Pentecost is the great feast of the Church, but how often do we prepare for it with the kind of purposefulness we associate with Lent? I don’t mean that we should fast (we don’t fast during the Easter season) or do penance, but even now, on Pentecost eve, we could think about prayer and reconciliation and their role in attaining the peace and unity the Holy Spirit bestows on the Church. So, if there is anyone to whom we need to say ‘sorry’, or anyone we need to forgive, today is a perfect day for doing so. If there is any disunity in our own lives or in the lives of our families or communities, this is a day for trying to set things right. Above all, this is a day for praying simply and earnestly that the Holy Spirit will come upon us and renew his gifts within us. Whether he comes as burning fire or cooling breeze is not for us to decide. Our prayer is short and pure, as St Benedict would have it: Veni, Sancte Spiritus — Come, Holy Spirit!
Recently I have been thinking a lot about the Crimean War. If you want to know why, the answer lies in what is happening in the Ukraine. The situation there is complex and disturbing, with implications for both Western Europe and Russia. Sometimes policy-makers are aware of history; sometimes they aren’t; but those who disregard history altogether tend to repeat the mistakes their predecessors made. I have a hunch we may be about to do exactly that with regard to the Ukraine.
In the West we have tendency to make an idol of democracy, but that sometimes leads us to applaud essentially undemocratic processes. I myself believe that democracy is the best form of government available to us, but I think we are often selective about the value we place on other people’s democracies. The policies of the Muslim Brotherhood do not appeal to me personally, but as a democrat, I am ambivalent about the situation in Egypt. Was Mr Morsi legitimately elected or not; and if he was, shouldn’t the West be questioning the way in which he was removed from power? Had he become a tyrant? If so, what are the grounds for thinking that, and are they sufficient to justify subsequent events? In the Ukraine we have an analogous situation. If we take all our ideas from Kiev we may take one view, but the further East we go, the more another takes shape.
At times like these we can feel confused and completely powerless, forgetting that, in fact, we are far from powerless. We can invoke the power and wisdom of the Holy Spirit; but if we are to do that, it cannot be through some throw-away utterance that takes two minutes of our time and leaves not a ripple on the surface of our thoughts and feelings. Prayer is hard work; and to pray for the coming of the Holy Spirit into a complicated and dangerous situation means to pray with all our heart, mind and soul. Are we ready to do that? Or, as I ask above, what price democracy?