Whitsun - Pentecost Sunday
Sermon of the Right Reverend Dom Jean Pateau
Abbot of Our Lady of Fontgombault
(Fontgombault, June 8, 2014)
Loquentes nostris linguis magnalia Dei.
Speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
My dearly beloved Sons,
We have just been reminded by the Book of the Acts what an event the burst of the Holy Ghost upon the Apostles was, on the morning of the feast of Pentecost, and what consequences it entailed, thus deeply influencing the first hours of the life of the Church.
After the feast of Easter, when we recall Christ’s Death and Resurrection, Whose Blood has redeemed us and restored us to God’s friendship, after the feast of Christmas, when we greet on this earth mankind’s Redeemer, the only Son of God and God’s gift, the feast of Pentecost is undoubtedly the third feast in the liturgical year. The Holy Ghost, the third Person of the Trinity, comes to rest in the souls of the Apostles and wants to rest in the soul of each faithful.
On Pentecost’s morning the life of Christ’s disciples has been transformed. Men who heretofore had been lacking in courage and who for the most part were without culture are going to become tireless witnesses of the Gospel, and most of them will go unto the gift of their life for Christ.
The action of the Holy Ghost has not restricted itself to a merely interior transformation of the disciples’ souls, aiming at strengthening their union with God by making their prayer more fervent and authentic. When the Holy Ghost rested in the Apostles’ hearts He placed them in the heart of the Church, so that according to the wish of Jesus they should work to build up the Church unto the ends of the earth.
The Fathers have seen in the Holy Ghost the Soul of the Church. The soul, anima in Latin, ψυχή or πνεῦμα in Greek, which may be translated by “breath”, is that which bestows life on a body. The soul arranges the various organs in order, and towards a single end, life. When death comes and the soul has withdrawn from the body, life goes out. Anarchy sets up among the organs. Properly speaking there is no longer a body.
The same happens for the Church. The Holy Ghost is in her heart as a breath of life, as a fire near which all the members of the body may warm up themselves. He smithies the unity of the community of believers, as the soul does for the body.
The Acts of the Apostles mention that the tongues “distributed themselves” (Acts 2:2). The same Spirit comes to rest upon each Apostle’s head, and then upon each believer’s.
Tradition, relying on Prophet Isaiah’s teaching (11:2), has seen in the list of the spirits which will rest on the shoot sprung from the stock of Jesse, the various gifts that God has prepared for each faithful: spirit of wisdom, of understanding, of counsel, of fortitude, of knowledge, of piety, and of fear of the Lord. In the Epistle to the Galatians St. Paul lists the fruits which the Holy Ghost operates by His presence in the soul: charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (5:22-23).
Until the outpour of the Holy Ghost the Apostles had behaved as onlookers, as they remained both near Jesus and far from Him. During the Passion of Our Lord, Peter followed the events afar off and feigned not to know Him to Whom he had but a few hours before sworn that never would he betray Him.
All that is now over. The Holy Ghost has placed the Apostles to be pillars in the centre of the Church.
Through the action of the Holy Ghost the Church has become a Body. In this Body we take part, or at least we should do so. We may namely not be content with the occasional seat of a critic who considers from afar what is happening on the stage.
We too often follow spirits which are not gifts of God but suggestions coming from the Evil One: spirit of pride and of criticism, spirit of contradiction and dissension, spirit of gossip, of bitterness, and of strife.
The fruits of such spirits are obvious. Where do the fratricidal internecine wars stem from, fostered as they are by arms deals in the Middle East, in Ukraine or in Africa? Where does wilful death inflicted on a child in its mother’s womb stem from, thus terminating a life which had sprung up from the encounter of God’s and man’s hand? Where do so many strifes and contentions amidst families or communities arise from, which even time does not seem to be able to abate? Where do dissensions within the Church’s very bosom spring from, fruits of disobedience or of blindness? The heart which spurns the weak and the poor, the heart which does not make room for mercy and does not know how to forgive, the heart which acts with conceit and calculation, thus disregarding his neighbour’s good, this heart is not in the school of the Holy Ghost and does not work in truth for the common weal of the body and for its future.
The Holy Ghost invites us today to forsake quiet peripheries and summons us to enter the heart of the Church.
Will these words which once sprung from St. Therese of Lisieux’s heart when she was reading St. Paul resound in our own hearts?
Charity provided me with the key to my vocation. I understood that since the Church is a body composed of different members, the noblest and most important of all the organs would not be wanting. I understood that the Church has a heart, that this heart burns with love, and that it is love alone which gives life to its members. I understood that if this love were extinguished, the Apostles would no longer preach the Gospel, and the Martyrs would refuse to shed their blood. I understood that love embraces all vocations, that it is all things, and that it reaches out through all the ages, and to the uttermost limits of the earth, because it is eternal. Then, beside myself with joy, I cried out: “O Jesus, my Love, at last I have found my vocation. My vocation is love! Yes, I have found my place in the bosom of the Church, and this place, O my God, Thou hast Thyself given to me: in the heart of the Church, my Mother, I will be Love!… Thus I shall be all things.” (Manuscript B, folio 3, verso)
United with Mary, united with the Holy Father, apostle of peace who prepares to receive the Israeli and Palestinian heads of State for a prayer in common, united with pilgrims on their way to Chartres, let us ask for each other a renewed outpouring of the Holy Ghost and the grace of obedience to His inspirations.
Let us ask of Him the grace to love the Church truly. In our communities, in our families, in our hearts, the Church is not loved as she should be: that is the main cause for the lack of vocations. Men will not commit themselves for someone whom they do not love.
Let us finally ask Him to enlighten us as concerns the conversions which the Lord expects of us, so that we may be true peacemakers around ourselves and thus merit to be truthfully sons of God: “For whosoever are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God” (Rm 8:14).