Wednesday 1 June 2022

Our own Personal Pentecost

Some of the Fathers refer to this time of year as “Philip-tide” on account of all the joyful preparations for his feast day, one of the highlights in the Oratory calendar. It is a happy gift of Providence, no doubt, that as soon as we have celebrated St Philip we look to celebrate his dearest Friend, the Holy Spirit. Perhaps the greatest turning point in our Holy Father’s life was the Vigil of Pentecost 1544, when, as he prayed in the catacombs of St Sebastian on the Via Appia in Rome, the Holy Spirit appeared to him as a ball of flame, entered into him and remained within his heart, a Pentecostal Fire, for the rest of his life. Philip was changed — physically, his heart was enlarged so much his ribs remained broken his entire life too — but most significantly he was taken over by the Spirit.

The Vigil of Pentecost was significant for another priest, one who could not have been more different to St Philip, a Cistercian, who wrote an extensive prayer on the Holy Spirit and solitude, the same Spirit who called Philip to the heart of Rome. That monk, Thomas Merton, addressed the Holy Spirit, writing, “In me the world is present and you are present. I am a link in the chain of light and of presence. You have made me a kind of centre, but a centre that is nowhere.” In us, the Charity which is poured into our hearts at our Baptism works on us. We become the centre, the locus of God’s action in the world by grace, by the prompting of the Holy Spirit and by that action we become a link in the chain of bringing his light to the world.

Our own personal Pentecost, at our Baptism and Confirmation, was likely not as spectacular as St Philip’s, nor accompanied by tongues of fire, by glossolalia, and other wondrous signs which were so clearly seen in the early Church. Still the desired effect is the same. The Holy Spirit comes to us to be for us a paraclete, an “along-sider,” a friend for the campaign of life. Whereas an evil spirit, should it take over a poor soul, de-humanises that person, controls them, and turns them into an automaton, the exact opposite is true with the Spirit of God. When the Holy Ghost takes possession of us we become more the person God wants us to be, we become even more truly ourselves, we become freer. The Spirit gives us a taste for the things of God, he tunes us into God’s wavelength and makes us more amenable to the commands of the divine will, which seeks to bring about our good and the good of those around us. He makes us holy.

And whilst we pray our ribs remain unbroken, perhaps we might pray that on this Vigil of Pentecost coming in a few days time, our hearts will be enlarged once again with God’s own charity, and that the pentecostal fire given us years ago might burn a little brighter, might warm our hearts and those of our friends around us, and that God might surprise us yet, whether in solitude or in the midst of the world, with what he wants us to do with it.

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