Croke Park, Dublin
- Pentecost is described as ‘the birthday of the Church’! … Pope Francis has emphasised that each person is individually gifted the Spirit and then bonded together to become part of a unified mission to change and renew the face of the earth
- These days even the right to life itself can be compromised and relegated below the right to personal choice
- I am convinced that the Spirit is actively at work in Ireland today preparing us for a new springtime of growth and abundance in faith
“A New Pentecost”
The building in Rome known as the Pantheon began life as a Roman Temple around 2000 years ago. Nowadays it houses the Church of Saint Mary of the Martyrs. Apart from it’s fascinating history, the Pantheon has a strange architectural feature – a hole in the roof! Right in the centre of its massive concrete dome is an opening or ‘oculus’ – literally an eye to the sky! Every year after Mass on the Feast of Pentecost, members of Rome’s Fire brigade climb up onto the roof and pour thousands of rose petals down through the opening – an amazing spectacle! They flutter down onto the heads of the members the congregation to symbolise the coming of the Holy Spirit – like the tongues of fire.
I doubt if the Croke Park authorities would approve of ‘starting them fashions’ here at the Hogan Stand! Still, today at The Summit 17, I am hoping and praying for ‘a New Pentecost’ for Ireland!
Firstly, let us reflect on what happened on Pentecost Day in Jerusalem. You can read all about it in Chapter 2 of Acts of the Apostles – ‘tongues of fire’; a sound ‘like the rush of a mighty wind’; a diverse gathering of people from north, south, east and west, united in language by the power of the Holy Spirit, praising and preaching about the marvels of God – so much so that some bystanders thought they were drunk! Peter called on those present to repent, believe and be baptised – and Acts tells us that on that one day about three thousand people joined the apostles. Imagine the excitement, the sense of New beginning, the powerful impetus to mission and evangelisation that followed. No wonder Pentecost is described as ‘the birthday of the Church’!
What a transformation took place that day! A huddled group of frightened and timid followers became a bold band of missionary believers who just could not wait to get out onto the streets and tell others the Good News about Jesus and the hope He brings. This is what Jesus meant when He told His followers: ‘You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and then you will be my witnesses, not only in Jerusalem but throughout Judaea and Samaria, and indeed to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8)’.
How I long for a New Pentecost in Ireland, for a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit to transform and renew the faith in this country and spread onwards and outwards in an enthusiastic mission! Pentecost Day two thousand year ago was not a ‘once-off’. The Holy Spirit has remained as the driving force of the Church’s missionary outreach down the centuries. But the power of the Spirit can sometimes lie dormant within us, awaiting the spark that will trigger the explosion of ‘a new Pentecost’, ‘a new springtime’ for faith and friendship with Jesus.
I have already noticed the shoots of this new springtime in so many people and places across Ireland – quiet faith initiatives, sometimes small and sporadic, with more and more people finding within themselves the courage to say “Yes” to God’s will for them – just like Mary our Blessed Mother did at the Annunciation (and we believe she was also present on Pentecost Day!).
There is nothing unique or unusual about my call for ‘a new Pentecost’. More than 50 years ago Pope Saint John XXIII prophesied a new Pentecost at the Second Vatican Council. He saw it as the fruit of the Council, a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit like a great tsunami of divine love! Blessed Paul VI famously told a General Audience back in 1972 (291172): “The Church needs her eternal Pentecost; she needs fire in her hearts, words on her lips, a glance that is prophetic”. Pope Saint John Paul II was convinced that the New evangelisation needed a new Pentecost and Pope Benedict XVI spoke often of the new outpouring of the Spirit as a rediscovery and renewal of the gifts of Baptism and Confirmation.
Just weeks ago on Pentecost Sunday Pope Francis, another advocate of ‘a new springtime’ for the Church, spoke beautifully about the work of the Holy Spirit. He remarked that at the first Pentecost the tongues of fire came down and ‘rested on EACH of them’ (like the petals in the Pantheon!). He emphasised that each person is individually gifted the Spirit – just as you and I are here today – and then they are bonded together to become part of a unified mission to change and renew the face of the earth. Pope Francis puts it like this: “To each he (the Holy Spirit) gives a gift, and then gathers them all into unity … In other words, the same Spirit creates diversity and unity, and in this way forms a new, diverse and unified people: the universal Church.”
Pope Francis went on to say that this unity is preserved, consolidated and strengthened by the Spirit of forgiveness. The Holy Spirit brings ‘a new heart’. After the resurrection Jesus did not condemn His disciples for deserting Him and running away. He breathed the Spirit of forgiveness on them. And, as Pope Francis put it: Forgiveness is “the greatest love of all”. “Forgiveness sets our hearts free and enables us to start afresh. Forgiveness gives hope; without forgiveness, the Church is not built up.”
Brothers and sisters it is easy to point to forces today that may be hostile to faith; some go so far as to say the Church in Ireland is near to collapse. Like many believers in the Western world, we have to contend with a society where Gospel values are often under threat or even attack, where relativism and secularism often subtly – sometimes aggressively- can undermine the Gospel appeal to absolute truths and stable moral reference points. We notice these days how even the right to life itself can be compromised and relegated below the right to personal choice. Sadly we also experienced within the Church how the awful sins and crimes of some have caused so much trauma and created a sense of betrayal and disillusionment has ‘obscured the light of the Gospel’ for many people. It is easy at times for believers to feel apathetic or ‘robbed of hope’ – to remain timid like the early disciples huddled together in the upper room, and thinking out loud that line from Saint Luke’s Gospel: “When the son of man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Lk 18:8). At times we can feel a little like those in Ephesus (Acts 19) who did not even realise there was a Holy Spirit, alive and active, pouring out His gifts, driving forward the Church’s mission.
I am convinced that the Spirit is actively at work in Ireland today preparing us for a new springtime of growth and abundance in faith. But this will only flourish if we are alert and open to the Spirit’s calling and gifting of many people for the service of the Gospel in this time and in this place. Every day I pray for vocations to the priesthood and to the consecrated life. But I also pray that you, our young lay faithful, will realise more and more that you are called in baptism to be part of the new springtime for the faith in Ireland and that you will embrace your personal role in the new evangelisation. I was anointed with Chrism on the days of my ordination as a priest and as a bishop. I experienced the laying on of hands and the grace of the Holy Spirit. But each one of us here was individually gifted, anointed with Chrism at Baptism and Confirmation. At Confirmation we all received afresh the Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands. Should we be surprised, then, that the Spirit is gifting you, the young lay people of Ireland with particular charisms for the building up the body of Christ?
The catechism puts it like this (CCC 873): “In the Church there is diversity of ministry but unity of mission. To the apostles and their successors Christ has entrusted the office of teaching, sanctifying and governing in his name and by his power. But the laity are made to SHARE in the priestly, prophetical, and kingly office of Christ; they have therefore, in the Church and in the world, THEIR OWN assignment in the mission of the whole People of God.”
The mission and challenge that we share as lay faithful, religious and priests, is to speak faith, hope and love into a world that is darkened by violence, war, greed and despair; a world that is divided more than ever into those who have and those who have not. Into this world the Spirit anoints us, gifts us, sends us out to renew the face of Earth – as the prophet Isaiah put it:
‘to bring good news to the poor,
to bind up hearts that are broken;
to comfort all those who mourn;
to proclaim liberty to captives,
freedom to those in prison;
to proclaim a year of favour from the Lord (Isaiah 61).
On the day of my Episcopal ordination I chose as a motto that beautiful line from the Psalms: Sing a New Song to the Lord. I often meditate on those words, so full of joy and hope. I wonder what is this new song? And who will sing it with me? But I firmly believe that the Holy Spirit is among us, quietly humming us the tune, teaching us the words, choosing the key in which to sing it (a missionary key no doubt, as Pope Francis says). I believe the Holy Spirit is already conducting us, arranging the instruments, setting the harmony, rehearsing the melodies, booking the venues, gathering the audiences.
My dear young people, the Spirit led you here for these three days of “The Summit ’17”. Be open to finding yourself called and gifted for mission, impelled to get out there with your faith and your gifts and engage the world! The New Song needs to be sung, to be shared, to be heard – it is the song of personal love and friendship for Jesus that we have within us and that is just dying to get out.
Again, what is this song? It is the Joy of the Gospel, summed up so perfectly by Pope Francis in these spirit-filled words: “Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you” Evangelii Gaudium 164 (The Joy of the Gospel apostolic exhortation of 2013)
- Archbishop Eamon Martin is Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland
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