Pentecost at Saint James Cathedral


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Wonderful as this feast is, there could be a problem with Pentecost – not unlike with our other great feasts – Christmas, for instance, or Easter. The problem is that we may look at them more as historical happenings than here-and-now happenings. They are both. God is timeless, after all, and the divine action, the divine energy unleashed in the Incarnation, or the Resurrection, or the Sending of the Spirit isn’t locked in the past: it’s ongoing, ever new. The Word of God took flesh in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary at a moment in time, true, but the Word is still taking flesh in our time, in our flesh. And Christ who triumphed over the power of death on Easter triumphs over death even now. And the Holy Spirit who burst forth upon the apostles in wind and fire on Pentecost is still fanning those flames, lighting those fires in our time. Pentecost may be history but Pentecost is also here and now!
Pentecost at St. James Cathedral
But maybe I don’t need to spend much time convincing you of this today because the Cathedral certainly looks like Pentecost is happening right now, doesn’t it! And this liturgy feels like Pentecost is happening right now, doesn’t it? And it is. God’s Spirit is moving among us at this moment – prodding us, waking us up, stirring us, sending us! The Pentecost Sequence which we just heard, that lovely Medieval prayer inviting the Holy Spirit to come among us as our guest, our sweet refreshment, our light, our solace, our comfort, makes it clear that Pentecost is now. Listen again:
Come, Holy Spirit, Come! And from your celestial home Shed a ray of light divine….Heal our wounds, our strength renew; On our dryness pour your dew; Wash the stains of guilt away. Bend the stubborn heart and will; Melt the frozen, warm the chill; Guide the steps that go astray.
For a few moments, I would like to draw on those images to help bring Pentecost from the past into the present.
“Heal our wounds, our strength renew.” Our wounds are many, aren’t they? Too many to count, really. We are wounded people, each of us, and our world is wounded, too. In his stirring message this past Easter, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of what he called the “many wounds of our world,” and he recited a litany of them: “the scourge of hunger, of incurable diseases, of terrorism, the thousand faces of violence which some tend to justify in the name of religion, contempt for human life, the violation of human rights, the exploitation of persons.” Then the Pope zeroed in on specifics and spoke of “the catastrophic and underestimated humanitarian situation in Darfur, and of Iraq where nothing positive comes forth, torn apart as it is by continual slaughter.”
The Pope gave a world perspective to what we mean this Pentecost when we pray, “Heal our wounds.” The wounds of the human family are many and deep. No war can heal them; no arms build-up can heal them; nor can violence of any sort. Only God’s Spirit can heal the wounds of our world -- God’s Spirit working through the likes of you and me.
The Pentecost Sequence continues: “On our dryness pour your dew.” Who of us doesn’t know dryness in our lives? And who of us in our dryness doesn’t long for the refreshing dew of the Holy Spirit? The 63rd Psalm says this in remarkably beautiful poetry: “O God, you are my God, for you I long. My body pines for you, my soul thirsts for you like a dry, weary land without water...For your love is better than life.” Beautiful, but do we believe it? Believe that God’s love is better than life itself? In our better moments we do; in our lesser ones we try to quench our thirst at wells that only make us thirstier. But only God’s Spirit satisfies. “On our dryness pour your dew.”
The Sequence goes on: “Bend the stubborn heart and will, melt the frozen, warm the chill.” Stubborn hearts, cold hearts – we know both of them. How often do we cling to our harsh, unbending judgments about people? How often do we freeze out people -- even those we should love the most? Our Pentecost prayer is that the Holy Spirit will bend our rigid hearts, break open our locked-up hearts, and fire our frozen hearts. Only God’s Spirit can do this. The great 19th century Jesuit poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, in his poem, “God’s Grandeur,” paints a lovely picture of this warming Spirit, this softening, mothering Spirit:
“The Holy Ghost over the bent world broodsWith warm breast and with ah! bright wings.”
The Pentecost Sequence concludes with a plea:
On the faithful who adore And confess you, evermore In your sevenfold gift descend.
On the day we were confirmed the bishop extended his hands over us and prayed a solemn prayer calling each of those seven gifts by name and asking God to breathe them into us: “…the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of right judgment and courage, the spirit of knowledge and reverence, the spirit of wonder and awe” in God’s presence.
My friends, each of those seven gifts is ours, and seven is not really their number – because seven means infinity, seven means gifts beyond number. Those divine gifts and countless others are already ours and if they are asleep within us, Pentecost can flame them into fire! It can. God’s Spirit is no less at work now than on that first Pentecost. The mighty wind is still blowing and tongues of fire are still burning. Look around you. If you haven’t yet caught fire, look at those who have! This community is alive with God’s spirit. Witness our prayer together. Witness this prayer! St. Paul told us in the first reading that “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.” This liturgy and every liturgy we celebrate is our way of telling the world that Jesus is Lord. We can always say it better and we can always mean it more, but we would not be saying it at all were it not for God’s Spirit.
The same goes for everything we do here: every child we teach, every stranger we welcome, every friend we feed. Everything we do here is a way of saying that Jesus is Lord and, therefore, the work of the Holy Spirit. So, I say it again: Pentecost is not past. Pentecost is present!
“Come Holy Spirit! Fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love.” Send forth your Spirit and we will be created and in that Spirit we will renew the face of the earth!”
Father Michael G. Ryan Cathedral Pastor

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