05 June 2009

As Pentecost Week Continues...

When we look abroad upon a mighty kingdom that rules from sea to sea, when we behold on every side evidences of its greatness and stability, when we contemplate the wisdom of its institutions and the happiness of its people, when we find that genius, and learning, and taste – the wealth of human intellect and the poetry of human feeling – have all been lavished to build up and to adorn and to make as nearly perfect as the work of human hands can be, the vast fabric of its greatness, we find rising within us a desire to trace it back to the remote antiquity of its origin. How much would this instinct find to awaken its energy, in the spectacle of such a mighty Kingdom as the Church of God, of which we, by God’s grace, are members, and whose long glories are our very own. For never yet was seen on earth a kingdom such as this; never was wisdom so perfect, sway so boundless, stability so absolutely secure. And it is our happy privilege, guided by the liturgy of the Church, to go back to what we may well call the inauguration of her power on the day of Pentecost.

Our Blessed Lord had appeared to His disciples after His Resurrection, and had discoursed with them about the Kingdom of God – the Church which He had purchased by His Blood. In those mysterious walks by the Sea of Tiberias He had delivered to them, so to speak, the constitution of His newly-established Kingdom, and had commissioned them to preach the Gospel to every creature.

But when forty days had come and gone, He went up, and the heavens opened, and the clouds closed over the glory of His passing, and they that loved Him, saw Him no more. They were left alone, left to recall half sadly the features of that glorious Face, and to feed upon the memory of that tender Heart. They were left, so to speak, desolate upon the dreary world, and it is no wonder they stood, looking up to heaven, as realizing sadly that earth could never be a home to them again, now it was no longer gladdened by His Divine beauty. Desolate they stood, yet not desolate, for He had left them a sacred promise. He had told them in words which He had repeated more than once: “It is expedient for you that I go, for if I do not go the Paraclete will not come to you. But if I go, I will send Him to you. And He, being come, will teach you all truth.”

From that Upper Room in Jerusalem a power went forth, such as earth had never seen before. A spirit of life breathed upon the corruption of pagan society, and voices from the catacombs penetrated the chambers of pagan palaces. In time she came forth from those recesses where, in days of peril, her children had found at once a home, a temple, and a grave, and she saw the rulers of haughty Rome fling down their diadems in the dust before the shrines of her martyred saints. She has seen centuries pass by, and yet she grows not old; she has seen kingdoms rise, and rule, and perish, and yet she has not failed. Today, the voice, the successor of Saint Peter, whose throne is raised above the dust of saints, can speak with irresistible authority to the hearts and consciences of multitudes.

The great and special favors which God has bestowed upon His Church find, so to speak, their counterparts in His dealing with the individual soul. As the mission of the Holy Ghost was to the Church, so to each of us individually, the same Holy Spirit has a mission also.

To our individual selves – the Holy Ghost is our teacher; He enlightens our intellect, strengthens our will, discloses to us the order of God’s law, and the freedom of God’s service – gives us the grace to make our knowledge profit us to works of sanctification, and enables us to persevere to the end.

If we wish to receive the Holy Ghost we must prepare our hearts by retirement and prayer. “I will lead her,” said the Holy Ghost, “into solitude, and there I will speak to her heart.” Even in the material world, as if God wished to give us a constant lesson, silence usually attends upon, as it were, the condition of the most perfect power. What rules so widely as the light, and yet, what ever comes so quietly as the silent footsteps of the dawn? The trees grow, the flowers bloom, the stars move on through heaven, the forces of nature do their appointed tasks, and all in silence.

And so it is, too, in the spiritual world. In the sanctification of a soul, which is a far greater work than the creation of a world, the Holy Ghost seems to demand silence and recollection as the indispensable conditions of His operation. And from silence and recollection springs necessarily, prayer. Prayer, that reaches from earth to heaven, and places at the disposal of the weak whisper of a sinner’s heart the very omnipotence of God.

You have been placed in a singularly favorable position for the unimpeded operations of the Holy Spirit. He has enlightened you by faith, and placed you in the bosom of His Church.

What will avail the graces we have received, the lights which have enlightened us, the good works, the fasting, and the prayer, nay, the very sacraments of Christ, if, in the end, not persevering, we should lose our souls? What boots it to have fought through the longest day, if night closes around disaster and defeat? In earthly battles defeat does not necessarily imply disgrace. We may honor the dead soldier though his cause be lost, and recognize his bravery even through the shadows of defeat. But in the fight for eternal salvation the case is far otherwise. There, defeat must mean eternal ruin and eternal loss, tortured by the memory of long-gone hopes, that once were ready at a touch of grace to blossom into fulfillment, and ripen into the fruit of everlasting life, but which withered and died and were made vain, in the deadly atmosphere of unrepented sin.

Ask, then, the grace of final perseverance for yourselves and for your brethren. May God grant it – to me who speaks, and to you who listen, that enlightened by the Holy Spirit, corresponding with His inspirations, knowing through Him the will of God, and doing it with all our might, and so persevering to the end, we may one day, in God’s good time, find ourselves with the saints who have gone before, keeping Pentecost in heaven. Amen.

~ Father Joseph Farrell, ordained in 1865, a Professor at Carlow College, Ireland