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On this Pentecost Sunday, 2020, the Church — everywhere but definitely here in America — needs a “new Pentecost” more than ever.
What would that look like?
Popes have called again and again for a “New Pentecost.”
“We need to pray for a New Pentecost for the Church in this hour!” said Pope Francis in his first year as Pope. “The Church needs to rise up in this hour with the same power with which she transformed the world of the first centuries. She can — by the power of the Holy Spirit!”
Five years earlier, Pope Benedict XVI called for the same thing for the Church in America, 20 years after John Paul did the same thing. “Let us implore from God the grace of a new Pentecost for the Church in America,” Benedict said iin Nationals Stadium in Washington, D.C., n 2008.He got very specific: “May tongues of fire, combining burning love of God and neighbor with zeal for the spread of Christ’s Kingdom, descend on all present!”
That sounds like Pope Benedict wanted the New Pentecost to be like the first. So we should start there to figure out what it should be like.
First: The Holy Spirit came to forgive sins and refresh souls.
Today’s Gospel isn’t about the coming of the Holy Spirit in tongues of fire. It is about Jesus after the resurrection coming to the disciples through locked doors. Breathing on them, he said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”
Before the first Pentecost could have any effect at all, Jesus had to apply the fruits of redemption to the world through the Sacrament of Confession. The first action of the Holy Spirit was for the forgiveness of sins.
This has to be the first manifestation of a New Pentecost too. As Pope Benedict put it when he visited America in 2008, “To a great extent, the renewal of the Church in America depends on the renewal of the practice of [the sacrament of] Penance.”
The crisis in the Church is not about sex abuse. It is not about the lack of faith in the Eucharist. It is not the bureaucratic mentality that values inaction and secrecy over sacrifice and transparency.
Those are symptoms of the real crisis: The crisis of the loss of the sense of sin. People who do not believe in sin quickly become slaves to their appetites; they are unable to muster any enthusiasm for a savior or for souls, and they receive him carelessly; if they work for the Church they see it as just a job for a place that exists to get them what they want.
The Holy Spirit prayer of the Englishman Stephen Langton, a 13th-century Archbishop of Canterbury is a great prayer for the Holy Spirit as a spirit of freedom from sin:
Wash what is unclean.
Water what is parched.
Heal what is diseased.
Bend what is rigid.
Warm what is cold.
Straighten what is crooked.
Second: Pentecost made the apostles more generous with God.
The first reading showed the apostles huddled in the upper room, praying for the Spirit of Truth that had been promised them by Jesus. It was the day of Pentecost — the day the Jewish people would celebrate the harvest by bringing the “first fruits” of God’s abundance back to God in the form of loaves of bread.
They, too, had received abundantly from God but had been afraid to step out and share what they had received — until the Holy Spirit descended on them. Then, they experienced the fruits of the Holy Spirit which transform us and through us, those around us.
The fruits of the Holy Spirit are: Charity, love of God and neighbor; Joy, lifting everyone’s spirits; Peace, emanating trust in God; and Patience, which expects better while accepting others’ weaknesses. They include Kindness, doing what’s best for all; Goodness, staying quietly on the side of justice; and Gentleness, softening difficulties to help others accept them. They are Faithfulness, in mind, heart and action; Modesty, which makes humble docility your deepest identity; and Self-Control, which means expressing your true priorities in your actions; including Chastity.
I personally sum them up in one of the 12, Generosity, or magnanimity. This is a greatness of soul that does not hold any part of yourself back from God, and always gives your best to others.
Third: Pentecost broke down barriers to communication.
A large crowd “from every nation under heaven” gathered around the upper room when they heard the sound of a mighty wind. They saw the apostles emerge and “they were confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language.” The Apostles, and many of these first converts, would eventually go out to every nation and, like the Psalm says, “renew the face of the earth.”
The gifts of the Holy Spirit made this possible. Every baptized person is promised them, and can demand them if they are absent in our lives. They include Wisdom, which sees the world from God’s perspective; Understanding, which gains insights from prayer; Counsel, which sees what God’s will is in real-life situations; and Knowledge, which knows exponentially more by being open to revelation. We get them through right relations with God, including Fear of the Lord, the gift which gives us awed respect for God and Piety, the gift which gives us a tender personal relationship with God.
I personally sum them up in Fortitude, because it is confidence in God’s direction that gives us the ability to see as he does, pray as he wishes, and speak to others about who he is. It has been said that confidence rather than precision is the key to learning a new language. Confidence is also the key to public speaking and teaching. When our confidence comes from Fortitude, rooted in God, it allows us to speak his language to anyone.
Fourth: The first coming of the Holy Spirit united the Church even while it accentuated different gifts.
“As a body is one though it has many parts,” St. Paul tells the Corinthians, “so also Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.”
Think of what that means: It means the Holy Spirit is available to us, no matter who we are, and will incorporate us into one Church, no matter where we are. A New Pentecost is possible. All we have to do is begin it.
One of my favorite prayers for the Church and for myself is the Pentecost Sequence, but not the one we pray at Mass with its strained English rhymes that rob it of a lot of its meaning and strength. A priest once let me in on a secret: There is a much better version, in prose, that retains the power of the original a lot better.
After years of tolerance of sinners instead of true compassion, comfort-seeking instead of magnanimity, and timidity instead of fortitude, we need this prayer more than ever. It incorporates everything above. Find it by clicking here, and I’ll close with it in its entirety:
Come, Holy Spirit, and from heaven direct on man the rays of your light.
Come, Father of the poor, come giver of God’s gift. Come, light of men’s hearts.
Kindly Paraclete, in your gracious visits to man’s soul, you bring relief and consolation. If it is weary with toil, you bring it ease; in the heat of temptation, your grace cools it; if sorrowful, your words console it.
Light most blessed, shine on the hearts of your faithful — even in their darkest corners; for without your aid man can do nothing, and everything is sinful.
Wash clean the sinful soul, rain down your grace on the parched soul, and heal the injured soul.
Soften the hard heart, cherish and warm the ice-cold heart, and give direction to the wayward.
Give your seven holy gifts to your faithful, for their trust is in you. Give them reward for their virtuous acts, give them a death that ensures salvation, and give them unending bliss.