Pentecost 2016

Pentecost: from the Chapter House paintings of D. Werburg Welch © Stanbrook Abbey.












It is significant, perhaps, that the only person depicted in flame-coloured garments in this painting by D. Werburg Welch is the Blessed Virgin Mary. Classical historians will remind us of the flame-coloured veil worn by married women, but here the colour has a theological meaning. Mary, too, received the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the same Spirit who overshadowed her when she conceived Jesus. Just as the
Son of God was born in the flesh from that first overshadowing, so today the Church is born when then Spirit of God fills the minds and hearts of those assembled in the Upper Room. It is the fulfilment of the Promise, the completion of Christ’s earthly mission.

In recent days I have blogged on the gifts of the Spirit. Today I’d like to spend a few moments thinking about the fruits of the Holy Spirit. Catholic tradition lists twelve:

charity (or love)

We can see at once that these are, indeed, the characteristics of those who have allowed the Holy Spirit to work within them. There is nothing wimpish about them. It takes stength and courage to love, to be joyful even when life is brusing, to be kind when others are behaving cruelly or boorishly, to be self-controlled in the midst of temptation, to be chaste when society exalts selfish sexual gratification above fidelity and commitment. There is one, however, that I think stands out above the rest because it won’t let us get away with lazy thinking or complacency: goodness.

What does it mean to be good, to live a good life? Philosophers and theologians have struggled with this question ever since we first began to reflect on our own existence. For the Christian there is a precision in the question we cannot escape. What does it mean for me to be good, to live a good life in the circumstances in which I find myself here and now? The goodness of the cloistered nun is not the same as the goodness of the married man with a family, though obviously there are elements common to both. Nor is the goodness I must live today necessarily to be identified with the goodness I lived twenty years ago or shall live twenty years hence. Only with the help of the Holy Spirit can we make sense of this conundrum.

The gift of the Spirit at Pentecost was not a once-for-all event. The Advocate is to be with us always, to the end of time. Our problem is not so much that we do not have the Holy Spirit as that we do not listen. There is a wonderful irony in the fact that we associate this great feast with the gift of tongues and the commission to go out and preach the Good News to all nations, yet we can only do that if we also remain silent and still, listening for the whisperings of the Holy Spirit. Today, amidst all our rejoicing, let us make time to do just that: listen.


14 thoughts on “Pentecost 2016”

  1. Sister Catherine, I always find your comments spiritually uplifting. I pray that the Lord will sustain you in health so that you and your little community may continue to do His work.

    May God bless you all (including Br. Duncan), from the Benedictine parish of St. Anne, Ormskirk, Lancashire.

  2. Reading your piece about Goodness makes me think of Micah ch6 v8, which is one of my Bible favourites.
    I am sorry to hear that you are feeling poorly. May I add my prayers to those of your many friends? And my respect to you all at Holy Trinity.

  3. Thank You so much for this thoughtful reflection. Here in Liverpool today we have what we shorthand as the two Cathedrals service; the reality is a wonderful living out of the Feast of Pentecost. In this, a once horribly sectarian city, we and by we I mean clergy, choirs, and congregation of both Cathedrals, gather in one of them (we alternate), and we worship together. By tradition the preacher comes from the other tradition, so this year we start in the Anglican Cathedral and the RC Archbishop will preach. At the conclusion of the sermon, we walk; thus including the tradition of Whit Walks common in the NW. We walk the length of Hope Street, in times past often mocked, abused, spat at, even had bottles thrown at us, by Orange men unhappy at the unity on display. Not so these days. Where once Fr Kevin Kelly had his sermon drowned out by shouting, now Cardinal Casper or Archbishop Rowan Williams can preach in peace.
    Here, we have learned the gifts of the Holy Spirit the hard way, but we have learned them, marked them, and finally inwardly digested them.
    So thank you for this reflection, it is a wonderful way to start my Pentecost.
    I’m sorry that you are not so well as we would like you to be, and I shall hold you in my prayers today.
    Every Blessing

  4. Thank you, Sr Catherine, for your very thoughtful and inspiring words for today’s great feast.
    Praying for you today especially.
    Looking forward to ‘Songs of Praise’ later this afternoon.

  5. God bless and keep you Sr. Catherine! Just saw you on “Songs of Praise”! Wonderful! Hope you are feeling better!
    Please pray for my nephew Mark who is recovering from colon cancer surgery!
    God bless!

  6. Thank you for pointing out that the way we are called to live out our “goodness” in the Holy Spirit is ever-changing and ever-new. God’s calling is manifest through the challenges of our lives, which continually change, surprise, uplift, or, yes, dismay us. I try to remember to pray each day to recognize to what and how God is calling me this day, in this present moment, which is the only time we have in which to love and serve.

  7. This made me think about how often I say “Good girl” to my 3-year-old – but what do I actually mean by it? That she’s done what I asked her to? That she’s achieved something that I know she finds difficult? That she’s given in when we were arguing? It varies between all the above and more, of course, but when I think about it, it’s amazing how often I use the phrase without ever considering what goodness really is.

    Prayers and good wishes for your healing.

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