Father Richard's homily for the Solemnity of Pentecost
It was great to see Pope Francis today back at the window of the Apostolic Palace to lead the weekly Regina Caeli prayer on this great Solemnity of Pentecost. It was also wonderful to see members of the faithful back in St Peter’s Square once again (while observing ‘social distancing’). This after weeks of Vatican City being closed and papal addresses being broadcast from the Pope’s library.
I’ve always considered St Peter’s Basilica and Square as the “centre of the world” and also our spiritual home as Catholics. The colonnades of the piazza symbolise the Church’s embrace of all the faithful across the world, or the “maternal arms of Mother Church” as Gian Lorenzo Bernini, the architect of the Square, referred to them. When you step inside the Basilica, there’s a feature which always catches your eye. We could say it is the very focal point of St Peter’s, since it’s high up in the apse. It is, of course, the window: the ‘Dove of the Holy Spirit’. The feature is a poignant reminder – that the Holy Spirit “pervades and rules” over the entire Universal Church [Vatican II, Unitatis Redintegratio, 2.
The Gift of the Holy Spirit bestowed by Christ on the whole Church throughout the world is what we celebrate on this great Feast day. Jesus breathes His Spirit upon the apostles and they begin to speak in different languages. With these, they’re able to bring the message of God’s Kingdom to all peoples, meaning the Church spreads to the four corners of the globe. Indeed, the ‘birthday of the Church’ as this Feast is so-called, reminds us that the Church could have and can only exist because of the sending forth of God’s Spirit. What is more, we can only by in unity with our brothers and sisters across the world; we can only be a part of the Body of Christ because of the Third Person of the Trinity’s constant work of sanctification.
Lumen Gentium, the Second Vatican Council’s dogmatic constitution on the Catholic Church, has a wonderful sentence which describes the unity that the Spirit brings: “All the faithful, scattered though they be throughout the world, are in communion with each other in the Holy Spirit, and so, he who dwells in Rome knows that the people of India are his members.” [Lumen Gentium, 13]
Such is the power of the Holy Spirit that a priest praying the Divine Office hiding in the underground Church in China is united with the faithful at Mass in a United States parish. The Spirit brings into communion the convent of nuns singing the Prayer of the Church in Norway, with a parish group praying the Rosary together in South Africa. Those participating in the Mass at Ss Peter and Paul, Leyburn, are spiritually joined with those praying the Mass in St Joseph and St Francis Xavier, Richmond (when we finally get back to public liturgies).
The Holy Spirit dwells in the hearts of believers but is also constantly at work in the Church, bringing all parts of the Body together in love. As St John Paul II taught: “The Spirit guides the Church into the fullness of truth (cf. Jn 16:13) and gives her a unity of fellowship and service.” [John Paul II, Dominum et Vivificantem, 25] From St Paul, we hear in our Second Reading that the Spirit gives particular gifts to particular members of the Church. If we invest in these gifts, we serve each other in love and come into ever-closer communion with God and with each other. The work of the Spirit means members of the Church can carry out immense acts of charity for the betterment of the entire world. We see these fruits of the Spirit in the wonderful medical, educational, and missionary services that the Church carries out in every nation, not to forget the work for justice for the vulnerable and poor that Catholics are engaged in.
It’s a mistake to think of the Catholic Church as merely an ‘institution’. Today’s Solemnity reminds us that the Church is also the “mystical body of Christ”. She is sanctified by the mission of the Spirit Who unites all the baptised, bringing them into the Church’s loving, motherly embrace.
We give thanks to Almighty God today for the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, which leads us on our journey towards her heavenly homeland. We pray for a fresh outpouring of the Spirit into our hearts, the hearts of our families and friends, upon the Church and upon the whole world at this time.
“Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth.”