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.