Pentecost’s Fortitude

‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me so I send you’ (Jn. 20:21). ⧾

The text of the Gospel brings us back to Easter Sunday, evening of the day Jesus rose from the dead, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews (Jn. 20:19). This is to say that the disciples were fearful of the Jewish authorities. Our church doors are also locked today, and they have been since the middle of Lent. The parallels are striking. The authorities have closed our churches and the faithful are locked out not in. In a matter of mere months, a dystopian environment has been fabricated. People are confused, angry, suspicious, disoriented and fearful. Whatever opinions we may have about the origin of this pandemic, its effects are undeniably obvious from a religious point of view. We have been deprived of the liturgy, the Sacraments and even the opportunity of praying in our churches before the Blessed Sacrament; the living, Real Presence of Our Saviour in our Tabernacles. The reopening of our churches depends on provincial legislation and of course, diocesan legislation. The state of emergency in our province has been extended to June 9th, and sadly, we cannot expect our churches to be open before this date.

Nevertheless, we know that with Pentecost, the seven weeks of Easter have come to an end and

Christ Our Lord’s Passover is fulfilled in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, manifested, given and communicated as a divine person: of his fullness, Christ, our Lord, pours out the Spirit in abundance (The Catechism of the Catholic Church, 731). The gift of the Holy Spirit begun at Pentecost never ceases and the fruits of the Holy Spirit’s gift are manifested in a holy or godly life; a life defined by fruits of the Holy Spirit who was given to us sacramentally at Baptism and at Confirmation and whose outpouring is received anew on this Pentecost Sunday. In our prayer at home, whether with family or alone, we should pray for the renewed outpouring of the Spirit which we so desperately need at this time.

Of the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit perhaps none is more necessary in our present circumstances than the gift of fortitude by which we can withstand the attacks against our faith specifically and religion generally, and the spirit of the world which is always at odds with the Church of God. At a personal or intimate level, this virtue is no less necessary as we all struggle with discouragement in the face of this seemingly unending crisis. Discouragement is rightly understood as the first arm of the devil because this is how the devil insinuates himself into our lives. The Holy Spirit is our Advocate; and in times of discouragement we need especially to call upon Him. All that is needed is on our part is a sincere cry from the depth of our heart. A simple a prayer as this is quite enough: Come Holy Spirit. 

In the prologue of St. Benedict’s Rule for monasteries, arguably one of the most influential books of all time and a sure source of sobriety and sanity for the madness that surrounds us, St. Benedict exhorts his sons and daughters with these encouraging words: This, then, is the beginning of my advice: make prayer the first step in anything worthwhile that you attempt. Persevere and do not weaken in that prayer. Pray with confidence, because God, in his love and forgiveness, has counted us as his own sons and daughters. Surely we should not by our evil acts heartlessly reject that love. At every moment of our lives, as we use the good things he has given us, we can respond to his love only by seeking to obey his will for us. St Benedict ends this spiritual masterpiece, the introduction to a book that has inspired and sustained an enduring vision of Catholic culture, with these beautiful words: As we progress in this monastic way of life and in faith, our hearts will warm to its vision and with eager love and delight that defies expression we shall go forward on the way of God’s commandments.  So it is, please God, with each of us as we walk along the path of discipleship, the path of devout humility. These words of wisdom were penned in a very chaotic time and they can serve us also as we struggle to navigate through the storm now unleashed upon us. Let nothing discourage us from disposing our hearts to receive anew the outpouring of the Holy Spirit; that we may go forward on the way of God’s commandments with ever greater determination and zeal. The Holy Spirit will sustain us and strengthen us, sanctify us and transform us and we will find our fulfillment in God and in the beauty of His creation with a delight that defies expression.

The fruits of the Holy Spirit are the evidence of the His indwelling and these fruits when abundant, benefit everyone, without exception. This is why St. Paul could with all conviction say that we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing (2 Cor. 2:15). To be aware of this is a great grace and it is a life-changing grace because this awareness brings about a complete change in our outlook on everything. Such a grace may be described as a personal Pentecost, an experience of the Presence of God that changes the way we understand ourselves in relation to God and everything in the world; such that our life and lifestyle are permeated with the love of God and neighbour; and the desire for the salvation of souls, especially the souls of poor sinners.  All of this begins with prayer, as St. Benedict teaches us. And so, we ask the Holy Spirit to deepen the spirit of prayer in each one of us and in our parish community. Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And you shall renew the face of the earth.