Fifteen years ago on the feast of Pentecost I used this in the homily and I guess it’s okay to use it again 15 years later. This was recounted by the late Fr Neuhaus and it was a question posed by a thirteen year old in catechism class. Now you are familiar with the traditional depiction of the Holy Trinity especially in stained glass windows. The Father is seated on a throne with a long flowing white beard. A younger Jesus is seated at His side – the second Person and the Holy Spirit is the dove hovering between them. The question was ‘If the Holy Spirit is as much God as the Father and the Son, how come He gets to be just a bird?” A very good question. I would guess that the young person was asking – why does the Holy Spirit almost disappear in the picture while the Father and the Son are so prominent.
This is so much in keeping with the personality of the Holy Spirit. And it is this aspect that always strikes me to the heart when I consider how humble and self-effacing the Holy Spirit is. Consider the Bible itself. We are taught that the entire Bible has been put together under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. But nowhere does He draw attention to this. In fact at the end of the Bible, in the book of Revelation – the last words of the Spirit are – the Spirit and the Bride say come – come Lord Jesus. It is about the Lord Jesus not Himself Even here the Spirit does not use the first person for Himself –He does not say the Bride and I say Come Lord Jesus. But the Spirit and the Bride – the self-effacing third person.
Our first reading reiterates this. The Spirit has come down with power and has formed the church. Yet when St Peter gets up to speak – after he assures everyone that they are not drunk, he recounts the prophecy of Joel on the sending of the Spirit but when he begins his first homily after Pentecost, just after the powerful outpouring of the Spirit – the first words he utters are about Jesus the Nazarean. This is the work of the Holy Spirit. He keeps shining on the Father and the Son. So much so He disappears. And this suits the Holy Spirit just fine. It is His mission to testify to the Father and the Son. He takes us to the Son so that the Son can take us to the Father. His humility and self-effacement as I said always cuts me to the heart. He is absolutely powerful and yet so utterly humble that He disappears to accomplish His mission. How can I a sinner understand this? I who am consciously or subconsciously self-referential.
But the Spirit is at work all the time without drawing attention to Himself. He keeps it together without muscling His way into the limelight. He makes saints in the Church and makes them shine in His light and yet is not seen. He keeps the Church together, weaving the invisible bonds of relationship between persons over space and time. Weaving the Body of Christ out of these relationships and this communion. And He makes this stand out but He steps back into the shadows and is happy to see the holiness He inspires. It is His happiness to see the Father and Son glorified.
It is this powerful invisibility of the Holy Spirit we should keep in mind, especially today. There is a lot of doom and gloom about the Church. Yes, She is bleeding, humiliated, on the ropes. This is all we see. And we might feel that it is all over. That the Church is finished. We see what is visible, we see the all too human and sinful aspects of the Church. But we do not see the Spirit who is the bond of the Church. We fail to see in our own lives and in the larger Church the golden string that connects us all together.
For instance this morning we are in the abbey church. But the abbey church did not just drop from heaven. It is connected by this golden string to the beginning of the Cistercian Order in 1098. If we are here today, it might seem that we all just made individual decisions to get up and go to Church. But if we look deeper we will see that we come to Church because the Church is there. The Church was already in place to receive us at some point in time -to bring us into the Christ life. The Holy Spirit has been going ahead of us preparing a place for each of us. He has been weaving all the strands together over time for us. It is so normal, so unobtrusive, so radically human that we fail to see the invisible Divine Person who keeps it all together. We are like people who see every little detail that is seen in the light but do not sufficiently look at the wonder of the light itself. And if we do not see the light, we despair easily. We think the Church is a human group with the shelf life of a human group.
I love the feast of Pentecost because today especially we turn back to look at the Holy Spirit Himself, to love the Light Itself, to revel in the Comforter who will be with us till the end of time and who will never let the gates of Hell prevail against the Church. Today on the feast of Pentecost we pray for a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Church. May He raise up saints for our times like beacons in the darkness to inspire in us a new hope and a new spirit.