The Rector writes …
Saint Cyril of Jerusalem (315-386) writes of his understanding of the action of the Holy Spirit: “His approach is gentle, his presence fragrant, his yoke very light; rays of light and knowledge shine forth before him as he comes. He comes with the heart of a true protector; he comes to save, to heal, to teach, to admonish., to strengthen, to console, to enlighten the mind, first of those who receive him, then through them the minds of others also”. Saint Cyril offers a different insight from that offered in the Acts of the Apostles (2: 1-11) where Pentecost is marked by an enormous effusion of power which not only assaults the senses but forces the disciples from their seclusion and enables them to communicate across the barriers of language and culture. If any reconciliation is needed between the differing understandings one could say that the Holy Spirit distributes gifts according to requirement – if the birth of the Church needed to be supported by dynamism, then its adolescence perhaps asked for something less dramatic and more integrated. “There is a variety of gifts but always the same Spirit: there are all sorts of service to be done but always to the same Lord: working in all sorts of different ways in different people. It is the same God who is working in them all” (1 Corinthians 12:3-5).
The idea of “enlightenment” offered by Saint Cyril echoes the promise (John 16:13) that when Jesus has returned to the Father (at his Ascension) the one he describes as “the Advocate” will replace him: “when the Spirit of truth comes he will lead you to the complete truth”. This process of interpretation, which was heightened in the first Christian centuries as the disciples and their immediate successors struggled to find a vocabulary to express the great truths of faith, will continue until the end of time. Jesus had spoken of the Spirit’s ongoing role: “he will tell you of the things to come. He will glorify me since all he tells you will be taken from what is mine”. Seen in this context, Pentecost is not an isolated event, but rather a permanent commitment of witness to the Word of God as spoken definitively in Jesus. We can have total confidence in the apostolic proclamation and the consequent transmission of the faith because we have the guarantee of the Spirit’s permanent presence. That does not, of course, mean that human free will is compromised or that the Holy Spirit coerces belief in any way – we know the active force of evil and there are so many examples from our history where Christians have got things badly and culpably wrong – but ultimately we accept that whatever the cul-de-sacs into which we may trap ourselves, the Spirit will lead us back (sometimes gently, sometimes more forcefully) into the mainstream of God’s truth.
What is true for the whole Church is true for each one of us individually. Pentecost is an historical reality – an event in the Divine plan for human redemption – but it has a personal significance. In the Sacrament of Confirmation the bishop prays over the candidates: “give them the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of right judgement and courage, the spirit of knowledge and reverence. Fill them with the spirit of wonder and awe in your presence”. Our Confirmation is our Pentecost when we, like the first apostles, were given the graces necessary to fulfil our vocation – “I have a place in God’s counsels, in God’s world, which no one else has” (Blessed John Henry Newman). These spiritual gifts are bestowed to help us live more and more in a Christ-centred way, and to have the conviction to share faith, as well as to profess it. Saint Ambrose writes: “recall then that you have received the spiritual seal. Guard what you have received. God the Father has marked you with his sign: Christ the Lord has confirmed you and has placed his pledge, the Spirit, in your hearts”. The annual celebration of Pentecost should be a time of renewal for each Christian – the opportunity to recognise what has already been received while praying for what is needed in every fresh circumstance. “Those deemed worthy of the Holy Spirit are enlightened in soul and see beyond the power of human sight what they did not know before” (Saint Cyril).