Mass at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Melbourne, for the Feast of Pentecost
Sunday 15 May 2016
My dear Brothers and Sisters,
The Gospel of this Pentecost feast tells us how the Risen Lord came to his disciples when they had locked themselves away in fear. He stood among them, and said “Peace be with you” … it is the same greeting with which we began the Mass today … and they knew again the joy of being in his presence. With the words “as the Father sent me, so am I sending you”, Jesus commissioned them for the great task which lay ahead of them, in which we still share today.
And then, the Gospel tells us, “he breathed on them and said, receive the Holy Spirit”. That breath is a very significant detail. The evangelist uses the same expression that is used in the Book of Genesis to describe the creation of Adam: “God breathed into him the breath of life”, and we are meant to hear the connection. St John is saying that this is a moment of new creation. As God has made all of us live with the breath of life, so now the Risen Jesus makes us live a new through the breath of the Spirit in us.
There is also a beautiful detail in the story of the first Pentecost in the Book of Acts, which we heard in the first reading. When the apostles first preached the gospel message, the various people in the crowd heard them in their own languages. This is, of course, a sign of the power of God at work, but it is also a sign, a very touching one, of the intimacy and tenderness with which God comes to each of us: he speaks to us “in our own language”. St Augustine says, “even now the Holy Spirit is teaching the faithful, and he teaches each one in accordance with their spiritual capacity. He sets their hearts on fire more and more as they grow. He helps them love what they already know, and makes them long for what they have not yet learned”.
The Spirit which Christ has breathed into us is powerfully and tenderly at work in us and in the Church, indeed in the whole world. We cannot be Christians or live a Christian life without the Holy Spirit, any more than we could live without breathing.
Without the Spirit, we could not say to God “Abba, Father”, without the Spirit, we could not say, “Jesus is Lord”. When we pray, the Spirit too prays in the innermost part of us, and expresses our prayer in ways too deep for words. When we love and serve others, when we use any of our talents in the service of the Church, when we take up our part in the mission which Christ has entrusted to his disciples, they are gifts of the Spirit that we put into action.
As we grow in our faith and mature in our Christian life, the Spirit is at work in us. This is the mystery we celebrate at Pentecost, and the life into which we are drawn through baptism and confirmation.
Jesus sometimes calls the Spirit our Advocate, literally the one “called to our side”. We are meant to understand that in the Holy Spirit we have the friendship of God, and all the best that comes from a strong and tender friend: In the beautiful words of the sequence of today’s feast, the Holy Spirit is “best of comforters, welcome guest of our soul, sweet refreshment, rest in our toil, cool in the heat, relief to our pain”.
Let us pray for one another today, that we may sense the creative breath of the Spirit of Christ in us and in the Church we form, and that we may all keep growing in the likeness to Christ which his Spirit wants to shape in us.
Let us pray especially for our brothers and sisters who are receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation today. In a special way, I assure you of my own prayers. You are taking another important step in a wonderful and mysterious journey of faith. We all want you to know that you are not making that journey alone.
We hope you understand that we are with you, of course, but even more we hope you will sense something of the tenderness and power of the Holy Spirit, who speaks to you in your own language, and whom we call to your side today.
+ Denis J. Hart,
ARCHBISHOP OF MELBOURNE.