Posted by: Fr Chris | May 19, 2018

Descent of the Holy Spirit, 2018

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Today the Roman rite uses red, in honor of the flames of Pentecost; the Eastern Churches emphasize the new life of the Holy Spirit, and so we wear green. In Europe, churches are covered with green branches, green sheaves are on the floors, and people hang greenery from their apartment balconies or gates of houses.

In 30 A.D. the day of Pentecost fell on Sunday, May 28. Thus from its very beginning, Pentecost was always observed on Sunday, the first day of the week, the day of resurrection.  Pentecost for the Jews  celebrates the giving of the Torah, God’s gift of the Law, which is the guide for how we are to live in the world. The Torah is the spelling out of the details of the Covenant that was sealed at Mount Sinai. When God spoke to Moses atop Mount Sinai there was thunder, lightning, trumpet blasts and fire on the mountaintop.  Just as the giving of the Law on Sinai was accompanied by fire and loud noise, so also was the giving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

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St. Cyril of Jerusalem : The apostles and disciples partook of fire, not of burning but of saving fire; of fire which consumes the thorns of sins, but gives luster to the soul. This is now coming upon you also, and that to strip away and consume your sins which are like thorns, and to brighten yet more that precious possession of your souls, and to give you grace; for He gave it then to the Apostles. And He sat upon them in the form of fiery tongues, that they might crown themselves with new and spiritual diadems by fiery tongues upon their heads. A fiery sword barred of old the gates of Paradise; a fiery tongue which brought salvation restored the gift.

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St. John Chrysostom points out in his Homilies on the Acts of the Apostles that the Holy Spirit came not only on the twelve apostles but the entire community praying in the upper room, fulfilling what St John the Baptist said in Matthew 3:11: He will baptize you with[b] the Holy Spirit and fire and thus fulfilling the prophecy in the book of Joel quoted by St Peter: I will pour out of My Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams’ (Joel 2:28).

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Pentecost mural and Transfiguration mural, Drohobych 

 The reason the devout Jews came to Jerusalem was not just to celebrate Pentecost, but because of a strong feeling in the Holy Land and the Jewish diaspora that Daniel’s prophetic “weeks” were fulfilled and there was a general excitement that the Messiah was to appear (Daniel 9:24-27). The thought among both the pilgrims and the residents of the holy city is that since these Galilean men could not know all the languages and dialects they were speaking under the influence of the Spirit of God. Thus the listeners knew at once something far beyond the ordinary was occurring.

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It’s important to point out that the tongues were not unintelligible speech, for Acts 2:6-11 lists the various nationalities and regions in the audience where people heard the disciples’ message in their own native language. The grammar does not suggest that all the disciples spoke at the same time, but rather the foreign listeners heard the speakers speaking in his own native language. This event was the opposite of what occurred at the Tower of Babel where God scattered the people by giving them different languages after they tried to reach heaven with their tower. Now on Pentecost,  God unites a mix of people from thirteen different regions of the Roman and Persian empires so that everyone can understand the message of St Peter. The people hear the proclamation in Arabic, Aramaic, Berber, Coptic, Greek, Latin, Persian and its sister languages, plus the Semitic dialects from Mesopotamia – thus the people said they are speaking in our own tongues – not the nonsense sounds one hears in some Pentecostal Catholic Charismatic groups, where people cry out in garbled sounds, but actual languages in which the message of the Gospel was proclaimed to an enormous diverse crowd of people born Jewish and converts to Judaism. From its inception, the church was a diverse group of people who hailed from a variety of cultures and languages. It was in the midst of this great diversity that God sent the Holy Spirit upon his church and started a movement that would change the history of the world forever.

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Covering the floor in green sheaves for Pentecost Sunday 

Traditionally in our Byzantine Catholic parishes the Heavenly King is sung before the sermon, so as to inspire the priest or bishop to preach not only well, but to give authentic interpretation of the faith to the congregation.

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Heavenly King, — living in heaven as 3rd Person of the Holy Trinity: God is the ruler of the entire created universe, and therefore He is our ruler, not man’s laws which challenge God’s laws, but divine laws rule us;

Comforter,  to strengthen us in any time of trouble, challenge, difficulty, sorrow -whatever you can think of, the Holy Spirit of God is there;

Spirit of Truth: when Father Jerzy Popieluszko began his Masses for the nation in communist Poland, thousands of people packed his church and filled the streets outside – only at that church did they hear the truth in a nation soaked in propaganda. Now we face people who write hoaxes on the internet and twist the truth, politicians who routinely lie – we must be a people of truth. The truth shall set you free says Our Lord – not lies, not personal whims, not propaganda from right or left, but truth;

everywhere present – God is everywhere – when we commit our darkest sin, He is there; when we have our greatest joy, He is there; He knows everyone and every creature and every object: HE is present constantly. What did God do when our people were being murdered on  such a monstrous scale, asked Jewish survivors of the Holocaust. The rabbis answered, the divine presence was there, weeping over our losses, and weeping over the killers who refused to respond to His grace but persisted in serving evil instead. What do I serve in the constant presence of the living God? God? Or Sin?

filling all things, how does the universe keep going? The breath of God which animated all life at the beginning of creation still does so – God keeps the universe alive!

Treasury of blessings, a treasury is a place filled with important and expensive treasure, a place of wealth. What does God consider His wealth to be? The ability to bless us, to send His divine love  upon us, His invitation to be united to Him – the Holy Spirit offers us this access constantly;

Giver of life: I read yesterday of an Australian woman carrying twins – one baby had a heart defect. Rather than have surgery on the baby in her womb, she decided to have it killed, aborted, murdered. The only problem is, the hospital killed the wrong baby. Then she decided to have an emergency Caesarean section so that the so-called defective baby could be killed in the delivery room. What an atrocity. This is where our enlightened western society has taken us with the right-to-choose: violence is the answer more and more often. God gives life – God takes life. Not doctors, not abortionists, not murderers, but God. He is the source of life – we have made ourselves into little gods and goddesses who supposedly know what’s right for unborn babies, for elderly people who just won’t die, for sick people whose medical bills we don’t want to pay, for mentally ill people who have given in to temporary despair. Provide funding for surgery in the womb? for more mental health care? for dignified living? No, but kill – oh yes, let’s kill, kill, kill – and we wonder why disturbed young men take up guns and massacre their schoolmates.

come and dwell within us the Holy Spirit is our  friend who knows everything, a friend who has my highest good at heart, who can be called on to help at any hour of the day or night; and even better, He lives inside of us – not just in heaven, but inside each and every one of us! All we have to do is ASK Him to help us, to be more aware of the Divine already present, already here.

cleanse us of our sins Strengthen us, heal us, guide us to confession to a priest so that we may hear those all-powerful words: you are forgiven and absolved! There is a reason the Church has confession – to hear those words, to help us confront our weaknesses, our failings, our problems, and to come away as clean as we were at baptism.

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save our souls I cannot save myself – only with the grace of almighty God can I be saved.

Gracious Lord a gracious person in the medieval era was a grace-filled person. To be gracious to others is to imitate the Living God Who gives us His energies, what we call His graces. God is the most grace-filled Person in the universe, outside of the universe – He is the fountain of life.

Ben Fogg has taken a momentous step this weekend. He made his Profession of Faith last night in the truths of the Catholic Church; he made his first Confession; now he is chrismated with the sacred oil consecrated by the bishop, using the elements described in the Bible, confirmed and thus receiving the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord.  The elements that prompt and promote continuous conversion — growth in goodness, deep faith, patient perseverance — require constant work. Each stresses the need for disciplined prayer, a steadfast spirit of determination and commitment, and humility.

This is your personal Pentecost, Ben, your personal Descent of the Holy Spirit; mystically, through the gift of kairos, of sacred time, we are present at that first Pentecost that Sunday, and we all here – if we are open to it – can again ask the Holy Spirit to renew Himself inside our own hearts, our minds, and commit ourselves again to those gifts of wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. And this Spirit can keep the fire of conversion burning deeply within our hearts — if we choose to let it. May you choose to do so for the rest of your life, so as to enter eternal life with the Holy Trinity and all the saints who have gone before us, and may each of us gathered here today do the same.

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Mosaic in dome of Cathedral in Saint Louis, Missouri 

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