The Apostles did not sense Him coming, they only prepared themselves, disposed themselves to what God intended to give, but His actual coming is sudden. The visits of God in our lives are often so, when we least expect them. We must always be ready, for when He comes He must find us attentive to the grace He wants to give. With what diligent care would we not prepare to receive a great personage such as the Queen?  Nothing would be left to chance. How much more must we make ready for the coming of God Himself who wishes to take up His abode in our soul!

The Spirit comes as it were a great wind, the great breath of God, the might ruah of Yahweh which was carried over the waters at the beginning of Genesis. God is Spirit, and for us mortals, the wind is the closest we can come to imagining its subtlety, its force, its capacity to penetrate, purify and transform.

He comes in the form of tongues of fire. Fire burns, it enlightens, it purifies, lifts up.

The fire of the Holy Ghost burns away our sins. So true is this that one of the orations this week tells us that the Holy Spirit is the forgiveness of sins – ipse est remissio omnium peccatorum. To receive the Holy Spirt in truth is to receive forgiveness and to be reconciled to God.

The fire of the Holy Ghost enlightens. Our Lord had said: He will teach you all truth.  He enlightens by bringing to our minds the truth of God, the truth about our eternal destiny. The Holy Ghost brings clarity to the intellect and opens up the hidden mysteries of God. He does this by inspiring the preaching of the Gospel in every age.

The fire of the Holy Ghost purifies. As fire burns away the rust of iron, so the Holy Ghost purges away not only our sins, but also the effects of our sins. He brings greater purity to our mind, to our heart, to our flesh. He burns away, sometimes painfully, sometimes not, the dross of our imperfections and gives us to rejoice in a newfound spiritual energy.

The fire of the Holy Ghost lifts us up on high. As fire rises, so the Spirit lifts us up to heavenly things. He cannot bear to see man, this most beloved and noble of His creatures, immersed in the mud, in the dung of a sinful life. And so, He is continually goading us on, drawing us upward. If only we will allow ourselves to be drawn. If only we will not cleave to the dust of the path, we would soon become great saints.

The fire of the Holy Ghost appears, St Luke tells us, in the form of tongues. Why tongues? To show that the fire of the divine Love brought to earth by the Lord is spread by word of mouth, in particular through the apostolic preaching, but also through the witness of faith that each of us is called to give.

It might be said: “None sees the Spirit; and how do we hear the Spirit’s voice?” St Augustine answers: “There sounds a psalm, it is the Spirit’s voice; the Gospel sounds, it is the Spirit’s voice; the divine word sounds, it is the Spirit’s voice. “You hear its voice, and know not whence it comes, and whither it goes.” But if you are born of the Spirit, you too shall be so, that one who is not born of the Spirit knows not, as for you, whence you come, or whither you go. For He said, as He went on, “So is also every one that is born of the Spirit.” (St Augustine, Tractate on St John). 

The Spirit speaks to the hearts of the faithful who have received Him, and through the faithful he speaks to the others. Indeed, the light of truth is meant to shine through the spoken word. Often times we hesitate to witness to the truth, to proclaim our allegiance to the Lord, we are afraid. So were the apostles, but when the Holy Spirit was given, they began to preach. Often all we need to do is begin. If we will but make the effort to proclaim our convictions, we may be surprised to see that the Holy Spirit Himself will continue the discourse through our mouth. The Lord had told His apostles this would happen: “And when they shall lead you and deliver you up, be not thoughtful beforehand what you shall speak: but whatsoever shall be given you in that hour, that speak ye. For it is not you that speak, but the Holy Ghost” (Mk 13:11).

Even if we get the impression that our words have had no effect, they were spoken, they were heard, we have sown a seed. People hear what we say, and even if they do not let on, they think about it when they are alone, when they are faced with existential questions, when they see a loved one die, or when they look into the eyes of a newborn child, and they know, deep down, that we are not just animals, that something greater lies on store. The word we may have spoken across the fence to a neighbour, or over the counter at the bakery, or while exiting the bus, it was heard, and if it was a word of the Spirit, He alone knows where it will lead. The Spirit breatheth where he will and thou hearest his voice: but thou knowest not whence he cometh and whither he goeth. So is every one that is born of the Spirit (Jn 3:8).  Indeed, for He leads into the bosom of God and He is drawing us there. God is an infinite ocean of life and love, and even when we will have been in Heaven for millennia, we will just be starting our life in Him.

And so, my dear Friends, let us seek in all things the friendship of the Holy Spirit. How do we become best friends with the Holy Spirit? Quite simply by doing as the apostles did. They prayed in silence and they waited. If we are faithful to silent prayer each day, if we listen to the Spirit in the depths of our heart, if we pray, He will show us the way, He will guide us, He will make us saints.

Come, Holy Spirit, transform each one of us, and through us deign to create something new on the earth. Lead us out of the old, dilapidated paths of sin, to the newness, to the freshness, to the delight and relish of Divine Friendship and holiness.